The verses of A Place in this World depict a narrator who is seeking despite not knowing precisely what she hopes to find. She opens the song by stating: “I don’t know what I want.” According to the chorus, the only thing she does know is that she’s “alone, on [her] own.” She repeatedly states
“I’m just a girl
Trying to find a place in this world.”
References to sunshine and rain hint at Swift’s mixed emotions towards her search.
Literary Device Demonstration:
In the second verse, Swift quotes Shakspeare by using the phrase “wearing my heart on my sleeve.” In Act I, scene i of Othello, the villain Iago declares that the day he reveals his true motives, he
“will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at.”
In Iago’s opinion, putting your heart on your sleeve is dangerous. The sleeve is the wrong place for the heart, and it gives others the opportunity to harm it.
In addition to the direct comparison of Swift and Iago, Swift’s quotation of Shakespeare creates an intertextual dialogue with the plot of Othello. Although Othello is a general in the Venetian Army, he is not originally from Venice. Viewed perpetually as an outsider, Othello is without a secure place in this world, and the result is Tragedy. Swift’s allusion heightens the stakes of being “placeless” for readers who can put these two works in dialogue with one another.
As the fourth song on Taylor Swift’s debut album, A Place in This World introduces a new trio and a new theme. The first three songs (Tim McGraw, Picture to Burn, and Teardrops on my Guitar) feature a narrator grappling with what it means to exist within time. With A Place in this World, Swift shifts to a trilogy of songs that grapple with geospatial existence. Swift explicitly declares the shift, saying, “tomorrow’s just a mystery, oh yeah / But that’s okay.” The future — time — is beyond her understanding, but Swift has now accepted the profound enigma.* The next three songs on the album (A Place in this World, Cold as You, and The Outside) wrestle instead with location.
In A Place in this World, Swift is metaphorically and physically lost. She cannot find “a place in this world.” Indeed, she cannot even explicitly name where (or what) precisely she is looking for. She opens by stating: “I don’t know what I want.” In the bridge, she expresses “maybe I’m just a girl on a mission,” reminding the listener once again that she does not know. Throughout the song, Swift will make many vague references. She states: “don’t know what’s down this road” and “I’m not the only one who feels / the way I do” without specifying which road or which feeling she means. In the second verse, she asks “Could you tell me what more do I need?” without any indication of who she is addressing (but with the implication that she doesn’t know what she needs.) Finally, even the title of the song is vague. Swift is not looking for her place or even the place, but a place — a shocking and Beckettian lack of specificity for someone who is on a quest.
In a world where women are not encouraged to take up space*, the concept of finding a place in this world is so befuddling to young Swift that she cannot even name what place she is seeking. Instead, she bumbles her way through vague cliches in an attempt to understand. Swift is not merely seeking for a place, but seeking for a place to seek for — striving not just for a place in this world, but to understand what it would mean to have one. Despite her befuddlement, Swift is “walking” and “ready to fly” — ready to move through space deliberately and rapidly. Swift assures the reader that “[she]’ll be strong.” Although Swift must further explore what it means to have a place in this world, nevertheless, she will persist in seeking one. Given her persistence in repeating the chorus, we may imagine she succeeds.