AP Literature and Composition
Wednesday, February 25
Both “A Barred Owl” and “The History Teacher” present the idea of conveying information to children but focus on different results. In “A Barred Owl”, a child’s parents use a personified explanation to make the outside world less scary. In “The History Teacher”, the teacher ironically tries to protect his students’ innocence by playing down history. Each poem is an example of how humans are affected by words.
“A Barred Owl” uses imagery to depict a child scared of the unknown noises coming from outside. Wilbur describes the scene as “the warping night-air having brought the boom of an owl’s voice into her darkened room” (1-2). The details bring the reader directly into the situation. The narrator explains the scary noise to the child as “an odd question from a forest bird…’Who cooks for you?’” (4,6). The narrator prompts the reader to question the power of words; “words, which can makes our terrors bravely clear, can also thus domesticate a fear” (7-8). In this story, parents can comfort their children and shield them from the outside world. The contrast of the second stanza reinforces the idea that the parents are protecting their child from the horror of the wild. The reality is described as “some small thing in a claw borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw” (11-12). Adults want to shield children from the bad in the world, so they stay innocent and are not scared.
“The History Teacher” uses irony to present the negative outcome from trying to guard children from the reality of the world. The teacher oversimplifies the history lessons “trying to protect his students’ innocence” (Collins 1). He “told them the Ice Age was really just the Chilly Age…where everyone had to wear sweaters” and “the Spanish Inquisition was nothing more than an outbreak of questions” (2,4, 7-8). The dramatic irony is that the reader knows these historical events are a...
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