Compare and contrast the presentation of the poets’ attitudes to progress in Unknown Girl and Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom.

Topics: Poetry, Light, Henna Pages: 5 (3293 words) Published: January 5, 2015
Compare and contrast the presentation of the poets’ attitudes to progress in Unknown Girl and Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom. People have been thinking about what ‘progress’ means for hundreds of years. We normally associate it with positive impacts and things changing for the better, which the majority of the time is correct. Edward E Cummings once said ‘Nothing recedes like progress.’ and in the poems ‘Unknown Girl’ and ‘Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom’ the poets agree with this statement. Alvi and Douglas present a negative view to the force of progress, we begin to question our understanding of progress, the benefits we gain from it and the danger that we lose what is most important when blindlessly pursuing it. Both poets share an experience of different cultures to our own and write about cultures similar to the ones they grew up in. ‘Unknown Girl’ is an autobiographical poem about Alvi having a traditional henna tattoo in an Indian Bazaar, (‘in the evening bazaar/ studded with neon/ an unknown girl/ is hennaing my hand.’) Moniza Alvi, was born in Pakistan, a similar culture to India, where ‘Unknown Girl’ is set, the poem describes her going back to her native country, to rediscover and reconnect with her heritage, to find out who she truly is. However throughout the poem we discover the real India has been covered by a curtain (‘canopy’) of Western influences and because of that, Alvi struggles to find the genuine India. Like Alvi, Marcia Douglas, has an understanding of Eastern and Western cultures; she was born in the United Kingdom, but emigrated to rural Jamaica when she was a young child, to a village similar to the place where ‘Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom’ is set. Douglas describes Mr Samuel as being the first person to get electricity in Cocoa Bottom and everyone’s excitement at this event. Cocoa Bottom is promised an epiphany; they will finally see the light – a literal and spiritual enlightenment. The event itself is made to feel like a public event, like a royal is visiting the community, it is built up using language techniques such as reinforcement of words, ‘Swaying’ intensifying the motion of the trees, and after a large build up, the lights go on but everyone is disappointed and return home. You could say that the two poets use their own experience of having a ‘foot in two cultures’ as an advantage here, as they both have an understanding of Eastern culture and the Western perspective and it is clear that they both come to a similar conclusion. The message in ‘Unknown Girl’ is shown through the Unknown Girl herself; she is a vehicle by which Alvi communicates her experience of re-connection with her heritage. Alvi uses her experience to tell us something more significant. Progress is a train which has already started and isn’t going to stop (‘like people who cling / to the sides of a train.’). India has traded its personalised history of crafts and skills such as hennaing for the western fakery (‘neon’, ‘Dummies in shop-fronts’ and ‘Miss India 1993’) The message in ‘Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom’ is similar to Unknown Girl. Douglas shows that even with the drama and excitement of Cocoa Bottom receiving electricity for the first time, the end result is disappointment, similar to ‘Unknown Girl’. Where Alvi is extremely disappointed with the India she sees due to the western influences. The technological benefit of artificial light has no lasting impact on Cocoa Bottom’s community (‘children of Cocoa Bottom / had lit their lamps for the dark journey home’). Similar to biblical stories, this poem has a meaning and a moral. The form of both poems reflects the poets’ attitude to progress. Unknown Girl is one stanza long, with small and short line lengths. Alvi may have done this to make the poem look like one long line of henna but on a deeper level it relates to the purpose. Alvi shows through the way the poem looks, that progress is a continuous force that has no breaks, linking the...
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