“The Right Word” Analysis Using SMILE: Poetry (English Literature)


THE RIGHT WORD ANALYSIS Hello, welcome to another tutorial video.
This is an excellent poem – ‘The Right Word’ – mainly because it gets us thinking
about language and the words we use. So even though here it’s actually talking about
the connotations, in the degrees it talks about terrorism, freedom fighter, hostile
militant, etc., etc., the way we see the kind of other, it can be applied to anything just
in terms of the word ‘best’ or the word ‘worst’ or the word ‘hate’ etc., etc.,
and just thinking about all the degrees and connotations that we link with them. It’s
a fantastic poem. But we’ll go through this in general, specifically we’ll be going
through it with SMILE as ever. So we look first of all at the structure and
we’ve got these short stanzas and they actually show that the person is coming to very quick
judgements. So they’re just kind of hitting out ideas very, very quickly and obviously
that’s important to the theme as it goes because we’re actually thinking about the
language and the language change, once the person starts thinking. Now the thinking itself is actually reflected
in the use of questions. So the first statement is made and then we have a question actually
thinking and considering what that is and we have another one here. So the first one
is actually thinking about have I actually made the right choice by using that word?
And then the second one actually starts to question words in general, well what do they
do? And so that’s like a level one thought and then this is like a level two thought,
because obviously building from that one, and there are no more questions throughout
he poem, simply because once we get to that point there, we start questioning everything
and maybe start seeing things how they were and so that part there is really interesting
because it’s thinking for yourself, and it’s only in thinking for ourselves maybe
where we get to see more common ground than just listening to these kinds of words that
other people are using. That’s just one way of looking at it. Another really interesting structural feature
of this is the changing definition of what we’re seeing in the action all the way through.
So we start off in the most terrifying way and then it ends up in just this really kind
of soft and loving and homely unified way, so it’s kind of like an upside down triangle
where everything’s kind of coming into a point from being so distant but it all comes
towards us at the end. The reason that’s important is because it really focuses on
once we start thinking beyond our fears or actually trying to confront some of our fears,
what could happen with some of our ideas, etc., etc., etc., and I’m sure you’ve
got loads of examples in your own life where you had a stereotype of prejudice and then
when you worked towards dealing with it you found that it really ebbed away. And that’s
what the reader’s inviting us to do here with the terms used, especially the very commonly
used terms, etc. Interestingly enough there’s no judgement
on the right or wrong of the terms themselves, it’s just the idea of trying to connect
with the people, rather than the term, is going to make a difference.
So you’ve got the terrorist who becomes a freedom fighter, becomes a militant, becomes
a warrior, becomes a martyr, becomes a child, etc., etc., but also the way that they are
moving, hanging in the shadows, that’s really important. So they go from lurking to taking
shelter to waiting to watching, etc., etc., etc., so not only does the person there change
but the tone or the atmosphere round them changes as well. So look at what happens and
changes in the shadows and the fact that actually changes all the way through is just showing
the power of the thoughts and how thinking and watching and waiting before jumping to
conclusions actually makes a difference. So what themes do we have? Well the first
one that comes through is fear, this fear of the other, this person outside and that’s
really represented by the fact that outside is the first one is outside, outside of my
sphere of knowledge, outside of my sphere of reference, outside of my realm of understanding,
outside my confidence, whatever it is, that word ‘outside’ represents so much in that.
And then from there, that’s where we have our fears because it’s something outside,
it’s something we don’t know, it’s something distanced from us. Second of all we’ve got this feeling coming
through towards the end of common ground and all the things that we actually share, so
we see here we have this ‘child that looks like mine’ and we have ‘a boy who looks
like your son too’ and this person comes ‘and eats with us’. So that common ground
being referenced there is the common ground that maybe which should all try and get to
to actually find unifying threads between us, rather than using these labels that are
actually mentioned earlier, to separate and split us. The third thing I picked up upon, the reason
I like the poem so much, is it’s all about language, it’s all about the words that
you use and what they could mean and how it then be put, you can completely set someone
up in someone else’s eyes in a sentence. If you say ‘hey we’re going to go and
meet so and so later, he’s or she’s blah, blah, blah’, you’re literally going to
prejudice the person’s understanding of what’s going to happen or how they’re
going to take the person, whether you like it or not and just that language power, just
one person being able to transfer information to another person and the words that they
transfer that with is just going to make all the difference in the world to how that other
person’s actually going to understand it, and when you think about the mass media and
how it kind of affects us and how we actually look about people, talk about people, discuss
people, it’s massively, massively important. And a few changed words in a lot of our daily
discourse; you try it, try and find out a way of speaking – I’m sure you do it already
actually, I’m sure you speak to your mum differently, speak to your dad differently,
speak to your teacher, especially when you want something or when you’re trying to
make your own point. You know you can’t speak to them all in the same way, or you
can but it’s not going to be the most effective way of speaking to them and just that idea
of language control, the power of our words etc. that’s really important. It also brings us to thinking about the prejudices
that arise from the words that we use and obviously the connotations we have with them,
but that’s quite an obvious one, especially in this case when we’re using a word like
‘terrorist’. What knowledge does for you and what patience
could do for you. That’s like a secondary thing I just wanted to bring up because remember
through thinking about it and actually considering it, this poet or this person actually watching
through, actually considering it and going through their options and thinking about it.
Before they act upon anything the only action this person does apart from watching, is to
invite the boy in. So it’s actually showing you if you’re patient and you look and you
understand and you try and reason, then you can come to a connection, etc. And I think
that’s quite an important message to actually be taken. So we look then at images. I really like the
idea of the image that’s really striking, of the darkness outside, just the shadows,
the shadows, the shadows. I think that’s really important because it doesn’t just
represent the darkness in itself, but it represents the dark area to us that the other person
might be from, not literally as in skin colour, but like in terms of the lack of knowledge
we’ll have about a race or a people or a culture, etc., and be fearful or be frightened
of it. And obviously that darkness there comes with the idea of something sinister, it’s
just the natural association before we take steps to try changing that. The image of the morphing figure what it becomes,
well you can say kind of grenade laden terrorist who suddenly becomes this sword swinging freedom
fighter who becomes this bomb creating hostile militant, you can just see all these images
kind of being created until it becomes this little boy who just kind of walks in and takes
off their shoes. It’s just a massive transformation and to have one image change so much all the
way through a poem it’s really challenging. Can you take that all the way? Can you make
the person change as the person sees it? Or did you see it when you read the poem as seven
or eight different people coming in, change and change again? Or did you actually take
the principle idea and change that? So I think it’s an interesting idea to run with. We’ve got the image as well of the poet
watching and just imagine the look on their face as they decide, ‘ah hold on, no it’s
this’ how scared are they there? How scared are they there? How scared are they there?
How surprised are they there? How shocked and touched are they by then? Etc., etc.,
and then what’s going on here?’ So you think of the poet as well and how they’re
watching it and what that brings home to us about the fear, the change of fear or how
knowing a bit more and watching and waiting to gather all the information actually makes
a difference. And also I’ve mentioned the changing shadows.
The shadows are really influenced the character that we’re looking at them in, or that influence
the character. So by the time we get down towards the end we’ve got this boy, yes
‘lost in the shadows’. So this child now is ‘lost in the shadows’, whereas before
the person was lurking, they were using the darkness to their advantage but now here this
person needs help out of the darkness. So the change in the shadows around them I also
find a really powerful image. So the language then. We’ve got the words
‘out’ and ‘in’ or ‘outside’ and ‘in’ repeated quite a lot. So at the beginning
you’ve got ‘outside’, ‘outside’, ‘outside’, ‘outside’ and then towards
the end we have the ‘come in’, ‘come in’, ‘the child steps in’, so then it
just cements the unification, cements the joining from the split that we had at the
beginning and the distance that we had at the beginning. Because the darkness in that
way and the shadows can actually be seen as a barrier as well, because we can’t access
that person properly because of whatever barriers that are actually there in the shadows, known
or unknown, and that’s worth extending and actually taking and thinking about further. We’ve got language we’ve got ‘you’
used a couple of times to actually directly involve the reader, to actually make us think
about what it is we hold that is similar. How would we see things from another point?
How could we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see why they do what they do? And
also we’ve got the repetition that’s actually all the way through and that’s just a technique
just to keep us in the same place but change it slightly, just this slight moulding, this
general ebbing away, kind of the idea, just washing it down into something else. And that’s
only done by keeping the same idea and obviously in that way you’d have to keep a lot of
the same words and repeat them to let the things that you change then become all the
more important. So you’ve got ‘outside the door’, ‘outside the door’, ‘outside
your door’ and then little bits change just to change your whole perception of it. So read through it again and see how it changes
and what you actually think about as you’re going through. And you’ve also got alliteration
here, just really bringing the power of the actual words home to us because it’s really
making us focus on that section. So the effect on the reader then? Well it
makes us think about our prejudices and what we believe and don’t believe and what kind
of associations we’ve made with certain words etc., etc., etc. It makes us think about
what we hear and react to, so when we hear certain words not only just like what words
do we have, but it’s when we hear certain words, how does it make us feel? What does
it do to us positive, negative? What words are used to actually trigger us? Etc., etc.
I mean I think it was Philip K Dick who said ‘he who controls words, controls the people
that use the words’ and that’s fascinating because there’s a lot that can be said.
I mean obviously if you read 1984 then you’ve probably got some idea of the whole philosophy
behind this, whatever Orwell’s intentions were, but the idea of being able to, imagine
if you take some words away from the dictionary what would then happen, or I think it’s
quite a common one you might have come across – the enhanced interrogation or the phrase
enhanced interrogation – is quite a new term in our lexicon, in our dictionary almost.
Before we just kind of called that torture, but now because of the situation that we’re
in we just develop new terms and new words, for well that’s not torture, it’s enhanced
interrogation, etc., etc., etc. There are hundreds of different examples so you can
think about that. So it just makes us think about how we hear and react to and obviously
things are softened for us then. The diplomacy with which words are used to try and ease
things is quite good. It’s actually, if anyone is interested in linguistics it would
be a really, really good study element to actually develop that. And lastly, we actually think about other
peoples’ motives. Why could other people be using those words? What do they want us
to associate with them and what do they want us to think?
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