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Imagery and Language in 'Little Boy Crying' and 'Plenty'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1630 words Published: 27th Sep 2021

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“Little Boy Crying” by Mervyn Morris and “Plenty” by Isobel Dixon both explore the vivid childhood memories and experiences of the poets. In “Little Boy Crying,” a father deals with the troubles of raising a and disciplining a child; whereas in “Plenty,” Dixon describes her youth when she and her sisters could not afford the things they so greedily stole behind their mother’s back; finally comparing it to her prosperous present. I will explore how the poets use imagery and language, voice and tone, and structure and form to create effects and convey their experiences.

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“Little Boy Crying” is based on a father’s true story revealing the how he once treated his son. It depicts the themes of sadness, remorse, and love. Morris describes his battle with fighting the regret he feels for slapping his son because he loves him so much, “longs to lift you, curb your sadness.” This is perhaps to depict the contrast between the two emotions and the danger of what happens when they collide. At first, the reader empathizes with the boy, however, as the poem progresses and the father’s situation is understood, the reader begins to empathize for him as well.

“Plenty,” is based on Dixon’s chaotic youth with her sisters. It explores the themes of chaos, restriction, and realization. Dixon writes about her memories of the past, often referring to her mother’s anger over the chaos she and her sisters create by ignoring the mother’s restrictions, “her lips… anchored down… not knowing then it was a clasp to keep us all from chaos.” This shows that as you get older, you realize the importance of order and begin appreciating your parent’s hard labor.

Mervyn Morris’ use of powerful language helps the reader relate to the situation described. The title, “Little Boy Crying,” already provokes a sad image of what is forthcoming in the poem, creating an instantaneous dramatic effect on the reader. In the first stanza, Morris expresses the changes which his son undertook since the slap, “mouth contorting,” “laughter metamorphosed,” and “frame so recently relaxed now tight.” The word “metamorphosed,” exemplifies the rapidity of the change of the boy’s facial expression, creating a more powerful image of the emotions the boy is feeling. These changes quickly introduce the reader to the circumstances.

Powerful imagery of water is seen in the phrase “swimming tears, splashing your bare feet,” where sibilance and personification of the tears have been used to invoke a more dramatic sense of the boy’s misery. The phrase “quick slap stuck,” creates a more sped up and violent interpretation of the happenings; and the use of onomatopoeia in “slap,” creates a more graphic scene.

Overall in the first stanza of “Little Boy Crying,” many sad and angry words are used to create a depressed mood: “Howls,” “frame… tight,” “frustration,” “swimming tears,” and “guilt or sorrow.” Such powerful phrases are used to invoke a more immediate effect of grief and a relation to the situation by the reader. The reader becomes more compassionate and understanding of the characters.

In the second stanza the father imagines himself in the son’s position, alluding to the fairytale “Jack and the Bean stalk,” evoking powerful imagery of hatred as well, “The ogre,” “grim giant,” “colossal cruel,” “Chopped clean the tree [the father’s] scrambling down.” The use of alliteration of “g” in “grim giant” and “c” in “colossal cruel,” places emphasis on the phrases to describe the pure hatred the father thinks the boy must feel against him, signifying that he knows he is being mean and understands his decisions were harsh. The reference to a well-known fairytale increases the reader’s ability to relate to the situation and creates a more vivid scenario.

In the third stanza, the line “You cannot understand, not yet” demonstrates that the child does not acknowledge the fact that his father is teaching him a lesson. The father seems very guilt struck and at fault that he had to take such measures to teach a lesson, “The hurt your easy tears can scald him with.” The boy does not realize the pain his display of sadness causes his father, who obviously takes no pleasure in making his son cry. The father seems to regret his actions however stays firm to teach the lesson, “Longs to lift you, curb your sadness.” The alliteration of “l” emphasizes the longing however the father stays strong to ensure his son is raised with the correct values.

The last stanza implies the little boy has been playing in the rain, “you must not make a plaything of the rain.” This line has several meanings such as the immorality of trying to get sympathy by crying. On another level, it could be the father instructing himself to take his lessons more seriously and his need stay firm to show discipline.

Isobel Dixon also uses powerful imagery and language to convey her messages. The title itself contrasts with nearly the entirety of the poem as poverty has placed them far away from “Plenty”. Isobel Dixon creates an intense mood using vivid description early on in the poem.

In the first stanza the reader is introduced to Dixon’s memory of an “enamel tub, age-stained and pocked upon its griffin claws, never full.” Such an image conveys the impression that that the family cannot afford proper equipment such as a bathtub and is unable to fill it with water as it is too costly and in short supply.

Water is recognized as a representation of their deprivation from basic necessities in the ongoing “expanse of drought where dams leaked dry and windmills stalled.” The alliteration of “d” in the phrase “drought where dams leaked dry,” enhances the effectiveness of the image created by making them more prominent in the description.

The stalled windmills are subsequently compared with the mother’s smile, “Like mommy’s smile.” This infers that her smile has stalled. Dixon uses metaphors to describe her mother’s frown, “a clasp to keep us all from chaos.” The metaphor is used to create a more vivid image of the mother’s efforts to keep the family together. Additionally, the onomatopoeia of the word clasp creates a more powerful picture.

Many cases of sibilance are found in the phrase “she saw it always, snapping locks and straps, the spilling: sums and worries, shopping lists…” The ongoing repetition of the consonant “s” creates an almost explosive ringing.

The poet uses contradictory phrases to exaggerate their meaning in the oxymoron, “each month was weeks too long.” A month is always an exact number of weeks long; however Dixon implies that they never had enough money to cover an entire month’s worth of spending.

In the penultimate stanza, when describing the present, Dixon uses enjambment in the line “water’s plentiful, to excess, almost, here./” This creates a slower progression in the poem and exemplifies how she is disregarding all her previous worries about taking “another precious of water.”

“Little Boy Crying,” is written from the voice of the father; however it changes perspective several times. In the first stanza, the father is observing the reaction of his son. In the second stanza, the father attempts to view the situation from his son’s point of view. In the third stanza a third-person view responds to the happenings, explaining the father’s feelings.

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In contrast, “Plenty,” is written entirely from Dixon’s point of view. She writes in a voice which seems apologetic because of all the disorder she now recognizes she caused, “not knowing then,” and “we thought her mean.” Later, she compares it to the present, where “bubbles lap my chin.” Even though she is grateful for the present luxury in her life, she misses her childhood, “miss my scattered sisters.”

In “Little Boy Crying”, Morris uses long sentences with small amounts of punctuation to create tension and make the reader keep reading. The first stanza is composed of seven lines, however only one sentence. The stanza length is a little beyond average, and the last stanza ends abruptly as it consists only of one line. Ending a poem with one line creates force and stress to the line, making the reader consider it more. The use of enjambment establishes a greater emphasis on the word previous to it, such as “howls, frustration, and tears.” This is done to put pressure on specific words, empowering their meaning and adding importance to their effect. They become more noticeable than the rest of the words

In “Plenty,” Dixon uses normal length sentences and stanzas, which contradicts the chaos depicted in the poem. She does not use very much enjambment, creating an ongoing flow of reading. Her use of punctuation varies greatly as in the fourth stanza; three full-stops are used. On the other hand, in the fifth and sixth stanzas, altogether only one full-stop is used. This creates tension when it’s needed and adds a story-like effect.

“Little Boy Crying,” by Mervyn Morris and “Plenty,” by Isobel Dixon both delve into the moving childhood experiences they have. In “Little Boy Crying,” a father resists the urge to apologize to his son for disciplining him; whereas in “Plenty,” Dixon describes her chaotic youth with her sisters; finally comparing it to her present. “Little Boy Crying” explores the themes of sadness, discipline, and regret. “Plenty,” explores the themes of chaos, restriction, and realization. Both poems have their underlying messages such as in plenty, where patience helps us all deal with many of life’s everyday problems. In “Little Boy Crying,” one learns the difficulty of punishing a child even though it is for the greater good of them.


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