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WRITTEN COMMENTARY The Fat Black Woman Goes Shopping The Fat Black Woman Goes Shopping was written by Grace Nichols in 1984. She was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1950. She moved to England in 1977. Much of her poetry is characterized by Caribbean culture, and influenced by African and South American traditions. This poem is part of a compilation called The Fat Black Womans Poems. Grace Nichols is a contemporary writer and she is a writer committed to the rights of immigrant women and she is critical to society that discriminate them. The…
An essay comparing emotion within poem 254, by Emily Dickinson and Price We pay for the Sun, by Grace Nichols

Focussing on the works of at least two poets you have studied, discuss the presentation of strong emotions.

Throughout works by both Emily Dickinson and Grace Nichols, emotion is prevalent in juxtaposing ways and is used to engrave within to the readers’ minds ideas of bitterness and despair, yet hope and Biblicism. Through the use of such polarising emotions, the reader is able to view the complications and temperaments of two contextually dissimilar speakers.

Within poem 254, by Emily Dickinson, there is a resounding message of the eternal nature of hope. The extended metaphor of a bird is used to materialise hope: “Hope is the Thing with Feathers,” (1). Evidently “Hope” is inanimate, however, through giving it feathers, Dickinson starts to shape an image of hope as a bird in the reader’s minds.

The “Feathers” depicted here enable a person to soar away from their problems gracefully, summoning images of people who have been enveloped by life’s afflictions.

Contrastingly in “Price We Pay for the Sun” by Grace Nichols, a sense of helplessness and despair is portrayed within the lives of the native peoples. The native are afflicted by diseases, poverty and death: “my mother’s breasts… like sleeping volcanoes” (12-13).

Here Nichols uses neologism to portray emotions such as sorrow and despair within the speaker to illustrate the cruelty of life in her homeland. Cancer is portrayed as rampant, conveyed through puns such as those on the words “sulphurous” and “furious” to “sulph-furious” (15).

Black humour is used here to emphasise the metaphor of volcanoes as life-threating in not only their immediate destruction through the use of “split(ing)…bone” (line 9 and line 10), but also in the cancer that they bring to the people.

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There is an evident and stark contrast between poem 254 and the omnipotent hope it presents and The Price We Pay for the Sun in its misery. Poem 254 radiates happiness and optimism: (hope) “perches in the soul . and never stops – at all” (2 &4). Here hope is ever-present and the speaker feels it in their soul, facilitating the drive to succeed and survive. “Sings the tune without the words” (3) suggests that the “song” of hope within the soul is non-linguistic, non-rational, and instinctive.

In other words, this indiscriminate emotion is so powerful that it resonates within people though they may not be able to understand why it does so. However, the speaker does not suggest that this is a solution to the many woes of life. Hope only perches the soul in order to provide it with the determination it needs to organise the host’s life itself. “At all” further emphasises the eternality of hope and how its strength is the focal point of this poem.

Alternatively, the use of “hurricane” emphasises the extent of the emotion that the father is feeling. Just as Hurricanes are violent storms so too is the force of the father’s tears. He is sobbing pugnaciously, with the imagery used to help the reader empathise with the misery that the native people feel, living under the threat of death while opulent tourists live extravagantly in the hotels on the island.

Whether it is anger or sorrow, the presentation of these polarising emotions enables the reader is able to grasp the living conditions of the native people of this land.

Dissimilarly, Dickinson’s depiction of hope being “sweetest – in the Gale” (5) describes the bird’s song of hope as strongest when a person faces the greatest challenges. The use of the hyphen allows the reader’s mind to conjure images of a bird’s song of hope whistling above the sound of gale force winds and offering a promise that soon, the storm will end.

In line 7, the extended metaphor of the bird symbolises hope is “abash(ed)”, which adds to the element of the purity of hope and how its enemies are only doing damage to themselves and others around them, when they lose hope. In essence, strong emotions of despair and general negativity are prodigiously crushed by hope and its omnipotent qualities of everlastingness and manifestation in life, ‘when the going gets tough’.

With regards to overpowering emotions in Price We Pay for the Sun, they are diametrically opposed to the positive ones portrayed in poem 254. Bitterness appears to be overriding sorrow within the speaker: “not picture postcards… for unravelling tourist” (2-3).

The absence of verbs within stanzas 1 and 2 makes the poem read colloquially and very much a reflection of Nichols’s Guyanese dialect. The plosive-alliterated “picture postcards” emphasises emotions of zeal and anger, while superficially beautifying her homeland, though there is a clear distinction between appearances to foreigners and reality to the natives.

Finally within poem 254, hope is described as benevolent and altruistic: “never… (hope) asked a crumb – of me” (11-12). The speaker emphasises that hope is an unrestricted gift, which exists in some form (a bird) or another for every one of us. An condition is presented in the concluding lines, in order to sustain humanity’s relationship with hope – all that must be done is not to clip its wings, so that hope is able to fly and sing freely.

The emotion of hope is so strong, that its song can be heard over the “strangest sea(s)” (10), “chillest land(s)” (9), and in bleakest of storms. Hope is a song that will endure, as long as humanity permits it to.

To conclude the bitterness in Price We Pay for the Sun, the final stanza employs a triplet to depict poverty as being the price that the indigenous people have to pay for the “sun girl” (26), which may be referencing a sunbathing tourist who is having an enjoyable experience in the island whilst the locals suffer due to poverty, disease and death. .

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