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How does John Agard make the poem Half-Caste seem controversial? Think about the main features of the poet's language which make it different from Standard English. Is the poem mainly directed against white people who use the term 'half-caste'?

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Introduction

How does John Agard make the poem Half-Caste seem controversial? Think about the main features of the poet's language which make it different from Standard English. Is the poem mainly directed against white people who use the term 'half-caste'? The poem is controversial because it is challenging the idea that people of colour are, somehow, lesser beings than white people. This idea is ingrained in the term 'half-caste', which is used by many people - most of whom would consider themselves to be racially tolerant. Though many people deny it, words are a powerful thing. I don't know if the poem if just directed towards whites, though it is probably mostly directed towards whites. There are members of the black community who look down on those from mixed parentage. It is interesting to note, however, that the term is about black/white mixed parentage, not any other kind of ethnic mix. ...read more.

Middle

in a nasty or derogatory way. He does this by a whole series of comparisons and wordplays to show that most of the wonderful things in life and nature turn out themselves to be "half-caste", or (if you like) grey, or colourful - not merely "black" or "white". In fact, by the end of all the examples he gives - weather that varies a lot, music that mixes sadness and happiness etc. - it starts to look a bit daft to expect anything to be just one colour or another. And that's his point - and hence perhaps (of course) the particular kind of beauty of some so-called half-caste people...? Issues of identity are explored in this poem and it has a powerful, assertive feel to it and is addressed to a narrow-minded listener. The main meaning put forward by John Agard represents the idea that we should not consider things to be made of half one thing and half another but we should look at the whole. ...read more.

Conclusion

He uses Tchaikovsky and Picasso to get the reader to examine his or her prejudices towards colour. The language used in "Half-Caste" is an appropriate mixture of dialect and standard English, to show that the speaker in the poem belongs to two cultures. The first verse opens with a question in Standard English, and then it moves into the dialect. "Explain yuself wha yu mean." Not only is this a dialect, but it is also only using half of words, so this fits in with the idea of being half a person. The mix of culture in the form of music (Tchaikovsky) and art (Picasso) with this form of language is striking. Even their names don't conform to English grammar because they don't have capital letters and no punctuation is used in the poem. This shows the poet rejecting the conventions of one culture and doing things his own way. There is some clever play on words in the poem to do with the idea of half, and being half a person. "I half-caste human being cast half-a-shadow" ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

3 star(s)

The essay has its merits: the student demonstrates a sound understanding of the themes of the poem. The student begins to take a close look at some of the language used by Agard and offer an interpretation into the effects its use has on meaning, However, the essay loses focus as to how or why the poem is controversial. Some of the latter points are insufficiently developed to warrant it achieving a grade in the upper bands, as the student veers towards feature spotting rather than language analysis.

Three Stars.

Marked by teacher Melissa Thompson 09/04/2013

Here's what a star student thought of this essay

3 star(s)

Response to the question

A lot of what is written here is good and accurate analysis (though a few times it feels as if the candidate is merely interpreting the poem in a more literal manner), however, after the first couple of paragraphs the ...

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Response to the question

A lot of what is written here is good and accurate analysis (though a few times it feels as if the candidate is merely interpreting the poem in a more literal manner), however, after the first couple of paragraphs the candidate's answer neglects to form an analysis appropriate to the task the question sets. There is little explicit analysis focused on the controversiality of Agard's 'Half-Caste' beyond the first few paragraphs, so whilst the analysis shown is indicative of a fairly high-achieving candidate, they cannot achieve higher than a low C grade for GCSE given that their analysis is not focused or applied to the correct objective.

Level of analysis

The Level of Analysis shown here is good, though as stated earlier, is not very well-focused on the question. The candidate makes good reference to language in the first paragraphs, commenting with a wonderful written fluidity (good because it shows the examiner that the candidate is a comfortable writer with a natural flair), and I like the expression of the analysis about non-Standard English and the resonance of the use of "Tchaikovsky" and "Picasso" with regards to the ignorance of white people, but after these paragraphs the candidate resorts to explaining in a more literal sense what Agard is writing, and this elicits no marks at all. The deficit is not made up by a good conclusion as one doesn't appear to exist - I strongly recommend candidates write a conclusion, as in all essay questions, candidates are marked on their ability to construct effective essays with rounded introductions and conclusions. It is therefore imperative that candidates include these.

Quality of writing

The Quality of Written Communication is good. There is no real grammatical or syntactic prowess on display here but there is no real need if the candidate is not aiming for full marks. Varying sentence lengths and vocabulary will retain an examiner's interest far better than a simplistic, clichéd essay structure, but this falls somewhere in between; a pleasant compromise between accuracy of QWC and a more stylistic flair.


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Reviewed by sydneyhopcroft 02/08/2012

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