'Hotel Room 12th Floor' by Norman Maccaig Critical Evaluation

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Choose a poem strongly linked to a specific location.

Explain how the poet creates an impression of what life is like in that place.

Norman MacCaig’s poem, ‘Hotel Room, 12th Floor’, presents a view from a high window in a hotel in the largest city in the most powerful nation in the world. It is morning and the poet is looking out over the city. As night falls the poet begins to feel uneasy. Down below on the streets chaos and violence seem to take over. From his hotel room the poet wonders if violence is a basic part of humanity which we cannot shut out. This essay will look at how the poet creates the impression of New York as a savage and uncivilised city.

Even at the beginning of the poem, there are signs that the poet is not comfortable in the city. By comparing the helicopter to an ‘insect’, MacCaig reminds us of the sheer size of New York and the buildings. The fact that the insect is ‘damaged’ suggests pain. It could also suggest that nature – the insect – is harmed by civilisation – the helicopter. The metaphor used to describe the Empire State building – ‘jumbo size dentist drill’ also suggests pain due to the connotations of the drill and of the dentist. By using this metaphor, MacCaig introduces the idea that even during the day, New York is not a pleasant place to be.

The impression of New York as a savage and uncivilised place is continued in the second stanza of the poem. The sounds the poet hears are the frightening ones of sirens from emergency vehicles as they race through the streets. These are transformed into the ‘wildest of warwhoops’. Here the poet compares the sirens to the war cries of Indian tribes and poses the idea of the uncivilised history of America and compares it with the reality of the modern city. Additionally, the poet uses alliteration to reinforce the idea of violence in the city. He describes the ambulances rushing to ‘broken bones’ – the harsh ‘b’ sound here suggests beatings and batterings,...
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