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People are at the centre all communities. They embody the values, customers and ideas that particular culture possesses. By examining how people behave and think, it is possible to gain a greater understanding of how their cultural roots affect them. ‘Island Man’ describes how an immigrant in London reacts to his environment as he dreams of his Caribbean home.
In contrast, the people in ‘Two Scavengers…’ all live in San Francisco, but lead totally different lives there.
‘Island Man’ uses structure to show the conflicting and confused waking thoughts of the man. There is no punctuation, the line lengths vary and some phrases are totally misplaced, as is the individual: “he always comes back groggily groggily”. Like ‘Island Man’, ‘Two Scavengers…’ also has no punctuation. It represents an instant in time, like the flash of a camera.
The conflicting images seem to be laid one on top of the other, line by line, emphasising the contrasts between the two lifestyles.
The language in ‘Island Man’ shows the inner turmoil that the character is going through. The reader gets a series of contrasting images. For example, “the sound of the blue surf” of the Caribbean conflicts with, the “grey metallic soar” of London. The “pillow waves” show the troubled sleep he has had which has caused the ruffles, but also tells of the dreams he has had of his “emerald island”.
The word “wombing” suggests the sense of security his homeland offers him, in contrast to the faceless “dull North Circular roar” of London. Contrast is also used in ‘Two Scavengers…’, but here it is the contrast of the different types of people: the woman is “casually coifed”, the older man is “grungy”. Although the young men’s hair and glasses are similar, their appearances are mostly very different; the “hip three-piece linen suit” conflicts with the “red plastic blazers”.
The use of vocabulary is effective in both poems. Some words, such as “soar”, “roar” and “surge” have double meanings: they are positive when they relate to his island, but have negative meanings in London. In ‘Two Scavengers…’, descriptive words are used to highlight the differences between the people. For example, “scavengers” are unworthy compared to “an elegant couple”. The poet uses this contrast to make a direct criticism of society and how it creates this division between rich and poor people. Phrases like “small gulf” emphasise how these people may only be a few metres apart on the street, but, in terms of their lifestyles, they will never meet.
Both poets show how the people feel in their different situations and give us their own view. ‘Island Man’ obviously has fond memories of the Caribbean but resents his dull lifestyle in London. We can feel his depression as he “heaves himself” to “Another London day”. Grace Nichols has sympathy for this man as he feels the conflict of these two cultures. The feelings revealed in ‘Two Scavengers…’ are very one-sided, as we have the envy of the poor, “as if they were watching some odorless TV ad / in which everything is always possible,” contrasting with the uncaring attitudes of the rich, who don’t even seem to notice the truck or its passengers. The poet’s attitude here is one of despair at this unequal society.
‘Island Man’ has made me more aware how it might feel to be trapped in a foreign country, while ‘Two Scavengers…’ starkly highlights the divisions in American society. The poems have made me hope that in the future, society will be more equal and that governments who promise equal opportunities for all will deliver on what they say.
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