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Stephen Spender
Stephen spender the poet, being a socialist had great concerns about social injustice and class inequalities that prevail in society. A reflection of which is quit evident in an elementary school classroom in a slum.

The children of an elementary school classroom in a slum look pathetic and miserable. They have pale lifeless faces and they are in an area for away from the turbulent, energetic sea. Their disorderly hair are waving around their pale faces and look like rootless weeds. Among the occupance of the class there is a tall girl with bent down head who appears to be shouldering a lot of responsibility. Another boy has the curious darting eyes of a rat but seems to be very thin due to being underfed. Another boy with stunted growth has unluckily inherited his father's disease which is a bone deforming. His body clearly expresses his disease and his also reciting aloud his lesson from his desk. In the dim back bench of the class sits a sweet, young child who seems to be in a dream, dreaming about playing outdoors and climbing up the trees like a squirrel. The gifts given as donations and the picture of Shakespeare head ar4e hung on the unpleasant, creamy walls, but these are useless to these unfortunate children. In the early morning, the sky is cloudless and the civilized domes of the institutions of the world shine brilliantly. The blue bells and the fragrance of flowers fill the Tyrolese valley. There is an open map of the world in the classroom which is made and reshaped by the people in power. But for these children such a world is meaningless for the dirty fog filled windows of the classroom open out into their world of the uncertainties, misery and suffering. They are doomed to live in narrow streets closed in by the bluish grey sky and their world is far away from the beauty of rivers, mountain caps and stars. 

Neither Shakespeare, nor the map of the world holds their interests. This map shows a world which is not theses. The beautiful world outside attract them with beautiful ships, warmth of this sun and love tempting them to steal away from their miserable surroundings. They live in their barrow crowded holes with their lives starting with the fog of uncertainty and ending with the endless bight of their death. On the heap of the slag these small children wander about with their bones peeping through their skins. The slums they live in are nothing less than living hells. Actually they are a blot on "their" civilized world - the world of the rich and the great. 

The map of the civilized world and the slums of these unfortunate children are two entirely different worlds. Governors, inspectors, visitors and other important persons must a bridge the gap by peeping into the world of children living in the slums. The unsuitable environment of the slums has blocked all their gates to progress. They are living shut like catacombs and everything that obstructs bind them should be broken. They must be allowed to breathe in the open, come out of their narrow lanes and dirty slums of the town. Let the enjoy the beauty of the green fields, running joyfully over golden sands with blue sky above and the blue waters washing the shores. Let the pages of wisdom be open for them and their tongues express themselves freely without only check of fear. Only those people make or create history whose language has the warmth and the strength of the sun.


Ans.1 (a) The tall girl with her weighed down head means the girl is ill and exhausted.
(b) The boy is thin, hungry and weak.
(c) The boy has an inherited disease.
(d) The boy is full of hope for the future.
(e) They are insecured.

Ans.2 The colour of sour cream is off-white. The poet has used this expression to suggest the decaying aspect and deterioration in the colour of the class-room walls symbolizing the pathetic condition of the lives of the children of this slum school. The expression reveals the poor ambience of the slum school.

Ans.3 These pictures that decorate the walls hold a stark contrast with a world of these underfed, poverty ridden, slum children living in cramped dark holes hampering their physical and mental development and even their growth is stunted. The picture on the wall suggest beauty, well being, progress and prosperity- a world an sunshine and warmth of love.

Ans.4 The poet wants the people in authority to realise their responsibility towards the children of the slums. All sorts of social injustice and class inequalities must be ended by breaking the obstacles that confined the slum children to their ugly and filthy surroundings. Let them study and learn to express themselves freely so that they will share the fruit of progress and prosperity and their lives will change for the better.


Q.1. Why does Stephen spender use the images of despair and disease in the poem?

Ans. He uses the images of despair and disease to describe the miserable and pathetic lives of children living in slums. Their faces are pale and lifeless and their hair are unkempt. The burden of life makes them sit with their head 'weighed down'. The stunted growth of 'paper-seeming boy' and the 'unlucky heir of twisted bones' depict their pathetic condition. They lead a despondent life and their lives are secluded within the four walls of the slum.

Q.2. What message does the poem convey?

Ans. Stephen spender conveys the message of social injustice and class inequalities by presenting two contrasting and incompatible worlds. Social progress and development is possible only when the gap between the two worlds is abridged. The slum children should be made mentally and physically free to lead happy lives away from the dark holes they live in now. Only then, art, culture and literature will have any relevance for them.

Q.3. Explain "History is theirs whose language is the sun".

Ans. This metaphor contains a vital truth. This world does not listen to the dumb & driven people. Only those who speak with confidence, power, authority and vision are heard & obeyed. Those who create history are people whose ideas and language can motivate, move, inspire and influence millions of people. In order to be effective their language must have the power and the warmth of sun. Therefore, the poet suggests that it is quality education only that can bring hope and bliss in their lives.

Q.4. Why is the Shakespeare described as ‘wicked’ and the map a bad example?

Ans. Shakespeare, we know is an epitome of high literary excellence, has no connection with the world of these slum children where the level of education and learning experiences is pathetically low. The map gives them a glimpse of the rich bounties of nature, which these slum children are always devoid of. The map only adds on to their miseries and make them curious of a world beautiful beyond imagination.

Q.5. Explain the irony in the expression “Awarding the world its world”.

Ans. The expression is ironical to the extreme. It brings out the contrast between the two worlds which are poles apart. The children’s world is despondent, full of disease, despair and miseries while the other world comprises of the bounties of nature, picturesque and liveliness. The comparison between these two incompatible worlds is stark and vivid.

Q.2. What is the theme of the poem?

Ans. The poem ‘An elementary school classroom in a Slum’ by Stephen spender focuses on the themes of social injustice and class inequalities, rampant in the Society. A reflection of this grim state is evident in an elementary school classroom in a slum. Their despondent lives are oblivious to the beautiful world beyond their means. Education is the living nightmare and there is no scope for development.

1. Ambience = Environment

2. Filthy = Dirty

3. Despondent = Lack of hope

4. Unkempt = Shabby, dirty

5. Epitome = an ideal example

6. Oblivious = Against

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