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An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Summary





Far far from gusty waves these children's faces,

Like rootless weeds, the hair torn round their pallor:

The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-

seeming boy, with rat's eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir

of twisted bones, reciting a father's gnarled disease,

His lesson, from his desk. At back of the dim class

One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,

Of squirrel's game, in tree room, other than this.

On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare's head,

Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.

Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map

Awarding the world its world. And yet, for those

Children, these windows, not this map, their world,

Where all their future's painted with a fog,

A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky

Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, the map a bad example,

With ships and sun and love tempting them to steal

With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.

All of their time and space are foggy slum.

So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.

Unless, governor, inspector, visitor,

This map becomes their window and these windows

That shut upon their lives like catacombs,

Break O break open till they break the town

And show the children to green fields, and make their world

Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues

Run naked into books the white and green leaves open

History theirs whose language is the sun.

Glossary -

1. gusty waves - the beautiful sights of the nature invisible in the slums

2. pallor - an unhealthy appearance

3. stunted - prevented to grow properly

4. gnarled - goitre disease

5. belled - to provide a bell

6. flowery - covered with flowers or having a floral design

7. Tyrolese Valley - on the Tyrol, an Australian Alpine provenance

8. capes - part of the river, e.g. cape of Good Hope in South Africa

9. slyly - secretly

10. cramped - narrow

11. slag - stony waste matter separated from metals during the smelting or refining of ore

12. blot - remove

13. doom - ruin, fate, destruction

14. catacombs - cemetery

15. azure - blue colorless sky

Summary -

The poem, "  An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum" is written by the poet Stephen Spender. Besides a great interest in politics, he declared himself a socialist and pacifist. In this poem, he has concentrated on the theme of social injustice and class inequalities.

In this poem, he describes a classroom that is located in a slum area with keen observation and every single detail. He says that the condition of the classroom is very poor and pathetic, its walls are not been properly painted for many years and the walls have lost their luster and shine. The children studying in this school are undernutrition, carrying inheritance diseases, very poor and unhealthy. They have no future but few of them are hopeful about their future.

The walls of the classroom have been decorated with some inspiring and informative pictures of Shakespeare, landscapes, buildings with domes, and world maps but children are not able to connect with the pictures because their ground realities are far away from the progressive and civilized world of these pictures.

At the end of the poem, the poet appeals to the Government authorities like the Governor, Inspector to come forward and do something for the welfare and betterment of the school and the children so that they can have a good education, health and enjoy all the joy and happiness of the nature and the life.

Think it out -

1. Tick the item that best answers the following

a) The tall girl with her head weighed down means,

The girl

1) is ill and exhausted

2) has her head bent with shame

3) has untidy hair

Ans - is ill and exhausted 

b) The paper-seeming boy with rat's eyes means,

The boy is

1) sly and secretive

2) thin, hungry and weak

3) unpleasant looking

Ans - thin, hungry and weak

c) The stunted, unlucky heir of twisted bones means,

The boy

1) has an inherited disability

2) was short and bony

Ans - has an inherited disability

d) His eyes live in a dream of squirrel's game, in the tree room other than means,

The boy is

1) Full of hope for the future

2) mentally ill

3) distracted from the lesson

Ans - Full of hope for the future

e) The children's faces are compared to," rootless weeds"

This means they

1) are insecure

2) are ill-fed

3) are wasters

Ans - are insecure

2. What do you think is the colour of, "sour cream"? 

Ans- The meaning of, " sour cream" is dull and white or cream colour and it has completely vanished and declined as the walls of the school have not been repainted because of ignorance of the concerned authorities and the poet has used this expression to show the dull and poor environment of the school. Here the poet is trying to create a real atmosphere of the school also it is a kind of symbolic representation that due to lack of proper maintenance and care the school has lost its shine, in the same way, all the colour, spirit, energy, and enthusiasm has been lost from the life of the students who are studying in this slum school.  

3. The walls of the classroom are decorated with pictures of, "Shakespeare", "Building with domes", "World maps", and, " Beautiful valleys". How do these contrast with the world of these children?

Ans -  These beautiful, inspiring, and informative pictures decorated on the walls have no meaning to the students who are studying in this slum school. The picture of, "Shakespeare" indicates the man of literary excellence the school children are deprived of the basic educational fundamentals. The pictures, " Buildings with domes" have no concern for them as these buildings belong to a civilized and prosperous world, and on the contrary, they are living in the shakey huts of the slum where they are unable to see a blue sky and the sunlight. Also, the pictures of, " World maps" and, "Beautiful valleys" are meaningless to them as they never go out of the slum to see the beautiful world around them or the beautiful landscape of nature because they are supposed to work for their livelihood. They are victims of poverty, unemployment, lack of nutrition, and all other basic needs of childhood that are easily available for the children of well-to-do families. In this way, these pictures create complete contrast to their present condition.

4. What does the poet want for the children of the slums? How can their lives be made to change?

Ans - In this poem, the is highly touched by the measurable and poor condition of the children studying in this slum school. He strongly feels that the condition of the students must be improved by the initiative and efforts of the concerned authorities like the Governor, the Inspector, and the Visitor, so that like other well-being children, they have all the right to have basic needs like fundamental education, good and healthy food, proper dwellings and good clothing thereby they can empower their present condition, can compete with other children, enjoy the beauty of the nature, explore the world outside the slums, away from all the inherent and situational disease and conquer the world with their hidden potential and talent. 

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