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An Elementary School Classroom in a slum
Stanza –1 ‘Far —– this’. –
a) The children of a slum school present a pathetic & miserable picture. Sitting in their classroom in a slum area they are far away from the strong blowing waves which are a symbol of a world full of freedom & natural beauty. They have pale lifeless faces (pallor) & not the bubbly childhood freshness on their faces. They are like rootless, wild plants (uprooted, unwanted weeds). They have no permanent homes/shelter or security like rootless plants. Waves are strong – It shows that the waves are full of freedom & beauty.
b)‘The tall —– head’ – The girl sitting there is depressed & distressed due to the burden of poverty, misfortunes & so keeps her head down.
c)‘The paper—–bones’–The boy is very thin with bulging eyes, inquisitive & timid like a rat searching for food, contentment & security. His growth is blocked & the body remains undeveloped due to malnutrition. He is called an ‘unlucky heir’ as he has inherited from his father not money & property but twisted bones & diseases. He is under-nourished & deprived of the basic amenities of life. ‘Reciting —desk’–The thin boy is reciting a lesson from his desk as if describing in detail his father’s gnarled disease.
d)‘At back —–this’ – The class is called dim as the atmosphere is dull, dreary, full of despair, in a pathetic condition. An unnoticed sweet young boy sits at the back of this class. He also loves to dream of outdoor games, to move out into the open, to visit places, other than their dull, drab classroom (‘other than this’). ‘This’ also refers to the dull & monotonous routine of his class which doesn’t interest him. He dreams of being free, enjoying the beauty of nature like squirrels in tree rooms. The boy may be surviving in a sad situation but doesn’t stop hoping for future. Metaphor is used in ‘squirrel’s game’ to show that he wants to play like squirrels. Metaphor is used in “His eyes…dream” & the boy represents both- a glimmer of a wary hope & a shiver of mental depression.
Stanza 2 ‘On sour…words’-
a) The colour of sour cream is off-white. The walls symbolize the pathetic condition of the children highlighting the decaying aspect.
b)The gifts given as donations including the picture of Shakespeare are hung on these walls but his literature & works don’t hold any interest for them.
c)In the early morning time the sky is cloudless & the domes of institutions of the civilized world shine in every city in a picture. There is also a picture of the beautiful Tyrol valley (full of fragrant flowers) in the classroom & the children here can never experience its fragrance & beauty since they are condemned to live in the slum. Contrast has been used here also to show that the entire atmosphere of the school is one of inactivity which contrasts with the cloudless sky at dawn & concrete domes which override the cities. The elementary school in a slum is so squeezed & suppressed under the domes of the civilized valley that the children are unaware of the beauty of the sky at dawn.
d)The map of the world is being shaped & reshaped according to the free will of dictators & powerful people like Hitler and this world is being imposed on others. ‘Awarding the world’- imposing on us & others. ‘Its world’- the world as shaped by dictators. The map of the world in the classroom is symbolic of hopes & aspirations as it motivates the children to explore the world beyond the world which has been awarded to them by God. For these children this map is meaningless. Their own dirty & unpleasant surroundings (these windows) form their world. Their dirty & stinking world is far away from the spacious world of rivers, capes & stars (which are a symbol of hopes). The map of the world doesn’t include their narrow lanes & cramped holes in it. Rivers are a symbol of freedom.
e)They live in a world where the fog of uncertainty dominates their future (‘where…fog’). Metaphor is used in ‘future… fog’. Just as fog blurs one’s views in winters, the slum children’s future is blurred by hopelessness & lack of empathy. ‘words’- description of natural beauty in literature has no meaning for them as they can’t enjoy living there & getting freedom from their own poor living conditions. Metaphor is used in ‘lead sky’. Lead colour suggests dull & dark sky showing that there is no hope for the slum children.
Stanza -3 ‘Surely…doom’-
a)They don’t take interest in Shakespeare’s work. [‘Shakespeare…wicked’]. The world described in the map is also bad for them as they can’t enjoy its beauty with its ships (luxury, development), sun (natural beauty) & love (feelings of humanity, pity) & it raises their hopes & aspirations which may never be fulfilled.
b) ‘Tempting—-night’–In order to get their dreams fulfilled, such children are even tempted to adopt wrong ways. The lives full of miseries secretly enter into their cramped holes (showing that they live without any identity) & remain from their birth (where life is like fog of uncertainty) to death (where life is like an endless night).
c)‘On —– stones’– On heaps of waste (metaphor to describe their lives) these children wander around with their bones peeping out of their skins (symbol of poverty). Their spectacles with mended glasses look like broken bottles on stones. ‘Broken bottles on stones’ symbolize shattered hopes on rocks of life. Metaphor is used in ‘spectacles of steel’.
d)‘All…doom’- Their time is spent in the foggy (uncertain future) slum. The slums are like living hells which are blots on the maps of the civilized world reminding that their development is futile.
a) Unless powerful people like governors & visitors break these windows & bring the children out of dirt, nothing can happen. The world of the civilized should open up for these children like windows & not shut upon them like graves. A simile is used to show that the windows of the slum dingy rooms where these children study, look like lids of catacombs or cemeteries.
b) Let them come out of their narrow & dirty slums & see the green fields which symbolize hope. Their world also should extend to the sky blue waves rising over the golden sand which portrays golden hopes & world.
c)‘This map becomes their world’ – Let the map include their little school. The map is symbolic of the world which they never get & yet aspire for.
d)‘Let their tongues—sun’–Let books containing pages of age old wisdom be open to them & their tongues be able to express freely & fearlessly. Only such people create history whose language has the warmth & strength of the sun. Let them have freedom of expression & learning. Sun here refers to the light of education as the educated alone can change the world.
QUESTIONS WITH VALUE POINTS
Q1)Describe the images of distress, pain & disease.
– Faces like rootless weeds, hair torn round pallor, paper seeming boy, stunted unlucky heir, twisted bones, gnarled disease, future painted with fog, skin peeped through by bones, slum as big as doom, lives like catacombs.
Q2)The poem has been written against the background of the 2nd world war. Why doesn’t the poet describe the heroes & generals instead of slum children?
-The poet is both a pacifist & a socialist. So he hates wars & is concerned about social injustice, class inequalities & talks of 2 worlds & the gap between them & how it can be bridged.
Q3)The poem begins with a pessimistic note but ends optimistically.
Poem begins with a detailed description of distress, pain, diseases but ends with a note of hope that the gap between the 2 worlds can be bridged.
Q4)Whom does he give a clarion call & Why?
– To people of the civilized world to bridge the gap & bring the children out of slums & provide education.
Q5)Crushed under poverty, diseases & miseries, do the children have dreams & hopes? What & how?
– Refer to squirrels games.