A Traumatic Event Causing a Leap into Adulthood in Montana 1948 and Janet Walking’s Poetry
The poem Janet Waking and the novel Montana 1948 explore a common theme of a series of traumatic events forcing adulthood on a young child. In the poem Janet Waking, the author, John Crowe Ransom uses the word ‘beautifully’ in the first sentence to give us a connotation of a happy, fairytale like quality. By putting the word beautifully at the start of the sentence, rather than in the normal order of syntax, the author is using inversion to focus us on this word. The effect of this highlights the contrast with the second half of the poem when Janet runs outside, only to find her ‘dainty-feathered hen’ dead. Janet can’t fully comprehend this situation as this is her first experience of death. This is the first step toward adulthood for Janet. Ransom also shows this to us in the title Janet Waking. The title is a pun for Janet waking up to the realities and consequences of the adult world. Lexical choices such as ‘weeping fast as she had breath’ and ‘Janet implored us’ give us a connotation of remorse and darkness. These powerful verbs display the extent of Janet’s pain and grief. The point Ransom is trying to convey is growing up and entering the adult world is a something everyone will have to experience at some point in their life. Tragedies or big events like having someone in your life pass away can speed up this process and prematurely force us into adulthood. This premature leap into adulthood was brought upon Janet when her hen died. Like Janet Waking, the novel Montana 1948 focuses on the idea of a traumatic event causing a child to grow up and enter adulthood. The author, Larry Watson, portrays the idea of that growing up can be difficult and painful though the protagonist, David. Early on, Frank, David’s uncle, is shown as a war hero. He is admired by David and many others and perceived as a strong, athletic, and heroic figure. As characters develop throughout the story we find out that Frank is none of these things and is in fact a horrible person and a rapist.
For David, having this knowledge is the beginning of his journey to adulthood. David says ‘Looking in the dead bird’s eye, I realised that these strange, unthought-of connections – sex and death, lust and violence, desire and degradation – are there, there, deep in even a good heart’s chamber.’ The lexical choices the author uses to display this image allow us to see David’s realisation that adulthood is morally complex. These lexical choices also give very dark and twisted connotations when compared together. He now sees that, deep down, every human possess both good and evil, no matter how they appear on the surface. Both Janet and David had a traumatic event that occured in their childhood and ruined their innocence. However, while David seeks out change and embraces it, Janet fails to accept change and wishes for her hen back. Janet cries “Wake her from her sleep!”, not yet understanding the inevitability and consequences of death. Both John Crowe Ransom and Larry Watson want us to see that a catalyst, like a traumatic event, can cause a premature leap into adulthood and this is painful and unforgiving for everyone. Difficult or traumatic experiences in our youth can cause us to mature more quickly than if you didn’t have those experiences. While these experiences can be painful they can also serve as valuable life lessons. Having to struggle through this pain allows us to develop empathy with others in our relationships and above all, our journey through life.
On Turning Ten and Spring and Fall: To a young child, explore the idea that leaving childhood behind and growing up is painful from a child’s perspective. In the poem On Turning Ten by Billy Collins, the speaker is approaching his tenth birthday, but with great difficulty and negative feelings about his impending adulthood. In the first stanza the speaker compares adulthood with various childhood illnesses such as ‘measles of the spirit,’ ‘mumps of the psyche,’ and ‘disfiguring chicken-pox of the soul.’ The author conveys this through the use of parallel structure to add a powerful climatic effect and emphasis on the negative effect adulthood brings. In the second stanza Collins focuses on the magic and positivity of childhood. To show this the author uses lexical choices such as ‘perfect simplicity of being one’ and ‘the beautiful complexity introduced by two’ that give connotations of happiness and positivity. The speakers happiness and positive view on life comes to an end when he opens his eyes to the harsh reality of adulthood. Lexical choices such as ‘solemnly’ and ‘drained’ display an image of adulthood to the reader that is dark and unforgiving. The speakers negative view is also shown when he says ‘This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself’. From his perspective, everything is downhill from here. The innocence of childhood is also prominent in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Spring and Fall: To a young child. In the first stanza, we see the speaker, Margaret, crying due to the fact leaves are falling off trees, something most adults wouldn’t cry about. Her tears do, however, hold a deeper meaning. Margaret is becoming conscious of the horrors and pain that adulthood will bring. She is met with thoughts about the inevitability of death and mortality and these thoughts are given to her by the speaker. Like the speaker in On Turning Ten Margaret is starting to realise the realities of adulthood and see it for what it really is. When the speaker in On Turning Ten says ‘But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees. I bleed.’ He is seeing through the facade of happiness and positivity that is childhood.
The last few lines of Spring and Fall: To a young child, refer to ‘the human condition’. The human condition is the angst, pain and suffering that, as humans, we all feel from time to time. When the speaker says ‘What heart heard of, ghost guessed’ he is giving implications that Margaret had these feelings in her all along but is the speaker is allowing her to develop and understand these emotions as she grows up. The last line of the poem, ‘It is Margaret that you mourn for.’ shows that, now she is growing up, she will be crying for her own problems and hardships, not the leaves falling off trees. The author of On Turning Ten, Billy Collins, gives an image of how painful growing up really is. Gerard Manley Hopkins furthermore highlights this and shows us that this ‘human condition’ is especially prominent when growing up as we are all filled with these negative emotions. The authors of these texts have allowed us to see that growing up is daunting for all of us and there there will always be certain challenges that we will have to overcome throughout our journey to adulthood. While leaving childhood behind can be painful, it is something we all have to endure and is only a small part of our time of earth.
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