How Is the Theme of Growing Up Explored in a Range of 20th Century Poems

How is the theme of growing up explored in a range of 20th century poems? The theme of growing up is explored in a variety of ways in many 20th century poems, using different language techniques, that I am going to explore, to convey the emotion of children growing up in the times of class discrimination and racism.The four poems that I have chosen are all from different perspectives, the child’s or parents, or from retrospective points of views, recalling on the speaker’s life as a child.

Chapter 7 : Black Bottom of The Adoption Papers, by Jackie Kay, is an extract of a poem that I am going to analyse.This poem is about a white mother adopting a black child and how she faces racial bullying by the more “superior” whites in Glasgow, Scotland.

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The Adoption Papers uses the child, the white adoptive mother, and the white biological mother’s voice in alternating first person narrative, written in the present tense giving the poem themes of growing up, bullying and racism.

The other two are from retrospective points of views, reflecting on the speakers’ lives as children and how they had to cope with the difficulties of growing up in a class system society. My Parents Kept Me From Children Who Were Rough, by Stephen Spender, is a poem about an adult reflecting on his childhood in the upper middle class, and the lower class bullying him because of the social differences, exploring themes of loneliness, remorse and fear.

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, is the third poem I will analyse, explaining how choosing the correct path will determine the outcome of your life, and that maybe taking the lesser travelled road could make the difference. The Adoption Papers is themed on the effects of racism on younger children while they are growing up. This effect on the child is explored in detail throughout the poem and how she has had to cope with being victim of racial bullying, “you were fighting yesterday, again”. The uses of caesura and end-stopping show how racial bullying is an ongoing problem for her.

While growing up, bullying is always a problem whether it is discriminative, racial, physical or verbal. The way she learns to cope with bullying is through her fists, which isn’t always the answer, whereas in My Parents Kept Me From Children Who Were Rough the speaker was a victim of physical bullying of the same nature. The children being “rough” in this poem, were all subjected to be looked down upon as lower class by the higher classes; causing them to become “rough” and seen as the bullies in the situation because of their need of a sense of security.

The bullies in this poem have many references to the child in The Adoption Papers as she is seen as a victim that fights back against what she thinks isn’t fair, and both think that it is necessary to use fighting as a survival method to cope with the pain of being referred to as “abnormal” or “other” compared to the upper class who would call themselves “normal”. Both of these poems demonstrate the effects of an ignorant society. In The Adoption Papers, the child’s adoptive mother is also faced with having to deal with the effect of racial bullying toward her daughter.

She often tells her daughter to ignore the bullies and the racial remarks, understanding what her daughter is going through and is always in her support, “You tell. You tell. You tell…your little girl a doing”. The use of sentence structure and punctuation here shows one of the effects bullying as had on the mother’s life. The very short, two word sentences, presenting the speech of the racist children’s mothers, can be seen as frantic, that they are quick to pass judgement and also do not want to be in their presence for long because of the social standing.

Also the mothers upon hearing that it was a black child, have no second thought on accusing the child showing that, because of their ignorance and racist attitudes, that they weren’t worth empathising with and that they would have no excuse. The adoptive mother’s sentence structure on the other hand, has no caesura and is only one longer sentence. By structuring this “conversation” between the mothers like so tells us that the adoptive mother is neither ashamed or concerned by her daughter being of a different race and also suggests that she will always make a finishing point in an argument.

The Road Not Taken is a poem also themed on growing up and represents life as roads or paths with different turning points and directions. Upon these turning points, one must choose in which direction to go, the one worn or the one less trodden on. This poem’s voice is of an adult reflecting back on his life in general and how these paths are just another part of growing up and that, in life, you would come across many different roads from which to choose.

Robert Frost expresses this idea throughout the poem and also about the choice between two roads that had not been used, “Because it was grassy and wanted wear / Had worn them really about the same”. A tone of regret is sensed here because of how Frost structured the stanza. By having “Had worn them really about the same” after “Because it was grassy and wanted wear”, Frost’s meaning could be interpreted that the speaker could be mumbling or talking to himself, as if they are proud of their choice even though they know nothing of what could have been on the other path.

This is later shown when the speaker says, “I shall be telling this with a sigh” suggesting that the speaker knows that they are likely to twist the truth, and seem heroic, in a more triumphant manner. Overall, I think that The Adoption Papers by Jackie Kay explores the theme of growing up in a very critical and thought provoking manner by using a wide range of literary techniques, such as caesura, repetition and similes, and that this poem is it most likely to stir the reader because of the detailed use of present tense, causing the reader to feel empathetically towards the child.

My Parents Kept Me From Children Who Were Young uses simple literary techniques, such as repetition, end-stopping and word choice, but in an effective method to convey the harsh realities of bullying while growing up. The Road Not Taken theme of growing up is conveyed in a different manner using a retrospective view, along with a long sentence structure, metaphors and an overall rhyming structure of a, b, a, a, b, to show that you may have regrets in life but life choices are important decisions and that is it all a part of growing up.

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