Cultural conflict is when a new set of beliefs and habits overtakes and conceals the old set, deteriorating the sacred cultural connections established at birth. Sujatas “Search for My Tongue” and John Agards “Half-Caste” are both excellent examples of cultural conflict. In the both cases, the authors are attempting to depict the hardships involved with a clash of culture. In Search for My Tongue, Sujata Bhatt finds conflict between two languages: what would you do/if you had two tongues in your mouth (3-4).
In Half-Caste, Agard protests the racial discrimination towards the Guyanese interior hidden by the British exterior. Both poets express these cultural conflicts with the use of perspective, cultural context, literary devices, imagery and variations to syntax. The similarities in these poems show that cultural conflict is abundant and ubiquitous, whereas the differences provide uniqueness amongst the cultural conflicts.
In Search for My Tongue, Bhatts poem encompasses the conflict between mother tongue and the foreign tongue. These very physical objects replace her native language of Guajarati and foreign language of English. The use of this metaphorical analogy is widespread, such as in the French language, where the word langue means both tongue and language. According to Bhatt, if you had to/speak a foreign tongue,/your mother tongue would rot (10-12). The conflict between languages continues in the subconscious world, where the mother tongue always returns and blossoms out of my mouth (38).
Similarly Half-Caste is also a conflict of cultures, specifically race. John Agard is a mixed race of black and white light an shadow (13). His life in Britain has allegedly suppressed his black, unwanted side. This protest poem is the black side attempting to be freed just as how Bhatts mother tongue wants to grow(s) back (31). Agard often describes himself as half a person, standing on one leg (2), Half-a-eye (41), half-a-dream (43), half-a-shadow, (46). Bhatt searches for her two tongue but only finds one.
Contrastingly, Half-caste is a poem of external conflict between Agard and the disapproving English society, whereas Search For My Tongue is about self-discovery and internal conflict. In Search for My Tongue, lines between 1 and 14 are all in the 2nd person, which connects the poem to the reader. It is more dramatic and heartfelt than a narrative. Bhatts internal conflicts are voiced out to the world, searching for an answer to the question I ask you, what would you do (3).
Half-caste uses the exact same strategy in order to achieve a different goal. The 2nd person narrative is installed between lines 4 and 37. He uses phrases like Explain yuself/wha yu mean (4-5), which directly targets the discriminating British (you need proof of that from his poem) yo put the on metaphor with the sun dont pass in England society, it fits really well here . External conflicts between Agard and the society are immediately voiced. Both poems employ the perspective of the it is not 2nd person , JUDD told me that on Search for my tongue isto connect with the reader, but one does it to apply the internal conflicts to the outside world whereas the other does it to be heard.
Bhatt brings out her internal conflicts so that she can connect with the reader. In Search for My Tongue, many literary devices are used to bring out these internal conflicts. Her metaphorical tongues actually symbolize languages. She often changes between the ambiguous meanings. For example, she states that if you had two tongues in your mouth,/and lost the first one, the mother tongue, (4-5). Bhatt is giving supernatural qualities to the physical tongue. In an another example, she states that your mother tongue would rot,/rot and die in your mouth (12-13). In this case, Bhatt is creating personifications by giving lifelike, natural properties to a language. This shows how Bhatt is switching between the multiple meanings.
In Half-Caste, Agard also draws on multiple examples. Contrastingly, he uses allusions or references to external literary works. The two apparent allusions are Picasso and Tchaikovsky. Put the lines Both of these artists use contrasts to create a greater piece of work. According to Agard, a mixed person is a living example of beauty derived from two contrasting cultures. Although the meaning of these allusions is not ambiguous, they are often sarcastic and direct. The differences in the use of literary devices have to do with the fact that Bhatt is unclear about her cultural conflict, whereas Agard understands his cultural conflict.
Both poets use the literary device of repetition to express cultural conflict. For example, in “Search for My Tongue,” the words tongue and mouth are very abundant. The word “tongue” ends lines 2, 5, 7, 11 and 37. The word “mouth” ends lines 4, 13, 34 and 38. Not only does the repetition bring the poem together, it strengthens the message Bhatt is trying to send. It resembles a distress signal from a person with dire need.
Similarly, John Agard repeats the phrase “Explain yuself” in lines 4, 10, 23 and 31. This reminds the reader of the aggressive tone in this rebellious poem, and ties the poem together. Every time a new idea is brought up, “Explain yuself” is the introductory line.
Another way the poets attempt to describe cultural conflict is by the use of imagery. At the end of the poem, Sujata Bhatt writes “It grows back, a stump of a shoot” (31). This is a metaphor, comparing the mother language to a growing bamboo. The metaphor adds to the clear imagery. Continuing,Grows longer, grows moist, grows strong veins,It ties the other tongue in knots,The bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,It pushes the other tongue aside. (32-35)These lines paint a very explicit picture in the reader’s mind, helping the poet come across with the meaning.
Similarly, John Agard also appeals to the many senses. The “red an green” (8) on the “canvas” (9) feed on the human sense of sight. The “black key” (28) and “white key” (29) in the “symphony” (30) by “Tchaikovsky” (26) affect the human sense of hearing. Together, it allows the reader to fully experience the idea of “Half-Caste.”Finally, both poets use a strange form of syntax. In “Search for My Tongue,” Bhatt adds a full section of Gujarati. This symbolizes the rebirth of the mother tongue within Bhatt’s subconscious mind. In addition, between lines 31 and 35, there are no periods, replaced by commas. This section holds the imagery explained above, and periods would add unnecessary breaks.
Similarly, “Half-Caste” has no punctuations. Together with the differing dialect, it shows the poet opposing his surroundings. This is a form of protest, since Agard is not following the general rules of writing set by his racist opponents. Therefore, both poets express cultural conflict with variations to syntax.
When reading Search for My Tongue, a monolingual person would not be able to fully comprehend Bhatt’s cultural conflict, except when it is described physically. By allowing the reader to picture two tongues in their mouth, Bhatt’s internal conflicts are expressed externally, allowing her to share her pain with the world. However, someone who is bilingual may have already experienced similar cultural conflicts. Therefore, this bilingual reader will understand “Search for My Tongue” much better than a regular monolingual reader.
Similarly, “Half-Caste,” is also geared towards two different types of people. A person who isn’t mixed will not be able to comprehend this poem as well as someone who is mixed. In addition, Half-Caste protests against discriminative English people. In a less discriminative culture such as Canada where the use of racial slurs like half-caste is scarce, it is much harder to comprehend Agards cultural conflicts. Therefore, both Half-caste and Search for my Tongue are both good examples of how cultural context impacts how the poem is perceived.
In conclusion, both poems are affected by cultural context, which dictates the effect on the reader. For example, as previously stated, a bilingual person will be able to comprehend Search for My Tongue better than a monolingual person. However, Sujata Bhatt needs to ensure that the monolingual demographic will still be able to extract the full meaning. Both Bhatt and Agard achieve this by employing very similar methods. The narrative, metaphors and personifications, vivid imagery and variations to syntax all contribute to expressing cultural conflict.
Although the two poems have many commonalities, they are based on different subject matter. Search for My Tongue is about Bhatts internal conflict with herself, whereas Half-Caste is about Agards external conflict against his society. These conflicts differ, but are all linked to culture the overriding link between these entwining poems.
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