Half-Caste by John Agard How effective is the light-hearted ridicule
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Half-Caste by John Agard How effective is the light-hearted ridicule
in this poem?
In the poem Half-Caste by John Agard the poet uses ridicule to put his
point across, he uses this technique very effectively and many times
and by the end of the poem you realise how stupid the fact of someone
being a HalfCaste is.
The poem is about a man from the West Indies and is called Half Caste,
which means of mixed race. The poem starts off with a verse
off three lines all written in Standard English. Even in this very
short part we can see the way the poet is using ridicule when he says
‘standing on one leg’, this is inferring that because he is a
‘half-caste’ he is only standing on one leg and that only one half the
white half of him means anything to most people. It may seem like a
ridiculous idea that he should stand on one leg but it does show how
stupid the idea that someone can only stand on one leg because he is
off mixed race.
The poem then goes into a West Indian accent and it then makes another
example like mixing colours makes him a half-caste. It then says
‘explain yuself’ again as it did at the start of the verse, this is
repeated many times through the poem and becomes a sort of chorus. It
is then always followed by an example, in this case comparing light
and shadow to black and white. Light and shadow is a euphemism for
black and white.
The poem then goes onto a line, which really uses ridicule to get the
point across, but whilst adding a little humour it shows an extremely
vital point that we all as individuals should think about, it says
about English weather being half caste. We all know the joke about
English weather being bad and traditionally always cloudy and rainy.
When we say that the weather is half-caste we are really saying it is
not as good as it should be, do we also mean this when we call a
person of mixed race a ‘half caste’. That line has double intentions
as well as saying about English weather not being very good it also
questions our thoughts on people of mixed race and whether we look
down on them.
The poet then uses light hearted ridicule again when he says about
Tchaikovsky using the black and white key on a piano this is saying
that he is not half caste but what about someone who only uses white
keys does that make them a racist.
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John Agard Ridicule Caste Half Half Caste Standard English West Indies Verse Joke
This shows how stupid it is that
some people judge people by the colour of their skin or where they are
from. When you compare it to a piano it shows how very stupid it is
and how it should make absolutely no difference to how we look at or
treat these people.
Agard then makes a sarcastic joke in the next verse when he says I ma
listening with the ‘keen’ half of his ear and looking with the ‘keen’
half of his eye saying that do people expect him to only use the
‘white’ part of him. They view this as his keen or good half and just
discount the other half; this once again shows how stupid the topic
It then starts saying about how he can only offer half a hand to help
people because he is of mixed race and how he can only dream half a
dream. This shows how it makes him feel bad and also how it restricts
his life because some people wont let him do things because of how he
looks. The start of the verse says I’m sure you’ll understand this
could be taken two ways, firstly trying to say that we should all
treat mixed raced people better even if sometimes we don’t realise we
are being racist, but secondly it could be very sarcastic saying I’m
sure you’ll understand how they feel. When he is just saying that we
are the ones who make it like that for them and we have no intention
The message of the poem is that we are all brothers in a global world
and by using the ridicule the poem shows us that we should stop being
so pathetic by treating people differently, we are all equal and all
deserve the same opportunity to life what we do with it is up to us. A
half-caste is not inferior and people should not have to apologise for
it. People should be judged on the way they behave not the way they
look or where they are from.
This is a poem about asserting your identity against others who would ‘bring you down’. John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949, with a Caribbean father and a Portuguese mother (he is of mixed race). In 1977, he moved to Britain, where he became angry with people who referred to him as ‘half-caste’. Realising that most people who say this do so without thinking about what it really means, he tells off people who use this term without thinking.
The poem’s content starts by sarcastically ‘apologising’ for being half-caste – ‘Excuse me standing on one leg I’m half-caste’. He is not really apologising. This is satire – although the poem starts by apologising for being half-caste, Agard means exactly the opposite.
The next section of the poem argues that mixing colours in art, weather and symphonies does not make a half-thing. When he says: ‘Yu mean when Picasso mix red an green is a half-caste canvas’, he is arguing that mixing colours is a good thing, and makes things better! You could say the same for blood and cultures.
He then writes how he must be able only to listen with half-a-ear, look with half-a-eye, offer us half-a-hand, etc. – a sarcastic, even angry, denunciation of the word ‘half’ in ‘half-caste’. He writes: ‘I half-caste human being cast half-a-shadow’ – here, ‘half-a-shadow’ has a sinister vampire-like tone, and the author seems to be pointing out that by using the word half-caste, people are saying that he is not really human, but inferring that there is something sub-human, even evil about him.
He finishes by saying: ‘but yu must come back tomorrow wid … de whole of yu mind’ – here he is pointing out that it is us who have been thinking with only half-a-brain when we thoughtlessly use the word ‘half-caste’. In this way, he challenges the readers to change their thinking, and come up with a better word.
As for the poet’s feelings, in early recordings of the poem, Agard sounds angry and bitter. ‘Excuse me standing on one leg…’ is said in an aggressive tone.
He objects to being called half a human being, and asserts that there is much more to him than we realise.
The words: ‘I half-caste human being’ show that he is insulted by the term ‘half-caste’.
His tone is challenging, even threatening (e.g: ‘Explain yuself wha yu mean when yu say half-caste’) as he asserts his identity as a whole human being and demands that readers change their attitudes.
In later recordings, Agard does not sound as angry – he even makes a joke of it, and he brings out the humour of phrases such as: ‘Excuse me standing on one leg’. Perhaps this is because fewer people use the term half-caste nowadays. But it may also be that sees the funny side to it himself.
For the poem’s structure, the poet uses short lines (e.g. ‘Excuse me’) and almost no punctuation (he uses ‘/’ instead of a full stop) to convey the direct and confrontational nature of the message. It makes the poem go quickly so it feels like someone ‘kicking off’ at you - pouring out his feelings at the reader.
One line is devoted to the Caribbean phrase: ‘ah rass’ – an expletive meaning ‘my arse’ – which makes this line of the poem very angry and aggressive, as though Agard has just got so angry explaining his argument that he cannot contain his anger any more.
He repeats key phrases such as ‘Explain yuself’ (four times) and ‘haaaalf-caste’ to hammer home his message.
The poem does not rhyme, but the words do have a Caribbean rhythm which is reinforced by the repetition of phrases like: ‘Wha yu mean’ and: ‘de whole of’; this reminds you of Caribbean limbo dancing and sense of rhythm – perhaps Agard is asserting his Caribbean heritage, or perhaps it just comes naturally from his childhood in Guyana.
The language of the poem is a mixture of Caribbean dialect and formal British English – the poet at one point says in Caribbean dialect: ‘Ah lookin at yu wid de keen half of mih eye’, but at another in standard English: ‘Consequently when I dream I dream half-a-dream’. This very powerfully gets across the fact that Agard is of mixed heritage.
Agard uses direct speech (e.g. ‘I’/ ‘yu’) and many commands (such as ‘Explain yuself’) to point his thoughts directly at the reader, and to make the poem challenging and confrontational.
Agard makes use of metaphor, comparing ‘half-caste’ to art, the weather and music, which makes the poem a kind of parable – many teachers use analogy in their teaching to get the point across.
He also uses scathing humour – including the joke: ‘in dat case england weather nearly always half-caste’ – because humour can also help to give a point more impact.
The poem has four sections, each with a different message so that – even though it is funny and angry – the poem gradually builds up its argument, step by step, that ‘half-caste’ is an unacceptable phrase and we ought not to use it.