“The rebel” by D.J. Enright, and “Festival”” by Kenneth Wee
- Pages: 8
- Word count: 1861
- Category: Poetry
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“The Rebel” is written from a third person view. The poet is quite removed from his own poem. He cites a few situations, and is purposely adding an ironic twist to the poem, even as he is relating their behaviour in the given situations. He is also kind of stereotyping rebels, showing only one aspect of their behaviour. He is taking it as a given point that rebels almost always act the same, which is why he is alluding to this certain behaviour of theirs. The main focus of the poem is to show the difference between rebels and the other members of the general public. The poem is written with a clear point in mind to make, that is-to emphasize the need that society has for rebels, for even as the are making life tricky and, occasionally, quite unpleasant for others, rebels are required to maintain a continuous flow of new life and creativity-some varying ways of doing normal things that may be better or can just add some spice and additional interest.
“Festival”, however, is written from a first person view, as seen from the use of ‘I’ and ‘We’ in the poem. It is also very much like a personal recount, the persona relates his own experiences and feelings during a Chinese festival, probably the New Year, for lion dancers and spring couplets [used as good luck charms to usher in a good year ahead (only used by the Chinese)] are mentioned. The focus of the poem is the differences, and yet ironic ‘fake’ similarities between the persona’s generation and his/her grandparents, such as both generations have ‘door gods’, but the door gods for the older generation are for religious/protection purposes, while the door gods for the younger generation are merely their idols, and do not really have any special significance. The poet apparently means the obvious difference between the ‘door gods’ as a mocking pun. Although the persona and his grandparents are only about two generations apart, they seem to have a totally different conception of everything, and are on vastly different wavelengths (cannot understand each other, don’t know how to communicate).
The persona of “The Rebel” is most likely an adult, for he is able to make calculated views of rebels, yet, being like a regular adult, he is unable to really grasp what rebels are doing and why, he is merely stating what they do externally. Thus, besides the fact that they may be good, and are necessary, he is not really able to make any other conclusions. He sounds like a typical adult, with an exasperated and irritated tone reflected in the poem. There is that constant insinuation that they are always doing the opposite, on purpose, and to no use at all. He probably sees them constantly in his daily life doing fairly controversial things. In comparison, although the persona of “Festivals” is a teenager and is unable to make a link between his grandparents and him, he is certainly quite perceptive of this gap. He is a model of the current teenager and their relations with the older generation. He is proud of his being Chinese; yet he realizes that being Chinese is more than just skin colour or genes. Although he may be born a Chinese, he has totally no roots, no understanding about Chinese culture and tradition. Everything about him is English, Western, pizzas, rock hit, Shakespeare etc. He knows all this, and portrays it all in a very ironic tone, yet, a sad undertone, that he has been ‘Westernized’, can be felt.
The persona in “The Rebel” is quite aggravated, and very disparaging towards rebels, maintaining that although it may be good to be a rebel, “You may not find it very good” to be a rebel against society. He is very sure in his views. However, the persona in “Festivals”, although showing much understanding of his situation, is unsure and sad. He does not like his position as a Westernized Chinese, yet he likes Western things and has a distaste for traditional Chinese things. He is pensive, and shows it in an paradoxical reflection:
And we think: “I’m proud to be Chinese,”
The setting of “The Rebel” is quite ambiguous. However, evidence points to it being in a very open-minded country, where children are given much freedom to do what they liked, only slightly restricted by society rules and brought up to be candid. This freedom is revealed by the situations cited, for their conditions seem quite relaxed, no one seems to be doing anything about it. Thus, this poem would probably be set in America. There is a greater accent placed on freedom there than other countries. The “Festival”, on the other hand, is clearly set in Singapore, where the younger generations are greater influenced by the western world, with the western culture integrated into their daily lives. In the years between the two generations, many startling changes have come about. The advanced technology, along with the many Western influences, has totally changed the environment of which children in Singapore grow up in. Also, there is a greater emphasis on English, and many other more Western things. All these have caused a big difference in mindsets and behaviour, making contact minimal between the elders and their grandchildren in families. The setting was revealed through the big difference in cultural customs, such as the dancing and the traditional music of lion-dancers and ‘us’ dancing too, “But to the latest rock hits”-the clashes in thinking. An understanding of the setting is important in order to further understand the framework of the poem.
The poet of “The Rebel” feels that it is perfectly fine, even, to a certain extent, good for rebels to be present in society. Evidence of that is in the first line of the last stanza, where he states that it is “very good that we have rebels”. There is also a certain sympathy for rebels however, as shown from the last line, that they might not “find it very good to be one”. I would probably describe the poet as quite arrogant, he think he knows everything, that rebels almost certainly act like that. I do not quite agree to his handling of this issue, for I feel that he is dwelling too much on the differences and the similarity of all the differences, which, I feel is not exactly the true essence of rebels. I think that real rebels do not do things differently on purpose, and besides, it is hard to insist that someone is a rebel, for we all rebel at one time or another. Both poets however, seem to be carrying a mocking condescending towards the differences between the persona and the other subjects in their poem.
The poet of “Festivals” sarcastically portrays the ignorance of the young generation. He speaks of not understanding the meaning of things from their own culture, nor their own dialects. There is much verbal irony used in the poem, especially in the last two lines of the last stanza. Using the ‘similar differences’, things that are totally different, yet, similar background, he is disapproving of the persona, the current teenagers nowadays. Such examples are the spring couplets used for ushering good luck and Shakespeare’s quotes, and door gods for protection and Schwarzenegger and Stallone, generally most teenagers’ idols. I would describe the poet as very perceptive and frank, not afraid of what effect his words would have on the reader. These traits can be seen in the way he phrases his poem, and the techniques he uses. I agree with the way he handles this generation gap issue, for he is not trying to hide the facts, or cushion it. This is most effective to make an impact on the reader, and possibly, alter the views of any teenagers reading this poem.
“The Rebel” as the title makes the reader prepare for either a poem about rebels, or a controversial poem, that might ‘rebel’ against normal rules of poetry. The title is repeated throughout the whole poem, except for the last two lines, in a couplet style where the line headings are alternated between “The rebel” and “When everybody”. The purpose of this is to emphasize that rebels are also purposely doing something different. The meaning of the word ‘rebel’ is the same throughout the poem. However, there is a slight ‘rebellion’ by the poet by putting the poem in such a phrasing. I think that the poet’s choice of the title, although very apt in describing the context of the poem, it does not capture the spirit of the poem properly. However, it is a good introduction of the poem. My expectations of a unique, controversial poem were foiled, for, the poet is simply listing the situations-not very ‘rebellious’… although, of course, it helps to emphasize the difference.
At first sight, the title “Festival” prepares the reader for, perhaps, a poem about the beauty of a certain festival. Thus, when I started reading this poem, I was rather surprised at the choice of title. However, it does help to introduce the setting (time) of the poem, the Chinese New Year. The poet, although he did not use repetitions, various stanzas in the poem already relate back to the title, with “spring couplets”, “lion dancers” etc. The meaning of the title is changed, from a festival such as CNY, to, almost mockingly, a ‘celebration’ of the differences between the two generations. Of course, this might have been the choice of the poet. Anyway, only when you read further into the poem, then can you understand the choice of the title. My starting expectations were foiled, but I was more than amply repaid by the fantastic word play during the poem. The way the poet revealed the differences between the generations through a significant festival was incredible.
There is a similar theme in both poems-differences. They both speak of contrast between groups of people, whether it be in behaviour (for ‘The rebel”) or culture (for the “Festival”). In the context of “The Rebel”, the conflict is between rebels and society. In “Festivals”, it describes the differences between two generations in a family. They both have a specific format that is constant, and is in free verse. “The Rebel” has stanzas of two sentences, where the first line shows everybody’s behaviour and the second line shows the rebels’ behaviour, which is, the opposite of the other people, and the next stanza after it shows what happens when others change to the rebels’ behaviour/the opposite of what they did before, and of course, the rebels’ behaviour is now what the others were before. “Festivals” has stanzas of four lines, where the poet, in describing the things the persona does during the day, associate what is happening, the traditional style, to the modern culture of the persona’s generation.
These two poems have many similar areas, and of course, differences. However, these two poems both are, essentially, about diversity/difference, and the way the poets have chosen to present the poems in such a way is interesting and quite unique.