In Mrs Tilscher’s Class
In her poem ‘In Mrs Tilscher’s Class’, Carol Ann Duffy effectively uses many language techniques to convey the changes that occur in a schoolchild’s outlook and maturity as they grow older. The atmosphere of the poem changes as a result of this. The poem is about a young child and how she views school and learning in different ways as she grows older. We are shown the uncertainties children have about adolescence and starting High School. Stanzas 1 and 2 are set in the orderly but relaxed atmosphere of the primary school classroom, where the children in Mrs Tilscher’s class seem to be interested in their work and are enjoying themselves.
One of the most noticeable features the poet has used here is the use of senses, which is fitting because it is through the senses that young children learn many things. They can see the map and touch it, “travelling up the Blue Nile with their fingers” whilst hearing Mrs Tilscher chanting the scenery. The children can use their imaginations and picture themselves travelling in their minds, and the chanting is also a positive thing. We can tell the class is concentrated and happy to take part in the lesson, and a contented, happy atmosphere is created.
Carol Ann Duffy tells of memories that she associates with primary school, “the laugh of a bell,” a “running child,” a “skittle of milk” and “a window opened with a long pole. ” Effective word choice is used here, with ordinary school details such as milk being compared with fun pastimes such as ‘skittles,’ and personification is used to make the bell ‘laugh. ‘ Again this is a positive thing – school bells are often thought to be negative as they signify the start of lessons.
So this shows that the child views school as a good thing and again helps to convey the happy atmosphere that she enjoys in school. The cheerful environment is continued into stanza two, where the pleasure of school is summarised in one clear statement: “this was better than home. ” This emphasises just how much the child enjoys being there, and Carol Ann Duffy takes this impression further by comparing school to something all children enjoy, saying: “the classroom glowed like a sweet shop. ”
This portrays a happy, cosy atmosphere. It is warm and inviting and makes you want to be there. Sugar paper” and “Coloured shapes” are mentioned which are things linked with primary school and suggest easy and pleasurable work unlike the more difficult work which usually has negative connotations with older pupils. It illustrates a difference between primary and secondary school. The child finds school a safe and comforting place, where “Brady and Hindley faded like the faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake. ” She has heard about horrifying things like the Moors Murders, which occur in the outside world, but these things are forgotten in school where she feels secure and protected.
However she still feels slightly awkward; the ‘faint, uneasy smudge’ is a trace of something that was once there and cannot be completely wiped out. Not even being at school can erase these difficult issues from the child’s mind entirely – she is beginning to realise that some of the more unpleasant parts of life cannot simply be ignored and forgotten about. However, we can tell how young and nai?? ve the children still are when we are told that ‘Mrs Tilscher loved you. ‘ This is a simple and childish way of looking at things; not the kind of way a more mature youth would describe something. Read about an absolutely ordinary rainbow
The excitement at finding Mrs Tilscher having “left a gold star beside your name” continues the idea of immaturity further. At the end of the second stanza, the use of senses is noticed again as the child smells the “scent of a pencil, carefully shaved” and hears a “xylophone’s nonsense from another form. ” Personification is used to make the noise coming from the xylophone sound positive, coming back once more to the idea of a cheery mood. The mention of ‘another form’ could be an indication that the children are starting to look ahead, and that they are keen to learn to understand the ‘nonsense’ that they hear from the xylophone.
In stanza 3, the atmosphere of the poem changes. It becomes more negative, and sourer than in other stanzas – the frog, for example, is described as ‘croaking,” a more bitter term that would not have been used in previous stanzas. The child is growing up – she is no longer a child and is fast becoming an adolescent. The metaphor “the inky tadpoles changed from commas to exclamation marks” suitably portrays the idea of schoolchildren getting older – ink, tadpoles, commas and exclamation marks are all connected with school, but here they are also depicting the changes the child faces, as she becomes an adolescent.
In addition to this, exclamation marks are found at the end of sentences; this line could be representing the end of primary school. The references to a “rough boy” and a “dunce” are another indication that the child is growing up – she is beginning to stereotype people, labelling them. More immature children don’t tend to put people into groups like this. Nevertheless, we can see that the child is still not entirely mature by hearing that the rough boy “told her how she was born” and she “kicked him, but stared at her parents, appalled when she got back home. Here we see that she does not want to trust what she has heard and temporarily refuses to accept the truth by reacting in a childish way. However, she is seeing for a second time that she cannot just erase ideas she finds awkward form her memory, and now that she has heard about sex there is no going back to her unawareness.
In the fourth and final stanza, the school year is at its end and the atmosphere seems at its most depressing. The month, July, is described as “feverish” which has ill and uncomfortable connotations. The child is described as feeling “fractious under the heavy, sexy sky. “Sexy” is unusual way to describe the sky – we see her trying to become more grown-up and experimenting with new, more mature-sounding words.
She feels “fractious,” irritable and restless and not knowing what to think. Mrs Tilscher, whom she has “loved” and trusted for so long, “smiles and turns away” when she asks how she was born, leaving her feeling alone and rejected, contributing to a negative atmosphere. In the second-last line, the child “runs through the gates, impatient to be grown” showing us that now she is desperate to leave the school, quite in contrast to the start of the poem where she would have given anything to be there.
The poem is ended with a metaphor: “the sky split open into a thunderstorm. ” This change of weather comes as a relief – “heavy, sexy sky” implies an upcoming storm and everything is cleared up meaning a new start can begin. The storm also signifies the unsettled moods the child is likely to experience during adolescence – the rain could be illustrating the fact that she is crying inside. In conclusion, I find that Carol Ann Duffy has successfully adopted different language techniques, especially metaphors and the use of senses, throughout to convey the changes that occur in a child when progressing through their school life.