Comparing humour in telephone conversation and westminster abbey

Differing ways the poets use humour to criticise people Both poems are satirical commentaries addressing the themes of racial and social prejudice but the poems have differing approaches. Betjeman’s poem starts with the title In Westminster Abbey, a very grandiose place associated with Coronations and Royal Weddings, pomp and ceremony, which in itself invokes a smile and feelings of great expectations. It is very different from the banal, sombre title Soyinka uses. The form of the poems differs. WA takes the form of a revealing monologue; an opportunity for intimate, uninhibited conversation that is so ludicrous it is funny. This is different to the humour in TC, which is a dialogue written in typographical form where different fonts represent the different participants. The landlady has her words capitalized suggesting a crass and unpleasant character, which contrasts with the reasoned voice of the poet, which is represented in conventional lower case. The contrast between landlady and the would-be tenant (between capitals and lower case) is used through out the poem to amplify the ridiculousness of racism and Soyinka’s humour is subtler than Betjeman’s. Both poets use characterisation to generate criticism and humour but the characterisation is very different. WA starts with the imperative voice of the churchgoer, ‘ Let me take this other glove off, which is humorous because it sounds like she is talking to an inpatient child rather than God. She then talks in an elevated tone ‘ vox humana’ and ‘ beauteous fields of Eden’ to imply good education. The poet’s use of alliteration creates the effect of peace, tranquillity and serenity ‘ Bask beneath the Abbey bells.’ The slow beautiful setting then contrasts, with great hilarity, to the shrill, high pitched, shrew like voice implied by ‘ a lady’s cry’. We form the farcical image of the woman struggling to get her glove off and failing to impress the all- seeing God despite her lofty language; the humour is enhanced as she commands God to ‘ Listen ’ with out so much as please. By contrast in the TC ‘ The landlady swore she lived off premises’, swear suggests she is desperate for business and the fact that she is not even going to live with the would- be tenant makes her prejudice more risible. The poet is very humble; it is ironic that he feels the need to ‘ self-confess’, and warns the landlady of his ethnicity. He has obviously been rejected in the past, ‘ I hate a wasted journey’. The sympathy developed by the poet exaggerates the antipathy towards the landlady and the resulting contrast adds ironic humour. The landlady is characterised as crass and unpleasant. This is indicated by the accent she speaks in which ‘ clang(s).. Hard on the mouthpiece’ the metaphor indicating her uncultured accent, suggestive of ignorance and prejudice. We begin to laugh at the landlady. The image formed of the churchgoer, on the other hand, is that of a pretentious upper-middle class woman, who lives in ‘ One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square’, who thinks our Nation stands for ‘ proper drains’ and has luncheon dates despite a World War going on around her; the poet is gently mocking her. The woman, a church going ‘ Christian’, appears to pray for the well-being of the Empire- then Betjeman delivers the racist punch-line ‘ And, even more, protect the whites’; which is both embarrassing but amusing. The poets use differing language to criticise and create humour. When the churchgoer wants a favour she uses almost obsequious language ‘ Gracious Lord’ and the poet mocks her, as her requests are not truly Christian, ‘ bomb the Germans’. However, her blasphemous remark,’ We will pardon Thy Mistake’ is very funny. This is different to the language used by Soyinka, which is more ironic and condescending. Before the landlady starts speaking Soyinka uses sibilance ‘ Silence. Silenced transmission’ to emphasise the pause in conversation and to develop a sense of expectation, Silence. Silenced transmission’. He then uses irony (good breeding) to deliver the punch line, ‘ Silenced transmission of Pressurized good-breeding’, the rhythm generated in the sentence, particularly the word pressurised, makes the landlady sound robotic, an automaton, and momentarily we wait, we wish, we hope that she may produce, can programme, the correct reply. But no and she inappropriately asks, ‘ HOW DARK?’ our incredulity, his incredulity, ‘ I had not misheard’ makes us cringe. The poet uses further irony to generate humour, ‘ Considerate she was,’ she is far from considerate. ‘ “ ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT? ” revelation came’. The landlady is so ignorant, with little knowledge of Africans, and this is not a revelation to the poet. The use of simple language to which children can relate, ‘ plain or milk chocolate’ further emphasises the landlady’s ignorance and creates hilarity. The rhythm of the poem then seems to speed up as the poet uses short, heavily punctuated sentences, ‘ Rapidly, wave-length adjusted, I chose’, which suggests he has a flight of ideas, is entering free fall, becoming less tolerant of her stance, teasing her. It also show how educated he is, using sophisticated, scientific language. ‘ West African sepia’, revenge, she will never understand the word sepia. He uses further sibilance ‘ Silence for the spectroscopic’ to emphasise his superior knowledge and to create a bitter humour. The language changes back then to frivolous adjectives, which she can understand as he describes his hands and feet as ‘ peroxide blonde’ Punctuated dialogue,’ Friction, caused-‘, ‘ madam-by sitting down’ slows the rhythm, which had previously been running away in an informal structure, right down in preparation for the final punch line, in which a facetious remark “ wouldn’t you rather See for yourself? ” is used to create humour. Soyinka describes himself as pleading to remind us of the invidious situation in which she has placed him; a final criticism of her prejudice. The structure of poems differs; B writes in rhyming stanzas and the rhyme adds to the humour. Soyinka’s poem has a more informal structure that flows at varying pace to represent an awkward conversation with less humour. The humour is different because although we laugh the churchgoer, her pretentiousness, her shrill voice, her non-sense, there is no victim. God has broad shoulders unlike Soyinka, who may have nowhere to live as a consequence of the landlady’ prejudice. The overall tone of B’s poem, although critical of the woman and the upper-middle class she symbolises, it is still compassionate and gentle. The protagonist is not bad, has done ‘ no major crime’ and she will ‘ come to Evening Service’ she just has no insight. Like many of us she is only concerned about her own well being, ‘ And do not let my shares go down’ which means that we can laugh at ourselves. Although both poems address the themes of prejudice and misplaced values in a satirical form the powerful image of the landlady, who is in a position to determine some one else’s fate, is a much darker matter than the image B creates of a church going buffoon. The effect is to detract from the humour generated leaving the reader of the TC feeling uncomfortable where as WA finishes on a lighter note which I think is the main purpose of humour. Interesting but not relevant (differing) Imagery is also used to create humour whilst criticising the protagonist. The evocative use of ‘ dear’ and attendance at ‘ Evening Service’ create the impression of a pious, person praying on her knees but the irony is that she is praying for a ‘ crown’. The humour is different because although we laugh the churchgoer, her pretentiousness, her shrill voice, her non-sense, there is no victim. God has broad shoulders unlike Soyinka, who may have nowhere to live as a consequence of the landlady’ prejudice. The overall tone is different in the two poems; TC being a much more serious matter. The poet uses further irony to generate humour, ‘ Considerate she was,’ she is far from considerate. ‘ “ ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT? ” revelation came’. The landlady is so ignorant, with little knowledge of Africans, and this is not a revelation to the poet. Then again towards the end of the poem B chooses a humorous/ childish language, ‘ What a treat.’ to create the vivid image of an imperious mother talking to her child rather than God. (The poem is set in WA during the Second WW and depicts an upper-middle class woman talking/ praying to God at WA. The poem is satirical, intimate portrayal of the confused values of some upper/middle class people at the time.) (Themes include love, death jealousy, suspicion, racism, pretentiousness, mockery and satire). Overall tone of self- interest, confused Mid term break Incredibly moving account about the tragic and unexpected DEATH of the poet’s younger brother. The poem combines his perspective as an adult and a child giving insight in to the stages of grief. Themes/ content / what’s it about Tragic (causing extreme sadness) death Stages of grief Family & love Language (words/ phrases/ visual and aural imagery) Structure ( how it is laid out to develop the theme/ special effects (stanzas, enjambment, caesura) and sounds (R , R, R, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia) Overall effect (tone, mood atmosphere) *portray a child’s view of things * appeal to your emotion The poem starts off with the poet, as a young boy waiting in the sick bay at school. * The hyperbolic language immediately portrays a child’s view, ‘ I sat all morning’ — he probably had not been sat there all morning but children typically exaggerate. There is a sense of foreboding, which is emphasised by the personification of the ‘ bells knelling’. ‘ Counting bells ‘ is an activity of children*. Moreover it suggests that he had nothing better to do and would rather be in the class continuing as normal that sitting around ‘ counting the bells’; as though the poet is in denial. However more than one class finishes implying a significant amount of time does elapse before the neighbours arrive and this implies the parents perhaps are not ready to greet H home; they are bracing themselves, protecting him from the pain for as long as possible. H is first counter on arrival home is with his grieving father. H uses caesura to break the rhythm, create a pause and emphasise the unusual behaviour in his father who ‘ had always taken funeral in his stride–‘, poor young H does not realise that this is not like an ordinary funeral- it demonstrates how naïve he is. The poet deliberately uses endearing language ‘ Big Jim’ again to remind the reader of his youth. Big is capitalised to emphasis that H is still a small boy. Jim refers to the ‘ hard blow’ and the metaphorical language is lost on H- his precise reporting of events suggest he has only taken the literal meaning. As H enters the room he creates a sense of the next stage of grief; anger, resentment, disbelief, ‘ The baby cooed.. laughed.. rocked’ detailing the baby’s activities in disbelief- H not understanding the baby’s behaviour. Again a child’s view is portray* as he is embarrassed by ‘ old men standing up to shake his hand’. He creates a tone of resentment with ‘ sorry’ and ‘ whispers’ and ‘ strangers’ as though he does not want these people to be there. He needs a hug not a handshake. Eventually his mother takes his hand and she too is angry, ’angry tearless sighs’. The powerful contrast of the baby cooing whilst H is old enough to have his hand shaken reminds the reader that there is now a large gap between the sibs as one of them is missing. * THE RHYTMIC STRUCTURE REFLECTS H’S INFORMAL CONVERSATIONAL STYLE WHICH HELPS TO CONVEY THE PERSONAL INTEREST IN THE NARRATIVE H uses very clinical, detached language when he first sees his brother’s ‘ corpse’ which creates the sense of shock and again disbelief- its not really his brother just his corpse. The inconsistent rhythm gives the sense of his head spinning chaotically. The next morning is like to calming of the storm; ‘ snowdrops’ suggest Spring and a time of new life and ‘ candles’ represent the light of life for Christians. The two symbolise peace possibly acceptance. H now uses the personal pronoun ‘ I saw him’ and ‘ He lay’ deliberately contrasting it to the detached reference of a ‘ corpse’ used earlier again suggesting acceptance that it is his brother who is dead. Perhaps he is guilty he did not spend more time with him as it is the first time he has seen him in ‘ six weeks’. H describes metaphorically ‘ wearing a bruise’ as though the bruise can be removed- again suggesting hope. He uses a particularly poignant simile ‘ as in a cot’ to remind us of his brother’s age, a pre-school boy, and regret. Again to portray H as an innocent young boy there is interest in the lack of superficial damage, ‘ No gaudy scars,’ and the bumper is personified which has the effect of exonerating the driver. H is comforted that the ‘ bumper knocked him clear’ because it suggests a quick and thus painless end. The final rhyming couplet then emphasise the brevity of his brother’s life, ‘ A four foot box, a foot for every year’. Mid term break is an incredibly moving account of the death of H’s younger brother. H writes as an adult but cleverly demonstrates a child’s naïve, protected perspective as he passes through the different stages of grief. MTB is a powerful poem, which evokes many emotions. APPEAL TO YOUR EMOTION 1 PATHETIC SIGHT The picture of a young boy COUNTING THE BELLS who would rather be sitting in class I SAT ALL MORNING than waiting to go home DENIAL 2 LOVE — MET FATHER Father- who had always taken funerals in his stride- crying WRETCHING PAIN a grown man crying ( MET SUGGESTS FATHER TRYING TO GET OUT OF HOUSE TO CLEAN HIS EYES WHEN BOYS ARRIVES HOME A BIT EARLIER THAN EXPECTED) 3 HORROR Grim metaphor almost picture the young boy’s skull hitting the tarmac 4 BIG JIM POIGNANT REMINDER THAT THE POET IS ONLY A BOY Too young for this, needs a hug not a hand shake. 5 Uncomfortable in his own home, whispers, strangers 6’my mother held my hand’ 7. Father trying to protect him, trying to get out of the house so he can stop crying before greeting his son ‘ met’ 8. NEVER FORGOTTEN THAT TRAGIC DAY Striking detail written some time later but very precise detail as though he had never forgotten that dreadful day ‘ At two o’clock’ ‘ in the porch’ ‘ at 10 o’clock’ ‘ on the left temple’ 9Corpse harsh sound cold detached DEHUMANISED 10Stanched and bandages —frantic attempt to save his life TRAGEDY IF ONLY THEY COULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING 11 VERY BRAVE Next morning I went up into his room ALONE 12Snowdrops beauty Spring life innocence youth 12 POPPY CONNOTATIONS WITH DEATH AND REMBERANCE AND THIS IS WHAT H IS DOING BY WRITING THE POEM REMINDS US HOW THE DEAD (ESPECIALLY CLOSE RELATIVE) ARE NEVER FORGOTTEN 13 Cot PAINFUL SIMILE 14 Knocked him clear- relief GRIEF CAN BE AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER SWIFT AND QUICKLY OVER 15 A four foot box, a foot for every year.