Disabled vs. an Unknown Girl

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A Comparative Essay between “Disabled” and “An Unknown Girl”

Moniza Alvi reflects on India as her hand is hennaed by “an unknown girl” “in the evening bazaar”. The predominantly upbeat mood of this poem contrasts with the pessimistic mood in “Disabled” written by Wilfred Owen, a soldier in the First World War, stating his anti-war view through a poem on the life of a young soldier “sewn short at elbow”, crippled by war. In his poem, the difference between past and present allows Owen to reveal the regret and disappointment felt by the persona whereas, although Alvi portrays India as a magical, beautiful place where she experiences freedom, the ending reveals she will never be completely included. As such both poems illustrate longing but Alvi is longing for her identity whereas Owen is longing for his past life.

To begin with, there is a difference in mood between “An Unknown Girl” and “Disabled” as Alvi creates an optimistic mood whereas Owen creates a predominantly depressing mood. Owen creates this by suggesting a theme of isolation felt by the persona which is implied in the first stanza when Owen says “mothered them from him”. The word “mothered” has caring, kind connotations but when used with “from”, it implies that he is not given the love and is actually an outcast which creates a strong negative mood as we can feel his seclusion. Similarly, “Espirit de corps” is said in an ironic tone which emphasises the fact that he is an outcast and that war does not leave you with glory or pride. This inspires pathos as everything has been taken away from him and he is no longer included, an idea which is further emphasised by the iambic pentameter in the first stanza, communicating the dull monotony of his life due to the isolation as he has no one to share anything with. Finally, the question at the end of the poem “Why don’t they come?” shows that he is literally waiting for someone to “put him into bed” as he is not able to do this himself. We can tell that he is waiting for night and the cyclical routine that repeats each day although he could be waiting for death as he has “a few sick years in Institutes” left which creates a powerful sorrow as he is still young. As this is the end of the poem, we are left with the image of him isolated and abandoned which is very striking.

Owen further creates the pessimistic mood by suggesting the disappointment and lack of pride the persona has been left with after the war. Owen declares “no fears of Fear came yet” describing the persona before the war which groups all the fears and makes them seem overwhelming. This may suggest the persona is afraid of being a coward as he must appear strong and the personification of “Fear” makes him seem weak inside. This is emphasised by the use of “yet” as the persona now feels these fears after the horror of war. Later in the poem, the long stanza of hopes such as “For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes; And care of arms” contrasts with the short stanza for reality such as “Only a solemn man offered him fruits” revealing that his hopes for war were not met and he has been left with very little. This contrast is emphasised by the reaction of the people as he is “thanked” by “a solemn man” showing us that this “pity” makes him feel mocked. A miserable mood is portrayed as he has not received the celebratory “cheer” or “giddy jilts” he was expecting instead men “inquired about his soul” which portrays that the persona feels that these “cheers” are wrong therefore the man is making a mockery of him. The phrase “carried shoulder-high” depicts a glorious image to the reader as the persona recalls the excitement after a game of football. This excitement must have been similar to his expectations of war and when contrasted with the inglorious impression of life during and after war, the reader once again is forced to feel the sorrow and regret felt by the persona as Owen has effectively provided us with images and...
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