Taylor Swift runs into her ex. She explains how she had hoped to behave during this moment and then she lists things she doesn’t want him to say or do: “don’t you smile at me… Don’t you ask me how I’ve been” and “Don’t you say you’ve missed me.”
Literary Device: Antistasis
Like the previous track (That’s When), Don’t You relies heavily on the repetition of a two-word phrase. Don’t You repeats the title phrase eighteen times. Although the words are repeated exactly, they take on a different meaning, deploying a literary device called Antistasis. At first, “don’t you” is a command. Swift clearly instructs her ex: “don’t you smile at me and ask me how I’ve been” followed by “don’t you say you’ve missed me if you don’t want me again.” By the end of the chorus, she is using a different meaning of the phrase to ask a question. After declaring “You don’t know how much I feel I love you still” she asks “So why don’t you, don’t you?” Swift thus uses the exact same words to command her partner to respect her boundaries that she does to quietly and sadly ask him if he still loves her.
Throughout Don’t You, there is a gap between words and the truth. In the verses, this gap occurs between what Taylor Swift intends and what she does. She repeatedly declares how she had planned to behave or feel, while in fact doing the opposite. In the first verse, she says, “I didn’t mean to stare” while currently in the act of staring. In the second verse, she explains that she tried to hate her ex after the breakup, but was unsuccessful: “Sometimes I really wish that I could hate you / I’ve tried, but that’s just something’ I can’t do. / My heart knows what the truth is.” At the end of the second verse, she asserts “I swore I wouldn’t do this” before launching into the heartbreaking chorus. Taylor Swift had clearly set rules for herself on how to behave in the wake of this breakup: Feel angry! Don’t stare in public! Make polite small talk instead of being weird and sad! Unfortunately, there is a gap between Swift’s words and her actions – her logical framing and her emotional truth.
Taylor Swift’s attempt to control reality using language is a failure. Swift cannot make words true just by saying them and she cannot make the breakup pleasant by imposing a script upon it. In frustration, she instructs her ex-boyfriend to avoid the script altogether, telling him instead what not to say. In the bridge, she tells him about the futility of declaring their friendship: “And you can say we’re still friends / But I don’t wanna pretend.” Saying the word “friend” does not make it true. In the chorus, Swift tells him to skip the pleasantries with her repeated list of “don’t you”s. The gap between words and truth is most apparent in this chorus, where Swift’s words shift their meaning from firm and commanding to pleading and sad. Taylor Swift – a poet with great command over the English language – attempts to use words to create the reality that she wants. She is betrayed by those words when the meaning slips from a command to a question – slipping from her planned response to her emotional truth. Don’t You is thus a reflection upon the inability of language to fully direct the narrative after an emotional event.
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