‘Strange Fruit’ Paragraph Review

Hi people, Ms Yeo and I originally intended to use our first tutorial this week to review the paragraph you wrote on the poem ‘Strange Fruit’, and it is with a strange mix of joy and self-annoyance that we did not. I would go as far as to say that all the work I received was very encouraging indeed, in that everyone sought to analyse the poem for methods, evidence and effects… and no one attempted to ‘explain’ what was going on in the poem. With that in mind, I personally did not want to dedicate a tutorial to covering skills most of you have mastered, and so ask that you use your next two tasks to work on your strengths and areas for improvement!

Led by the guiding questions, many paragraphs ably analysed the external effects on the reader, with some detailing your experience of the work: being lulled into calmness by one line, surprised by the next, drawn back into the illusion of safety, and shocked out of your slumber. Being aware of ‘how the reader feels’ is important because it tells us you are aware that the text is, well, an ‘experience’ constructed with methods, in order to evoke effects and make a particular statement (purpose). Keep this up, especially as we move into analysing our two dramatic texts, Measure for Measure and Woman in Mind, as the effects on stage (e.g. fantastical, comic, tense) will often differ from the effects on their respective audiences.

Some, though not all, were able to support this with a pattern of evidence and close analysis of specific evidence. On the bright side, everybody was able to identify methods and analyse at least some evidence. What I’d like to see everyone also do is identify 2-3 bite-size quotations that fall under the method you are listing. If you are selecting ‘crows to pluck’, I would expect you to also consider ‘sun to rot’ and ‘wind to suck’ as they all present a sense of destruction or from the perspective of the fruit, a complete vulnerability to the violence of nature.

Once you have multiple quotations, you can achieve depth in your analysis (i.e. you elaborate on your point to totally convince your marker) by explaining the effect(s) of key words. For instance, you can examine how ‘crows’ are symbolic of death or the helplessness of men to fend off these birds. You could also look at one or two of the verbs, where ‘pluck’ suggests that the black bodies are prey and that nature itself is like the men who have committed the atrocities vicious. Those of you who focused on the writer’s use of juxtaposition sometimes glanced over the opportunity to look at these key words (determined by you, by the way).

On the other hand, there were several paragraphs that analysed the use of methods and their effects expertly, warranting tick after tick after tick. A few (again not all) could have made their response a little more cogent by providing some socio-historical context and addressing the purpose of the poem (i.e. ‘what the poem says and does‘).

Let me illustrate socio-historical context first. While you are not expected to know this for an unseen poem, mentioning the practice of lynching in the South, the brutal, inhumane treatment of black people, or just the execution of ‘black bodies’ in a beautiful setting helps to make the ‘what’ all that much stronger. You don’t need a ton of background knowledge (that’s not the point of analysing an unseen text) but you can infer a general context from the poem. Taking ‘The Man in the Bowler Hat’ as an example, the context for the poem is city life, the daily commute on the train, the everyday coming and going of the everyman (i.e. the man in the bowler hat) or the way we travel every day without noticing anyone’s face, without recognising their individuality. I am connecting my general (and truly limited) understanding of the world to the poem, and that’s context. As we read ‘Mr Bleaney’, you might think about old lonely people who live in their one-room HDB apartments. Is that immediately relevant? Nope. But the poem is certainly about an old lonely figure who lives a mundane, monotonous and pared-down existence, which is fairly universal. That is enough.

Moving onto purpose, a few paragraphs could have gone one more step beyond ‘how the poem makes the reader feel’ or ‘what the poem presents to the reader’, which is seriously already very good at this stage. What I asked some of you to do was consider why the poem adopts a tone of detachment or why the poem tries to horrify the reader. The missing part here is the concern and the action. The poem appears indifferent towards the suffering of the ‘black bodies’ in order to kindle the reader’s sympathy. The poem seeks to shock the reader with images of gore, so that we are outraged by the cruelty that is simply out of place in the peaceful, pastoral South. You might even call the poem a ‘passive-aggressive protest‘ against this state of affairs, or a ‘re-examination of the reader’s conscience as we sit by idly doing nothing about these travesties’. Ultimately, tell us what you think the poem does.

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