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How does Heaney explore the issues of background and identity in his early poems, Digging and Follower?

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Introduction

How does Heaney explore the issues of background and identity in his early poems, Digging and Follower? Digging and Follower show Heaney delving into his earliest personal memories of his childhood and giving them life through words. He uses diverse approaches to expose the underlying emotion of his memories, using tactile imagery that is often also metaphorical. On the surface, his poetry may appear simple, or perhaps trivial - but often, as with all things, there is more to it than what first glance reveals. Heaney does not use pretentious elaborate visual description that is 'sugar coated' in the way that memories usually are. His use of onomatopoeia and 'clumsy' words such as "squelch", "slap" often verge on the grotesque but are extremely effective in conveying a sense of reality. By remembering these simple details, such as the sound of a spade 'rasping' as it sinks into 'gravelly ground', Heaney can make connections with his past background and seek to define his identity through his poems. ...read more.

Middle

Heaney crafts a borderline between the immediate present and the past by using delicate imagery of his father "Bend[ing] low, com[ing] up twenty years away", as if transported through time. The fourth stanza sinks into immediacy, as it is a first hand, surprised reaction to his father's skill, linking back in time to his father's father. This also creates a sense of times changing, of tradition breaking. By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man. In Digging, Heaney quite blatantly parallels digging for potatoes with digging for memories. He cannot match "men like them" with a spade, but by substituting a spade for a pen and potatoes for memories and inspiration, the paint and palette of a poem, he can dig into his past and celebrate them. Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. ...read more.

Conclusion

The tone changes to resentful, even bitter and sad. It is emotional, and describes what he thought his father perceived him to be: a 'nuisance', tripping and falling behind his father. All I ever did was follow In his broad shadow round the farm. I was a nuisance, tripping, falling, Yapping always. The feeling of resentment is echoed in the final lines, But today It is my father who keeps stumbling Behind me, and will not go away. There is an obvious reversal of roles that is not present in Digging. The final stanza could be interpreted as instead the memory of his father that will not dissipate, that holds him back and "stumbles" behind him. Heaney shows the transformation and change of a child growing into an adult, and it is through these two poems that he reflects on how this took place. Background and identity are explored through personal, unsweetened recognitions - both the unpleasant and the good. Rebecca Cottrell. 29/09/03 ...read more.

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Response to the question

Response to Question
The title of this essay gives candidates a fair amount of freedom as to what they write about these two poems, but what is important is the linking of language features and techniques to the effect they ...

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Response to the question

Response to Question
The title of this essay gives candidates a fair amount of freedom as to what they write about these two poems, but what is important is the linking of language features and techniques to the effect they have on the reader, with regards to highlighting or communicating Heaney's feelings about background and identity. This candidate's essay demonstrates this well, although there could be more development to take the essay to the highest grades. In several cases though, there could be more focus on the effect of different techniques used by Heaney, as their use is often noted, but then they are not analysed in enough depth.

Level of analysis

Level of Analysis
The candidate's level of analysis in this essay is good, probably of an A standard at GCSE. The quotations used are frequently analysed in detail, and the candidate considers the way in which the selected quotes show Heaney's background and identity - see the paragraph beginning "In Digging, Heaney quite blatantly parallels..." for a good example. Some points could be more developed, as they often feel lacking in explanation, or the link to the issues of background/identity. For example, the candidate writes "The first two-line stanza ‘earths’ the poem to the poet", and gives an example of how this is done, but does not explain exactly what they mean by the poem being 'earthed' to Heaney, and personally I found the idea unclear and thus did not add to the essay.

Quality of writing

Quality of Writing
The introduction to this essay is very strong. It clearly outlines what the poems are about, and some of the techniques Heaney uses in them. The candidate also quickly dives into analysis of language, which is concise and to the point. However, I feel that the sentence beginning "His use of onomatopoeia..." should be a separate paragraph, as it seems a sudden and odd change from the previous sentence, and the idea is continued in the second paragraph, which makes for a disjointed start to the essay. Overall, though, the quality of written communication is very strong, and the candidate expresses their ideas well, in a clear and mature style. There are very minor spelling/grammatical errors, many of which seem to be typos, but it is very important that candidates proofread their work before submitting it.


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Reviewed by ecaudate 06/04/2012

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