The Hungers of Life
Sometimes an environment where people are guaranteed shelter and safety isn’t what they really long for, nor is it necessarily good for them. A significant portion of humanity want to truly live life—taking risks in the process of enjoying themselves and satisfying their desires for pleasure in life, while at the same time being able to get the necessary work done. In the poems “in the inner city” by Lucille Clifton and “a song in the front yard” by Gwendolyn Brooks, both the authors illustrate this point—that human nature’s love for liveliness is greater than their desire for a safer environment that’s dull and predictable, and that keeping people in an isolated safe haven does more harm than good—through differing styles in tone and syntax.
First off, the tones of the poems differ significantly. In “in the inner city”, the speaker’s tone is content and proud of his situation in life but critical of uptown. Twice he references the inner city as home, and in each case taking four lines to do so, emphasizing that the inner city is home (1-4, 11-15). He disparages uptown in the middle of the poem, saying that while thinking about uptown, images such as “silent nights,” “houses straight as dead men,” and “pastel lights” come to mind (6-8). The silent nights establish the idea of uptown being too quiet, and lacking in any vibrancy and personality. The speaker suggests here that there are never any parties or community activities as there would be in the inner city; the people in uptown don’t share a bond of camaraderie that those in the inner city would. The houses straight as dead men reflect the speaker’s opinion of uptown being devoid of any vitality, that even though there are people who live there, they lack creativity in their lives, settling for a lowly, dull way of life. The speaker criticizes uptown’s preference of a completely safe atmosphere rather than a vigorous but not as safe setting. He says that by accepting this sacrifice, the people who live in uptown essentially give up their lives whereas those who stay with the lifestyle of the inner city “hang on to [their] no place” and are still living life, rather than letting life live them (10). Many people, especially those who do not dwell in the ‘inner city’ of metropolitan areas view it as dangerous, immoral, poor, and uneducated, making the inner city a ‘no place’ where nobody would want to be. However, inner cities all hold the dark realities of life, and while exposing them to people may be bad, hiding those problems is worse for the populace, as they would be living in ignorance and blindness. The pastel lights illustrate uptown’s fakeness. Uptown conforms into what the society wants and expects, abandoning the needs of human nature in the process. And even though the world around them changes incessantly, the people of the inner city refuse to give in to it and they stay true to their ways, and the speaker asserts his content by saying that those who live in the inner city are “happy to be alive” in their “no place” (10-11). On the contrary, the tone of “a song in the front yard” isn’t content and proud. Rather, it is extremely unsatisfied and wistful. The speaker, a young girl, complains throughout the poem about how her mother has sheltered her so much, keeping her in “the front yard all [her] life” (1). As a result of her hunger for more adventure in life never being satisfied, she wants “a peek at the back/Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows” (2-3). She says that all she wants is a “good time,” and is “sick of a rose” (8, 4). Roses need to be tended carefully by a gardener, and this is akin to how the girl’s mother treats her. The young girl doesn’t appreciate this, and it signifies her rebellion. The girl’s mother sneers at what she considers fun, but the girl says its fine and ridicules her mother for assuming the worst possible about people, disbelieving her when she says “that Johnnie Mae/Will grow up to be a...
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