Half-Caste Analysis by John Agard

Half-Caste Analysis: John Agard was born in Guyana in 1949 to parents of mixed nationality. His poem Half-Caste portrays the attitude close-minded people, he may have met had, who considered people of mixed races to be inferior to them or even less important and called them “half-caste”.

Through his poem, John Agard seeks to make those subjected to discrimination feel equal and also to challenge discriminators to change their attitude towards people with racial differences or mixture.

His tone is bound to set the true purpose of the poem because even though it may vary and be sarcastic at times, it is fairly aggressive and shows how Agard is angry at those who call others ‘half-caste’. He wants them to open up their minds. He wants people to be aware of their mistakes.

Agard’s use of language is very important in adding feeling and purpose to the poem. The poet is able to convey feelings in the poem effectively using a mixture of both Standard English and Caribbean dialect when he says, “Ah looking at yu wid de keen half/ of mih eye/ an when I’m introduced to yu…” This very clearly puts across the fact that the poet is of mixed heritage.

Through the use of words such as ‘I’ or ‘yu’, he is able to establish a direct connection with his reader, which, with the use of argumentative tone emphasizes that those who discriminate people from mixed nationalities, have no foundation to sustain their beliefs(attitude) or to think of them as inferior.

Furthermore, despite the aggressive, argumentative tone use, the use of imagery in the poem is very humorous. For instance, “when yu say half-caste/ yu mean Tchaikovsky/ sit down at dah piano/a mix a black key/ wid a white key/ is a half-caste symphony” This shows us that besides ridiculing the use of the term ‘half-caste’, John Agard uses metaphors as a way to portray his parents and music, the music inside him.

This means that the message behind the quote intended to say that even though Tchaikovsky mixed black and white keys, he was still composed of beautiful music and people of mixed races are also beautiful.

Also, in Half-Caste, the poet uses parallels and contrasts to emphasize a point. For example, when he says, “an mix a black/wid a white key” a contrast is made between the keys- this emphasizes the racial split there was between the African Americans and Whites, how the Whites thought of the blacks as lesser beings. (white keys are bigger than black ones) John Agard’s intention is to challenge his readers, through the use of figurative language (metaphors, imagery, juxtapositions, parallelism) and phonetic spelling (yu, wid) to change their attitude towards people with mixed-race or heritage.

The poet has very successfully used rhythm and rhyme in the poem. There are rhymes in certain parts of the poem and are usually in couplets.

Half-Caste Analysis

For example, “wha yu mean/Ah listening to yu wid de keen” This helps give the poem more fluidity. He is able to create a very ‘Caribbean’ rhythm, through the use of repetition. He repeats phrases such as “explain yuself/wha yu mean” or “half-caste”.

The rhythm is very important in reinforcing his Caribbean heritage (even though he may have not made it that way on purpose) as well as helping us readers understand that this is a poem that should not be read, but heard.

Maybe the true intention behind this poem was not to make people know about how people with a mixed heritage feel but also to mock those who discriminate against them as well as to encourage people to stand up and go fight for their rights and speak up.

In conclusion, John Agard uses the poem to be able to talk about the closed-mindedness crises the White people who called those with mixed racial heritage have and to encourage people like himself to stand up and fight for equality.

This poem very clearly conveys the message behind the poem, by itself. The poet has been very successful in setting his point, through the use of literary tools and devices, which help give the poem lots of emotion, as well as help the reader, comprehend the purpose of the poem.

The poem should make us all realize that using racist terms harm other people as well as ourselves- that we should not use racist terms because we are doing no good.
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