A Critical Analysis of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘In Mrs Tilscher’s Class’ In Mrs Tilscher’s Class by Carol Ann Duffy, many issues are addressed about her class that play a part in explaining the subjects of the poem. To begin with the content and subjects of the poem are based around a school year in Mrs Tilscher’s class. Her entire class is trapped and enthralled during the school day. They are taught information, into intricate detail. For example the poem begins with the line, ‘you could travel up the blue Nile with your finger’.
This simply begins the world of imagination to which each and every child is subjected. Straight after that, the poem goes on to describe how the children are chanted the scenery of the world by Mrs Tilscher. She remarkably inserts images of geographical places, historical events and general knowledge firmly in the children’s brains. ‘Tana’, the great dam, ‘Ethiopia’, the last great King, Haile Selassie, ‘Khartoum’, where General Charles Gordon was assassinated on the step of the embassy and Lord Kitchener stepped in to relieve him at the siege.
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The great ‘Aswi?? n’ dam was known about and also the great pyramids of Egypt. Children viewed books as enthralling, fascinating and enjoyable to read which was remarkable for children of such different backgrounds. Carol Ann Duffy often uses short, sharp sentences in this poem to get her message across quickly and clearly. The children viewed their life at school as ‘better than home’. In my view this must have been something remarkably different for the children to have rather spent more time at school time than at home.
But why was this the case, there must have been something remarkably different for this to be true? In the second stanza we are probably told why, ‘Mrs Tilscher loved you’, we are told. She was kind, considerate, ‘some mornings you found she’d left a good gold star by your name’. Although this is not much, it is the sentimental thought which counts, all the little things add up to the big factor that the children viewed her as another mother and she felt the same way. Surprisingly, within the second stanza Carol Ann Duffy inserts a reality with upsets the imaginary atmosphere.
‘Brady and Hindley faded like a faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake’. This poem was clearly written in the late sixties or early seventies as we are shown by the mention of Brady and Hindley. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were convicted for abducting, sexually and mentally torturing and burying small children on the Lancashire moors. They were known as the ‘moor’s murderers’, at this stage in Britain all children were warned of such characters. Mrs Tilscher made it very clear to her children that there were such characters in the world and that they were safe within her classroom.
She tried to warn them of the realities they may face in the future. The murderers are pictured in the poem as fading like a mistake. Perhaps Mrs Tilscher is trying to imply to the children that all people make mistakes and they are just fading in the distance. However it is clear that they will always be there and it is unlikely any of the children would forget that. Not only did Mrs Tilscher educate the children but she taught them vital lessons for example ‘ mistakes are the steppingstones to success’ and the theory and reasons behind forgiveness.
Mentioning them in the middle of an idyllic situation reminded them of the unpleasantness which could not be kept away from the children. The use of alliteration is also used in this line with the words ‘faded’ and ‘faint’. However in the third stanza the mood changes as the terms go on and the reality of future prospects draw nearer and nearer. The children are obviously growing up, both physically and mentally. ‘The inky tadpoles changed from commas into exclamation marks’, time is moving on. The children become more and more sexually inquisitive and the children become more and more fed up and tense.
A dunce frees a few frogs simply to cause a bit of mischief, which amuses all the boys and a lot of girls, croaking around the playground. ‘A rough boy told you how you were born’ this would have been a shock to many children as they were still young but the atmosphere in the class is constantly changing from one that is idyllic and seemingly unchangeable to one with an uncertain future and nervous inhabitants. Finally the final stanza is perhaps the key verse. ‘A tangible alarm made you always untidy, hot, fractious under the heavy, sexy sky’.
This quote is once again emphasising the children’s natural sexual inquisitiveness as they gradually become aware of their hormones. ‘You asked her how you were born and Mrs Tilscher smiled, then turned away’. Mrs Tilscher and her children are in a state of innocence and what they ask is exactly what she tries to protect them from. She doesn’t want them to become in contact with the outside world so therefore she is not going to tell them, as she does not want them to know. It is clear that Mrs Tilscher is looked on with affection and that she loves them and doesn’t want them to grow up.
The term comes to an end, all are impatient to grow up and gain more freedom, and prosper within the high hopes of their lives. ‘You ran through the gates, impatient to be grown, as the sky split open into a thunderstorm’, the sky splits, they are impatient to grow up and enjoy themselves. However it is clear that they do not know what quite to expect as a lot more comes with adulthood than meets the eye, for example life is complicated, decisions have to be made and many, many responsibilities are given to you. The language of the poem portrays few significant similes and metaphors.
The only simile in the poem itself is in the second stanza, ‘the classroom glowed like a sweetshop’. This simile paints a fine, clear picture of what the atmosphere was like inside the classroom. We are informed that there is sugar paper and coloured shapes lining the walls, and glitter sparkling in the sunlight. The glowing sweetshop creates an atmosphere of happiness and security, almost as if it was possible to dip into. I find this simile very effective because this is a clear indication and description of the classroom.
Enjoyable enough for all to delve into it and enter their imaginary world, this simile is the only one in the play, however it is extremely important and gives us a vivid impression of the room itself. Few metaphors are present throughout the poem; ‘the laugh of a bell’ is significant by the fact that this was a privilege, to be happy, good and hardworking and to be awarded with the duty of bell ringing. From my view this was something most tried to achieve, not only was the bell laughing by the noise it made but the child swinging it, in a happy mood, swung the bell with enthusiasm and enjoyment.
‘A xylophones nonsense’ which was heard coming from another class is a less significant metaphor, once again illustrating the picture of happiness that was achieved in Miss Tilscher’s class, as ‘nonsense’ came from other classes. One other metaphor that appears in the fourth stanza is, ‘the air tasted of electricity’. This metaphor indicates a clear-cut change in the atmosphere. As storm clouds brew, a thunder and lightening storm is preparing to roar. The lassitude which penetrates the air is yet another indication that something different and new will soon happen.
The final metaphor is that of, ‘the sky split open’, the sky splits, just like a crack in a bowl, and everyone is oblivious to what is going to come next. I find that this is the most effective of the metaphors as it is true. As one goes into adulthood, there is a sense of obliviousness and you often are ignorant to your surroundings, exactly what this metaphor implies. The first two stanzas of this poem are quite different to the last two. The poet divides the poem into four stanza’s the first two have eight lines each, while the last two have seven lines each.
The tone of the first two is pleasant and cosy, apart from the reality check of mentioning Brady and Hindley. The last two are very different. The tone changes and there is a sense of discomfort. A cosy, idyllic picture is painted in the first two stanzas with phrases such as, ‘better than home’, ‘Mrs Tilscher loved you’ and ‘gold stars’. This is quite different from the last two as we are confronted be phrases such as ‘feverish July’, ‘the air tasted of electricity’, ‘untidy, hot’ and ‘heavy sexy sky’. This poem is very descriptive by the use of many adjectives.
Carol Ann Duffy constantly uses the word ‘you’. This suggests that she is implying it in a general sense towards each reader, as this is the sort of Primary School experience that most people went through. The poet has clearly made a division in the middle of the poem to emphasise the change, from good to bad. At the end of the poem, the metaphorical storm has been gathering since July. The ‘sky splitting open’ suggests that knowledge and adulthood are nothing but a shock. YOU are subjected to the shocks of the thunderstorm of adulthood which all have to pass through.
This is known as a rite of passage that everyone has to pass through. There is no obvious sense of rhythm nor is there a rhyming scheme in the poem. The sentences do not seem to flow clearly. This is probably because there are so many short sentences. Each line is about seven words long and very descriptive. This gives the impression that once again, great detail is used. ‘The scent of a pencil slowly, carefully shaved’, the use of alliteration here creates an atmosphere, which is so familiar to the readers.
It is almost as if the reader finds it possible to enter Mrs Tilscher’s class just by the picture the poet paints in the poem. This poem is very true and realistic, as it happens to everyone, it is a rite of passage. The children leave Mrs Tilscher and remember her with great affection, as it is the end of an era, which shall never be forgotten by anyone who was taught by Mrs Tilscher. You grow up, from age to age, until you reach the ‘thunderstorm of adulthood’ which all have to contend with.