An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum [Summary, Central Idea, Poetic Devices & Question Answers]

The poem an elementary school classroom in a slum was written by Stephen Spender, a famous poet. We will analyze the poem an elementary school classroom in a slum in detail along with an explanation and summary in this article.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum About the poem

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum About the poet

Stephen Spender was an English poet and essayist who lived from 1909 to 1995. In 1930, he left Oxford University without a degree and moved to Berlin. Spender became interested in politics and declared himself a socialist and pacifist.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Introduction

The poet, Stephen Spender, addresses the issue of social injustice and class inequality in this poem. The poet is deeply moved by the sight of these dwarf-like children studying in an elementary school. They paint a picture of an undernourished and partially clothed generation. Pictures of Shakespeare and a world map will not help their situation. The ruling class, teachers, and the education department must assist the slum children. Unless they are relocated from their filthy surroundings to bright and healthy areas, their future will be bleak. The poet criticises those who exploit the weaker sections of society by portraying slum children.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Characters

The following section presents the poem an elementary school classroom in a slum character’s name and character’s sketch.

In the poem an elementary school in a slum, four children are described:

  • Tall girl
  • Paper seeming-boy
  • Stunted boy
  • United sweet and young boy sitting in the back

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Word Meaning

Azure: It is a color that is a pale, cool shade of blue. Some people see the color as having a cold or depressing tone.

Blot: It is a word that means to stain or dirty something.

Cape: It is a sleeveless garment that hangs from the neck and covers the chest, shoulders, and back. Capes are often made from a piece of fabric draped around the shoulders like a shawl and then fastened at the front of the body with either a clasp or a button. The cape is typically worn as an outer garment in cold weather to provide warmth.

Catacomb: It is a name given to the underground burial grounds of the ancient Christians in Rome.

Civilized dome: It refers to the rising sun on the horizon in the shape of a dome.

Cramped: The meaning of cramped means to be so small that it is difficult to move or breathe. It can also mean to feel physically constrained or uncomfortable.

Dawn: It is the time when the sun rises from behind the horizon in the east, and its light starts to change from a deep pink to a bright yellow. The dawn can be seen as a symbol of hope, rebirth, and renewal.

Donations: It is a form of charitable giving. It is the act of giving money, goods or other items to a person or organization in need.

Doom: It means disaster or misfortune. The term has been used to describe the feeling of impending calamity or catastrophe.

Gnarled: The word “gnarled” is an adjective used to describe something that is twisted, knotted, or contorted.

Gusty waves: The term gusty refers to a wind that blows in short, sudden bursts.

Heir: It is used to describe somebody who inherits something from someone else.

Pallor: It is a medical term for the skin’s lack of color. It can be caused by many different things, but it is most often associated with being unwell or feeling under the weather.

Slag: In general, slag is defined as an industrial byproduct, typically a waste material that is useless for its original purpose.

Slyly: It is often used to describe someone who is doing something by stealth or someone who is trying to deceive somebody else. To be sly is to manage the truth or the facts in a clever way so that one’s true intentions are not revealed.

Stunted: The word “stunted” means to stop the growth or development of something.

Unnoted: It means unnoticed.

Weeds: They can be defined as unwanted plants or plant parts. They are usually found in areas where people don’t want them to grow.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Central Idea

Poet has painted a realistic portrait of the lives of school children living in the Tyrolese Valley slum of Austria’s Alpine Province. Because of their poverty and illiteracy, the children are in a very bad situation. They feel hopeless and depressed. Their sad expressions are conveyed by their pale faces. They appear to be lean, skinny, and bonny. They are like rootless weeds that can’t resist anything in order to survive. They are physically weak and malnourished. Poet expresses his concern for these children, who have spent their entire lives in slums and have had no opportunity to experience life’s true blessings. He makes a desperate plea to the educated and affluent segments of society to help the slum children by educating them. It will eliminate social inequity and class inequality.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Summary

The following paragraph presents the summary of An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum poem.

In this poem, the poet depicts a depressing state of poverty through the pale, depressed, and dejected faces of slum children. These children are pale, dirty, and stunted because they live in filthy conditions and are deprived of their childhood.

Stanza-1 summary

The first verse describes the children’s physical appearance. The poet begins by describing the slum as being far from wide, open spaces like the sea. ‘The children are unwanted, insignificant, and uncared for, like rootless weeds.’ A tall girl has a ‘weighed down head,’ as she is bent down by the difficulties and obstacles she faces on a daily basis. She is burdened by the ills of poverty. Another young boy is reciting his lesson at his desk. He is underdeveloped and small due to his father’s bone disease. He is also as thin as paper because he is hungry and malnourished, and he has rat-like eyes. The classroom is dimly lit, with no natural light or ventilation. A sweet, young boy, on the other hand, sits unnoticed in the last row at the back of the classroom. On the tree’s branches, he is daydreaming about childhood games. He longs to play outside and to have the freedom to move away from the filthy, dark, and dingy classroom.

Stanza-2 summary

The walls have become filthy and have turned a ‘sour cream’ colour. The paint in the room has faded, indicating the classroom’s deplorable condition. There are posters on the wall that were donated by the wealthy. They include Shakespeare’s head, the sky at dawn, the beauty of the Tyrolese valley, and a building with a dome that overlooks the luxury cars passing by. The maps on the wall depict a world that is vastly different from their own. It is a rich world full of luxuries, in stark contrast to the poor and filthy world in which the children live. The poet emphasises the distance between the children and a better education, as well as snow-capped mountains and rivers. They can only see their dark and narrow street and the polluted sky. In their dark future, they have no hope and no light.

Stanza-3 summary

The poet tries to persuade the reader that Shakespeare is “wicked,” and the map is “a bad example,” because they make the slum children want to travel to a world that is out of reach for them. The images of love, ships, and the bright sun tempt the children to steal in order to escape the world they live in and begin a new life. They, however, are unaware that a new day has begun because they live in an ambiguous world surrounded by perpetual darkness. Their bodies are so thin that their bones appear to protrude from their skins. They see the world through shattered glass and thus have an illegible version of it. Because they live in an uncertain world and have done so since birth, it is preferable to show them maps of other slums similar to theirs.

Stanza-4 summary

The final stanza has a hopeful tone because the poet says that people in power, such as the governor, inspector, and visitor, can help to prove the lives of the children. The slums resemble tombs, and these children live as if they have already died. The poet encourages the children to leave the slums. He wants children to be able to run freely in open spaces, green fields, and golden beaches. He wants them to have access to better books because if they get a better education, they will be able to empower themselves with good speech, just as the sun does for the Earth. This articulation will ensure that they write their own history and, as a result, live better lives.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Poetic Devices

The poem An Elementary School in a Slum uses the following literary devices/figures of speech:

Alliteration: It is the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of two or more words in close proximity. It is used to create lyrical and memorable phrases, but it can also be used to create poetic rhythm.

Enjambment: It is a literary term used to describe the connection or continuation of sense or sound between two or more sentences.

Metaphor: In literature, they can be used to compare two things that are not alike but which have some similarities. They are often used in literature, poetry, and speech.

Metonymy: It is a figure of speech that replaces the name of an object with a word or phrase that is closely related to it.

Personification: It is a literary device where human characteristics are attributed to non-human objects, animals, or abstract concepts.

Pun: It is a literary device that exploits multiple meanings of words or different interpretations of the same word.

Repetition: Repetition is the act of repeating something that is used to emphasize and bring attention to a certain idea or phrase by repetition of words or phrases.

Simile: A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things using the words “like” or “as.”

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Theme

The following paragraph presents the theme of An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum poem.

Stephen Spender addresses the issue of social injustice and class inequality in this poem. He introduces the theme by referring to two distinct and incompatible worlds. The world of the wealthy and civilised bears no resemblance to the world of narrow lanes and cramped holes. The wide gap between these two worlds highlights social and economic disparities.

Justify the title An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

The title of this poem by the poet refers to the worst conditions of elementary school students from low-income families. These students are slum dwellers. This poem’s title suggests that it is about the effects of poverty on students and their lives. The poet describes how these students study and what they require before school throughout the poem. He describes their miserable state as a result of unsanitary living conditions, lack of food, filth, and poverty.

According to the poet, these students also require the bare necessities of life prior to enrolling in school. Without these fundamental needs, this educational system will have no effect on them. Consequently, the title of this poem is appropriate.

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Question Answers

The following section presents the NCERT solutions of An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum poem in detail.

Have you ever visited or seen an elementary school in a slum? What does it look like?

I visited an elementary school in a slum that was in close proximity to an industrial area where factories emitted smoke and made loud noises. The smoke frequently entered the small classrooms, exposing the students to polluted air. The noise prevented the students from hearing what was being saved by the teacher. The school had not been repainted or renovated in a long time, and as a result, it appeared old and run-down. Since the children did not come from affluent families, the teachers lacked enthusiasm for teaching. I observed that the majority of teachers spent only 10 to 15 minutes in each class before returning back to the staff room for tea and conversation. In fact, many children lacked the necessary textbooks because their parents could not afford to purchase them.

What do you think is the colour of ‘sour cream’? Why do you think the poet has used this expression to describe the classroom walls?

The term ‘sour cream’ implies that the walls of the classroom are filthy, yellowed with age, and suggest decay. The poet wishes to emphasise the filth and desolation in which the children reside. The walls painted with sour cream suggest that the classrooms and the students within them have always been neglected.

The walls of the classroom are decorated with the pictures of ‘Shakespeare’, buildings with domes’, ‘world maps’ and ‘beautiful valleys’. How do these contrast with the world of these children?

These children’s world is limited to the slums. Shakespeare is not a part of their curriculum. Their surroundings are devoid of enchanting valleys and domes. The ‘world maps’ depict the world of the wealthy, which is in stark contrast to the slums in which they reside. The children live in a polluted area where they are unable to appreciate and view the splendours of nature.

What does the poet want for the children of the slums? How can their lives be made to change?

The poet desires that the children be given the chance to live a better life outside of their slum environment. He believes that by affording the children this opportunity, they will be able to improve their futures. Those in positions of authority, such as the governor, inspector, and other guests, can help bring about this change. Children will be able to create a more prosperous life for themselves if they are liberated from their current circumstances and provided with a more robust education, along with some encouragement.

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