Half-Caste

Half-Caste

Half-Caste

Like the first two poems, 'Half-Caste' is a poem about how language can be used to control, hurt, suppress and demean people.

Agard takes the until-recently common term 'half-caste' and unpacks it of its prejudiced associations. With great verve and energy he demolishes these associations, presenting instead 'mixture' as an essential part of nature and great art.

Agard is attacking full-on racism and a mind-set that believes in racial segregation. He makes such ideas seem as absurd and foolish as they are. His tone is commanding 'Explain yuself', 'what yu mean', and the rhythm is emphatic, beating out its rhymes with confidence.

Like Leonard, Agard uses phonetic spelling to create the sense of a spoken voice. Here the accent is Afro-Caribbean. But Agard also uses many more recognisable standard words. The language of the poem is a mixture of English's.

Like Leonard, Agard rejects conventional punctuation; there isn't a comma or full-stop in the whole poem.

This reflects his rejection of the sort of 'conventional' ideas that produced the term 'half-caste'.

It's a wonderful poem to listen to. And any chance to see John Agard perform live should not be missed. When you listen to this reading concentrate especially on the rhythm and the tone of the poem.

The poem is like a challenge addressed to someone who holds prejudiced views. Agard repeatedly tells the person to 'explain yuself', and asks them 'what yu mean' when they use the term 'half-caste'.

The tone is confrontational, angry. The repetition of the command and question create the effect that the other person is unable to explain them his or herself, or answer the question.

Agard uses three examples to show how mixing things together can be creative and natural.

What are these examples?

music

Why do you think he used these particular examples?

Agard uses a mixture of standard and dialect English. He is mixing two different types of English, and two different cultures, together to create a new original sound.

In other words, the language of the poem enacts the idea of mixture being a good thing.

Agard also uses irony to show up the stupidity of racist attitudes. It makes the racist views seem stupid...

Quote: Meaning:
I'm sure you'll understand You ought to understand but you're either too stupid or too prejudiced. Because of this you probably won't understand.
Consequently when I dream I dream half-a-dream Why should my dreams be 'half' dreams? My thoughts and hopes are at least as valid as yours are.
I half-caste human being Cast half-a-shadow I'm just as much of a full human being as anyone else. I'm not lesser or inferior.

Agard also suggests that racists are actually not thinking properly or paying full attention. In the last stanza he tells them to use the 'whole of yu eye / an de whole of yu ear / an de whole of yu mind' to understand his experience.

In all poetry questions you will be asked to write about the following:

  • The subject(s) of the poem
  • The attitude of the poet
  • The poetic devices the poet uses

In other words, you will be asked about what the poet is writing about, what the poet feels about the subject(s) and how the poem is written.

Subject
The poem is about prejudice. It attacks people for holding racist, separatist views. It shows these views to be offensive and poorly thought through. In particular Agard homes in on how language can be used to re-enforce racist thinking, using the word 'half-caste' to illustrate his point. This word was commonly used until fairly recently and shows that racist views can reach wider into society than is comfortable to acknowledge.

Attitude
The poem is a powerful expression of Agard's anger and frustration with racist thinking.
The tone is one of confrontation, of a clear challenge to racist people to try to justify their opinions.
Despite the strong feelings there is also humour in the poem. The opening image, for example, is jokey, absurd. Agard also uses irony in the fourth stanza.

Style
Agard uses a mixture of language. The poem is clearly written in an Afro-Caribbean dialect, but this is modified so that it is easily understandable to other English users.
Lines like 'ah rass', and 'some o dem' are mixed with the standard 'I'm sure you'll understand.'
The form and rhythm of the poem is irregular. Agard imposes his own voice and the rhythms of West Indian culture on English language and poetry.

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