Martin is a young boy presenting a grenade to his classmates as part of a show and tell segment of a history lesson. The classes’ reaction to the grenade is one of great excitement. In contrast, the narrator, the classroom history teacher, is disgusted by the weapon and the children’s excited reaction.
The main theme of the poem is the differing attitudes towards weapons which are symbolic of war. From that stems three other key themes - the debate about the inherent violence in the human spirit, the fascination with weapons versus the disgust for weapons, and the dichotomy that exists between our heads and our hearts. Foulcher also addresses other dichotomies - the past and the present, boys and men, innocence and experience, and of course, most obviously, the classroom and the battle field.
Foulcher puts forth a controversial topic for his adult audience to debate - the inherent violence in the human spirit. He uses the pun ‘mind fields’, as opposed to ‘mine fields’, to convey the violent and destructive fantasies gripping the children as they hold the grenade above their heads. Foulcher is, in a sense, posing the theory that the grenade is awakening the latent violence and propensity for destruction that exists just below the surface in all of us. He begs the question, perhaps violent and destructive fantasies are inherent in all humans, but by adulthood most of us have been conditioned to suppressed our fantasies in light of the devastating repercussions of acting upon them.
This debate closely ties in with the fascination with weapons versus the disgust for weapons theme. In ‘Martin and the Hand Grenade’ the eager children are fascinated by the adventure of war, unaware of the horrors involved. Children have no fear, hence they are fascinated by the weapon because they can not comprehend the horror involved in war. The teacher in the poem, however, is disgusted by the grenade, weapons, violence and war, as they are capable of comprehending the horror associated with each.
Another key theme in the poem is the dichotomy that exists between the ‘mind’ and the ‘heart’. The mind symbolises reason and logical thought. The heart symbolises emotion and irrational feelings. Foulcher is addressing the ever present inner struggle between our heads and our hearts. This theme links in closely with one’s perspective on the presence of weapons and war in our society.
77Questions on ‘Martin And The Hand Grenades’
1. What is the setting and action of this poem?
2. Why do you think the father’s skill is described as bleak? 3. What was the question that was asked?
4. Why do you think Foulcher only reports the answer?
5. Why has Foulcher phrased Martin’s answer in language you would not expect a child to use? 6. What is meant by the line ‘then the spread became too loose to catch a man’s mortality’? 7. What words or phrases develop a comparison between the battle field and the classroom? 8. What link is the poet making between trench warfare and small boys? 9. What is the children’s attitude towards war? Use at least one quote to support your statement. 10. What is the poet’s attitude to war? Use at least one quote to support your statement.
1. Setting is in a primary class and the action of the poem is a boy showing and telling about the hand grenade given to him by his father. 2. Since it is not a skill to be happy about
3. How powerful was the grenade
4. Since by the answer we automatically understand the question that had been asked 5. As a means of personification to make a harsh matter seem nicer 6. That the grenade could kill a person within a 10 yard range (9m) 7. Dead weapons hurls across mind fields
8. That these boys are throwing (hurling) this grenade across the classroom similar to that of solders in trenches 9. They think it is fun and interesting ‘’ the dead weapon can hurls across mind...