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This passage from Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch is an account of an adventurous European boy in China who wishes to explore the different cultures and experience the extraordinary. Yet he is overwhelmed by the barbarity of the new culture and this reveals to the reader the unexpectedness of life from the boys perspective. Through the first person narrative and detailed descriptions of the events, various themes such as teenage rebelliousness, gap between different cultures and our limited knowledge is highlighted through different literary features such as contrast, colour imagery and metaphor.
From the very beginning, the juxtaposition between the inside and the outside of the European villa accentuates the differences between two cultures. Inside the villa, where the foreigners live, seems to be more secure and settled as reflected by the reference to the stable doors. The boys observation of the signs of cultivation also hints the civilised European culture inside the walls. This perhaps links to Mr Butlers comment that foreigners are not very popular and people outside and foreigners have separate communities.
The main character using moth eaten balls and the old tennis racket shows that young people like himself used to stay at the villa, but not for long periods of time it is where people dont appreciate the thoughts of the young. As the plot develops, the change in the setting is emphasized by imagery.
Words such as a black speck and a dark boulder are colour imageries used to foreshadow the unfavourable and unexpected event.
Outside of the European villa, the human head that the boy has found implies that the culture outside is in a way, barbaric. This is supported by cruel images such as odd white teeth stood up like ninepins in its dark, gaping mouth, its cheeks and shrivelled lips were plastered black with dried blood. These images not only highlight the unfortunate and unexpected events, but also give emphasis on difference between the two cultures. The boys fear and realisation of the hostility between cultures are conveyed from the head is described through imagery. Tall rank grass grew was dry and sharp as knives. Also the second mention of the insects reminds the boy of the head, causing the boy to feel more fearful.
Through the main character, the author explores various themes of maturity and our awareness of different cultures. Readers are able to observe that the main character seems to be a boy, from him playing tennis. It is shown that he is an adventurous person as he is [longing to explore]. He [hates] to be dependent on other people and says they would never want to do what I want to do- highlighting the theme of teenage rebelliousness and his desire to be independent.
His unhappiness and dissatisfaction with his quiet lifestyle is suggested when [He hits] the balls fiercely against the stable doors. The boy feels imprisoned in a European villa and a line of poplars; the orderly line of poplar implies the structured and formal environment of the villa. For the boy, even the straight line of poplars is a sign of restriction and [imprisonment]. . As an act of rebellion, he does not want to listen to the elders, but carries out what he believes to be right, without rational thinking about the consequences. .
From the action of the main character, the author highlights the themes of teenage rebelliousness, difference between two cultures and acceptance of a different culture. In the line, [he] let [himself] quickly out of the back gate, the back gate has an implication that it was done in secret. This once again reinforces the theme of teenage rebelliousness as this action was disapproved by Mr Butler and Mr Roote the adults. Despite his rebellious nature, however, his immaturity and lack of knowledge are evident in his initial response to finding the head.
The rather naïve observation of the head, I saw that the object was not black but pink shows that he was not able to identify what he was seeing highlighting the boys unawareness of other cultures. This colour imagery used to describe the head, helps the reader picture the situation, and senses the shock that the boy feels. The line [he] stared at it stupidly until [his] numbed sensescan be interpreted as him being stupid and numb in the understanding of other cultures. When he finally finds out that it was a human head, [he jumps back]with [horror] and [terror]. Such shock from the discovery of a new culture highlights the unexpectedness of some events in life.
The boys panic is emphasized through metaphors and diction in the passage. The first cur barked as a sound imagery, contributes to the fast-flowing and panicking situation where the boy is running away from the head. Also, the wall is a metaphor for the separation between the two cultures. The tall rank grass that is dry and sharp as knives, shows that one culture is almost trying to repel the people from another. Also, knives are an image that conveys cruelty and hostility between the two cultures. The boys horrified action and shock contributes not only to the differences of two cultures but also the lack of endeavour to tolerate these differences.
In the passage from Maiden Voyage, various themes such as expectations from different cultures, teenage rebelliousness and our limited knowledge are explored though a European boys horrifying experience. These themes are supported by a variety of literary features such as colour imagery, metaphor and contrast. The authors message that people should try to accept and understand other cultures is conveyed in the passage through highlighting these main themes.
Text -Foreigners are not very popular here, Mr Butler told me at breakfast. So I dont think you ought to go out alone.My heart sank. I hated to be dependent on other people. They would never want to do what I wanted to do. I began to feel imprisoned. I took up the moth-eaten balls and the old tennis racket which were lying in the hall, and went into the garden.
I hit the balls fiercely against the stable doors until I was too hot and unhappy to go on. I sat brooding on the steps. I might have been in Sydenham for all I could see a European villa and a line of poplars; yet outside lay a Chinese city which I was longing to explore.
After lunch I decided that I could stand it no longer. Mr Butler and Mr Roote were still deep in their mornings discussion, so I let myself quickly out of the back gate and walked along the sandy lane which led into the country. Mr Butler could not mind my walking in the country, I thought.
Everything was still and silent, in an early-afternoon torpor. The only sound came from the stunted bushes which squeaked and grated linguistically as the wind passed through them. Pillars and scarves of dust and sand rose up from the ground, eddying and swirling themselves into flat sheets which hovered in the air. Harsh spears of grass stuck up through the sand. The soles of my shoes began to burn and I looked round vainly for some shady place. I enjoyed the dreamlike stillness and wanted to stay out for as long as possible. I thought that if I walked on I might find a place. The road led towards the hills. Across the sandy plain the city walls stood up like cliffs. Turrets and bastions were ruined cottages, crumbling into the sea.
I walked on, fixing my eyes on a black speck some way in front of me. I wondered if it could be a cat crouching in the middle of the road; or perhaps it was a dark boulder.
As I drew nearer, a haze of flies suddenly lifted, and I saw that the object was not black but pink. The loathsome flies hovered angrily above it, buzzing like dynamos. I bent my head down to see what it was. I stared at it stupidly until my numbed senses suddenly awoke again. Then I jumped back, my throat quite dry and my stomach churning.
The thing was a human head. The nose and eyes had been eaten away and the black hair was caked and grey with dust. Odd white teeth stood up like ninepins in its dark, gaping mouth. Its cheeks and shrivelled lips were plastered black with dried blood, and I saw long coarse hairs growing out of its ears.
Because it was so terrible, my eyes had to return to it whenever I looked away. I stared into its raw eye-sockets until waves of sickness spread over me. Then I ran. The whole plain and the bare hills had suddenly become tinged with horror.
I found myself between high banks. I would soon be coming to a village. There were signs of cultivation. When the first cur barked, I turned and ran back the way I had come. I did not know what to do. I would have to pass the head again.
I tried to avoid it by making for the city walls across the pathless sand. My feet sank in, and my shoes became full and heavy. My only idea was to get back to the house.
Tall rank grass grew in the shadow of the wall. It was dry and sharp as knives. I pushed through it, looking up at the towering cliff for a gate or steps to climb. Nothing else seemed to be alive except the insects. I could only hear their buzzing and the slap of them when they hit the wall.
There was no gate. I began to feel desperate. I ran towards a bastion, wondering if I could climb up to it in any way. I knew that I could not.
Denton Welch, Maiden Voyage (1943)
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