Essay, Pages 4 (808 words)
How does John Agard make the poem Half-Caste seem controversial? Think about the main features of the poet’s language which make it different from Standard English. Is the poem mainly directed against white people who use the term ‘half-caste’? The poem is controversial because it is challenging the idea that people of colour are, somehow, lesser beings than white people. This idea is ingrained in the term ‘half-caste’, which is used by many people – most of whom would consider themselves to be racially tolerant.
Though many people deny it, words are a powerful thing. I don’t know if the poem if just directed towards whites, though it is probably mostly directed towards whites. There are members of the black community who look down on those from mixed parentage. It is interesting to note, however, that the term is about black/white mixed parentage, not any other kind of ethnic mix. What the poem does do (which suggests that it is mostly directed towards white people) is challenge certain notions about black people.
The images associated with ‘half-caste’ are often quite sophisticated, with references such as Tchaikovsky and Picasso, which many white people would (ignorantly) assume black people have no idea about. It also makes many critical references to English culture and weather, which is generally associated with white people. The poet switches between Standard English and dialect, which shows intelligence and sophistication while at the same time remaining in contact with one’s roots.
The features which indicate the language isn’t Standard English are alternate spelling of words (which indicate how they are said); a lack of capital letters and standard punctuation; irregular use of tense (“when Picasso / mix red an green”); and the use of Afro-Caribbean terms (“ah rass”).
It’s pretty much a humorous poem. Above all, John Agard pokes fun at people who use the term “half-caste” (meaning somebody of mixed race, obviously) in a nasty or derogatory way.
He does this by a whole series of comparisons and wordplays to show that most of the wonderful things in life and nature turn out themselves to be “half-caste”, or (if you like) grey, or colourful – not merely “black” or “white”. In fact, by the end of all the examples he gives – weather that varies a lot, music that mixes sadness and happiness etc. – it starts to look a bit daft to expect anything to be just one colour or another. And that’s his point – and hence perhaps (of course) the particular kind of beauty of some so-called half-caste people…?
Issues of identity are explored in this poem and it has a powerful, assertive feel to it and is addressed to a narrow-minded listener. The main meaning put forward by John Agard represents the idea that we should not consider things to be made of half one thing and half another but we should look at the whole. The examples given include those of a Picasso painting and the English weather. Is a painting half-caste because it mixes colours on a canvas? Is the weather half-caste because grey and white mix as clouds in the sky?
The poet asserts that when contrasting colours or sounds mix, something new and beautiful is created. It is the listener who has only half a mind because of the narrow-minded views that they have. Why did the poet purposely use Tchaikovsky and Picasso? Does it have any resemblence to the theme of the poem? The reason John Agard uses Tchaikovsky and Picasso’s names in his poem is to represent culture. Tchaikovsky is a well-respected musician, and Picasso is a very famous painter.
His argument is that if these two icons of culture can produce things of beauty and desire by mixing two colours, then surely half-caste people should be considered to be of equal worth. He uses Tchaikovsky and Picasso to get the reader to examine his or her prejudices towards colour. The language used in “Half-Caste” is an appropriate mixture of dialect and standard English, to show that the speaker in the poem belongs to two cultures. The first verse opens with a question in Standard English, and then it moves into the dialect. “Explain yuself wha yu mean.”
Not only is this a dialect, but it is also only using half of words, so this fits in with the idea of being half a person. The mix of culture in the form of music (Tchaikovsky) and art (Picasso) with this form of language is striking. Even their names don’t conform to English grammar because they don’t have capital letters and no punctuation is used in the poem. This shows the poet rejecting the conventions of one culture and doing things his own way. There is some clever play on words in the poem to do with the idea of half, and being half a person.