Analysis of poem: Half Caste (1996) by John Agard

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GCSE English Literature – Poetry

Question: Analyse the poem ‘Half Caste’ (1996) written by poet – John Agard, about his perspective on the addressing of biracial individuals.

In your answer, you should consider:

  • Influence of context in which the poem was written
  • The ideas brought out of the poem
  • The structure and rhyme maintained

Answer: John Agard gives painful and poetic expression to the mixed race experience. He was of Portuguese-Caribbean descent and lived in British Guyana (now Guyana), before he moved to Britain. The reference is to half-caste from the Spanish word ‘casta’ (origin, group) and being made to feel half a human being.

The poem begins in an apologetic tone, and the strangeness of his situation is shown by him standing on one leg as he does not feel a complete man. The poet uses various examples from the world of art and music and the world of nature to challenge this stereotyping. The repetition of the words ‘explain yurself’ shows the poet’s frustration. He wonders if inanimate objects can become half-caste – Picasso’s painting in which colours are mixed to create a half-caste canvas, Tchaikovsky’s music on a piano with black and white key create a half caste symphony. The world of nature provides striking examples. Light and shadow mix in the sky to create half-caste weather. England always has ‘half caste weather’. Even the clouds are half-caste – so thick and dark and mean that they block the rays of the sun. The clouds are personified to show the negative impact they have on the earth, preventing the sun rays from reaching. The mixing of contradictory features contributes to their beauty, and this implicitly implies that only in human beings, the mixing is negative.

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The second part of the poem is increasingly sarcastic. Even looks and actions, dreams and shadows can be half caste. The poet listens with half an ear, looks with half an eye, and offers half a hand. This means that his reaction to life and other people is half hearted. This half-life, half identity has even affected his dreams. This could symbolise goals, ambitions that are limited or restricted. He does not have any impact on the world or other lives because he is only a half-caste human being (as per his perspective).

The final suggestion is for society is ...

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