Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Welcome Back Y12!


Welcome back! You worked really well today.
We looked at the the expectations for the A2 course and what is required of you. I am very excited about this unit and I hope that this is infectious! We will study a range of texts and some critical perspectives. These are in a critical anthology that you'll get next lesson. The specification for the course can be found here; we are doing Unit 4 LitB4 - Further and Independent Reading.
So, in the lesson today, we looked at Tony Harrison's National Trust. We first considered the meanings of National Trust. It first evokes images and thoughts of conservation, parks ans listed buildings. We then dug a little deeper and considered the security in trust; that we trust that this institution will look after the country, the nation's best interests, and preserve what should be preserved. Here then, we considered the polysemic meaning of 'national trust'. After thinking about the title, the poem seemed to undermine our expectations of a thoroughly British, patriotic vision. 
The poem is here
Tony Harrison's poems are written to be listened to. The need to be listened to in a Northern accent.

We discussed accents and the associations that we have of people with particular accents.

We did some analysis of the poem. We'll do more of this. 
We then looked at one of the extracts from the critical anthology that you have for Unit 4: Marxism.
We reduced the reading down to a sentence per paragraph, word per paragraph, sentence for the complete reading and then a word. 
The sentences that we discussed in class were:

  • Marxism continues to be relevant after the fall of communism as it allows an intellectual perspective that requires us to consider socio-economic circumstances.
  • Karl Marx outlined that a person's socio-economic circumstances has a significant impact upon their thought and consciousness.
  • Some people, including politicians, say that we are free and the right choices will allow social mobility.
  • Money is everything, we are never free from it.
  • Capitalism exploits workers by paying them less than they are worth and this creates alienation in a  society driven by profit. 
These aren't great sentences, but they reflect my understanding of the text. The object of the exercise was learning not sentence writing! If you haven't completed this exercise, you need to do it to understand it. 
We then returned to the poem and applied a Marxist critical perspective to it. 
Homework - there are two
I would like you to write a paragraph about the poem from a Marxist perspective. To do this you'll need to take a tiny aspect of the poem and comment on how it relates to the socio-economic circumstances. I want you to write this paragraph in the comment box below. (Probably best if you do this in Word, or similar, and paste.)
Even if you were in the Further Fun exam, I'd like you to still do this homework. (Those of you that missed the lesson will need to find me to get the reading.)
Finally, I would like you to watch this series. What a fabulous homework I hear you cry! You'll have to watch it in 10minute parts though.

If you would like to extend your learning further, have a look at historical materialism.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Good to see you back. You're going to love this Unit!


  1. ‘Bottomless pits,’ can be read as a reference to the wealth of the upper class, the excess of which makes them forget it’s meaning. The creates a paradox in that their wealth both becomes irrelevant to them yet it is everything to them - it gives them their position, power and creates greed. ‘Bottomless’ here emphasizes the endless amounts of this greed within the upper class and creates a vivid metaphor of the emptiness this brings to their lives. ‘Pits’ can be taken literally to reference the mines, at the time of writing, many lower class workers were losing their jobs in the mines. ‘Bottomless’ then could highlight their helplessness - they had barely any control over society, let alone over their jobs. This desperate portrayal of the working class as struggling victims underpins the violence throughout the first stanza in particular; Harrison is supporting those who have no power in society (as Marx did) by creating sympathy for them, thus portraying them as those who deserve (work hard in the ‘pits) the most from society, and so should be the most important.


  2. “the tongueless man gets his land took.”

    This conveys the idea that the working class has no recognised power on wider society; “tongueless” even implies that this is a deformity and the disturbing image evokes sympathy. The use of the singular, “man”, weakens the idea of their influence further still, while also highlighting them as human. The possessive pronoun emphasises the injustice and also shows the irony of the men working with the land, but not owning it. Being the last line of the poem “took” is the end focus of the text and the harsh syllable, re-enforces the harsh sentiment. The language is written in a colloquial tone so the idea of the un-educated, working man comes across. This ties in with the inability of communication (in the physical sense) that is alluded to in this line.

  3. Onomatopoeia of 'hush hush' emphasises feelings of secrecy and repression of the lower classes, and 'winched him down' could similarly represent the constraints of the social ladder, both physically and metaphorically. The poet explores some ideas upon which Marxism is built. In using violent language towards the lower-class such as 'silenced,' 'killed,' and 'flayed,' sympathy is created, which leads us to believe that we should not be repressed by our socio-economic circumstances, under a regime with a class system. Anisha

  4. Well done guys!
    You need to get this done if you haven't. It's your homework and the usual consequences will apply... I do expect you to do this homework even if you weren't in the lesson.
    Need lots more though in a short space of time.
    Have a go - you don't need to leave your name.
    Ms :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. “Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr”. By writing in Cornish, Harrison affirms his support for the southern miners by giving them back the voice which he feels has been lost in history. When first read the unintelligible statement feels alien to the reader, reinforcing Harrison’s Marxist thesis that the workers are powerless and forgotten at the hands of the upper-classes, in this case the scholars. Harrison further shows his contempt for the scholars by writing the poem in a form that is reminiscent of a sonnet, with the use of an ABAB rhyming scheme, as well as the two longer stanzas followed by a short stanza at the end which finishes with a rhyming pair. The sonnet form was very popular with upper-class, scholarly poets such as Shakespeare and Spenser, with the subject matter very often being love and beauty, whereas Harrison uses the form to convey what is essentially a political polemic. By choosing the form Harrison asserts that he has the intelligence to compose a sonnet despite his modest background- placing the working class in the same position as the scholars- and also creates a contrast between his serious subject matter and the folly of the traditional poets, reinforcing his idea of the working-class being lost in history. This links with the intention for the poem to be read aloud, particularly in Harrison’s own northern accent. As the poem unfolds and Harrison speaks in articulate, intelligent verse, the intention is perhaps to consciously reveal and challenge the preconceptions of some listeners in hearing a northern person speak or, in Marxist terms, illuminate the unjust discrimination of workers in society.

  7. The repetition of 'dumb' in the poem draws a defined line between classes, relating to the working class as the 'dumb' ones that do not have a permanent place in society. This is supported with the continuation of the line, they 'go down in history and disappear' emphasising the alienation the working class had, feeling they merely functioning as objects and tools in the long chain of the capitalist social standing which focused entirely on the profit (the outcome of the product) and not the the tools that have created it. The sounds throughout the poem linger on the 'um' and 'ou' giving the poem character with the accent it mimics, which also imitates the speech of the dumb and the mute, which further supports this idea of the working class that are not accepted as a body of society, alienating them from the socio-economic standing in the ladder of classes as a mute would be from the rest of the speaking world.

  8. “Not even a good flogging made him holler!”
    The violent imagery in this line emphasizes the brutality of the bourgeoisie and the power they posses over the proletariat. Using this power, they exploit the workers for their land and goods and leave the labourers silenced. They are left silenced because not even one “scholar” bothers to mention them so they disappear in history along with their language and heritage. A Marxist interpretation of this poem would say that in this class struggle, the bourgeoisie are dependent on the labourer and yet they are the ones left “tongueless” - highlighting the unfairness and savageness of this capitalistic mentality.


  9. 'stout upholders of our law and order' could be referring to the lawyers, judges, politicians, etc., who reached their position on the 'social ladder' with the help of their 'upper class' accents, while others with more distinct accents found it a hindrance as people automatically made assumptions about their background, character and intelligence, this resulting in people from different areas of the country not being represented proportionally in government and the courts. This giving the people with 'upper class' accents more control, the poem addressing the resentment this caused among the people with regional accents. This also relating to the theory of Marxism which claims people are shaped by their socio-economic background and this determines their life, while the poem seems - to me - to be contradicting this, saying its this assumption that keeps people from 'climbing the socio-economic ladder' than their background itself.