Growing up is an inevitable and everlasting process in every humans life, it is the way that we develop and the choices we make that define our personality. The fragility of childhood does not only refer to physical characteristics, this stage in life is when one is most socially delicate, and most easily manipulated by society’s many stereotypes. In this composition, explore the themes of childhood, excitement and innocence in the 6 poems of “Section C” in the reading anthology will be explored. By analyzing the themes, literary techniques and writers craft that may be more cryptic to the average reader, we can reveal just how each respective author attempted to depict childhood, innocence or a completely other theme in itself and the personal motives that may have been behind this emotional topic.
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The 3 poems; “Once Upon a Time”, “A Mother in a Refugee Camp” and “Prayer Before Birth” written by Gabriel Okara, Chinua Achebe and Louis MacNeice respectively share a common goal to criticize some of the principles and ideals of modern society. Particularly in “A Mother in a Refugee Camp”, the author Chinua Achebe attempts to portray images to the reader that would normally be unheard of in a modern home due to how terrifying and horrendous they are. The cringe-inducing actions that take place in the extract show the audience just how gruesome the poor conditions are, furthermore, the way these events are depicted to the reader allows them to understand just how insubstantial the events are. Achebe compares their life to perhaps the readers when he writes, “In another life this would have been a little daily act of no consequence before his breakfast and school; now she did it like putting flowers on a tiny grave”. This bold comparison compares a normal morning routine with putting flowers on a grave, using such a simile shows that the occurrence in Achebe’s writing, the death of a child, happens all too often in the camp and is not of great significance. The idea that different people have different views on the same events is a main theme in this poem and life, especially when it comes to children’s perspectives. This is also the main theme in the poem by U.A. Fanthorpe, “Half-past Two”, the child being referred to for the entire poem is yet unable to comprehend time in the same way that others do, instead his perspective is different, picturing the times only as how they are significant to him, nothing more. This is probably true to an extent for everyone, not only children, in that not being able to understand something doesn’t restrict our curiosity and we try to incorporate it into our lives regardless.
Alternatively, in the piece “Once upon a time” by Gabriel Okara the concept of adults starting to lose their humanity as they mature is related to how pure and innocent children are. Evidence of this theme is shown towards the end of the poem when Gabriel Okara writes that the father is asking his son to teach him how to live and regain his former self. “So show me, son, how to laugh; show me how I used to laugh and smile once upon a time when I was like you”. This is done to show the reader just how envious an adult may be of their child who is yet to be exposed to the crippling stereotypes the modern day has to offer and of just how large a scale a poisoned society may affect one’s mind. Moreover, the persona (the father) seems to be a bit envious of his child, he deeply wishes to be able to experience the naivety and innocence of being a child once more. ‘I want to be what I used to be when I was like you.’ This shows that from the viewpoint of an adult, youth is something to be cherished dearly, which leads on to the next idea that childhood should not be taken for granted which is also explored in the poem by Vernon Scannell, “Hide and Seek”. ‘It seems a long time since they went away. Your legs are stiff,’ this part of the poem is a metaphor that all of the child’s friends have already lost interest and moved on, hence accentuating how little time we have, that childhood should be made the most of and that this is only truly realised when it is eventually lost forever.
In Louis MacNeice’s piece, “Prayer Before Birth” he expresses how negative he thinks the typical modern lifestyle is. MacNeice creates an image of a perfect world from his perspective by using a single stanza to describe this ideal place. The third stanza serves this purpose, the way it is much livelier creates an impression on the reader as the rest of the poem is dark and depressing. In MacNeice’s poem, a vast array of techniques are used to better convey the theme of an unforgiving modern society for most of the writing, for example the repetition of the word “me” and the numerous instances of alliteration aid MacNeice in his attempt to engage the reader show them just how passionate he is about this subject. This is a stark contrast from the third stanza where MacNeice begins to use a calmer town and softens the rhyming and alliteration that was almost aggressive prior to the third stanza. For example, the phrases such as “sing to me” sound for friendlier than in the first two stanzas. The way MacNeice wrote this poem makes it extremely apparent to the reader how passionate he is about his views on modern society; he shows his viewpoint of what humanity currently is in a bad light, while comparing it to his own wants which are shown to be a great solution. The final sentence of “Prayer Before Birth” ends the poem in quite a gruesome manner, ‘Otherwise kill me.’ This is after the long list of desires the unborn child wishes to be born in to, after its prayers. MacNeice is hinting that if he had the choice before he had been born to be saved from this toxic humanity he would rather have not been born. Furthermore, he is possibly presenting an ultimatum to the audience that if the persona in his poem cannot be born into their ideal world they would rather not be born at all. Another key point displayed in this poem is the helplessness and delicacy of a child, in this case an unborn one, this theme is can also be seen in D. H. Lawrence’s poem, “Piano” the children in both of these poems are completely unable to fend for themselves. In “Prayer Before Birth” the child is unborn and just hoping to be born into the best possible environment, whereas in “Piano” a grown man is looking back on his childhood, no aware of how incompetent he was as a child and how he shall never be able to experience such a time again.
All six poems I have written about portray our childhood as a time of purity, innocence and simplicity. In some poems it clearly shown to be the main themes while in others it is depicted far more subtly. In “Prayer Before Birth”, the use of some phrases describe the child’s fears accentuate how childish the persona truly is, “blood sucking bats” and “club-footed ghouls” these may seem comical to the reader but from the perspective of the unborn child they are indeed their worst nightmares, further proving the persona’s innocence. Furthermore, the child refers to itself in first person a staggering amount of times, each stanza but the last is started with ‘I’ while ‘me’ and ‘my’ are very common too. This gives the reader of the poem and insight into how frantic the child may be as the pace of the poem seems to be increasing throughout, the child seems only to be concerned with their own safety. This reflects a somewhat immature character that is yet too narrow minded to be afraid for anything that will not concern them. “Once Upon a Time” seems to celebrate childhood far more than the other two main poems I have chosen to write about, Gabriel Okara depicts the persona to be an adult looking back on his childhood and wishing he could experience it again, thus showing how much he misses it. However, the other two poems do not express this theme at all, in “Prayer Before Birth” the unborn child is listing all the terrible things modern society has waiting for it, even in childhood and MacNeice ends the poem with the child saying that it would rather stay unborn than be corrupted by such a poisonous environment in the child’s opinion. Moreover, “A Mother in a Refugee Camp” supports the idea that childhood can be extremely painful too, not just to the child but to their parents as well. Achebe attempts to convey to the reader that despite the death of children happening so often it is still a terrible and soul ripping occurrence. It is stated that her child has already died and that the mother will ‘soon have to forget…’ this once again illustrates just how fragile children and life in general can be without proper conditions.
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Ultimately, Gabriel Okara, Chinua Achebe and Louis MacNeice use a wide array of literary techniques to convey various moods, themes and ideas that they want the audience to experience. They regard childhood as a time of purity, innocence and fragility and the ageing process as a slow and inevitable corruption of the mind and body. Each writer has different ways of representing these ideas; Gabriel Okara makes use of emotive language to illustrate an adult showing his envy to a child’s innocence. Whereas Chinua Achebe uses a child to represent the only source of hope and happiness in a condemned and forgotten place, a refugee camp. Finally, Louis MacNeice attempts to depict children as a symbol of clarity, yet to experience the exploitation of society.
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