Flamingo (AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
CLASSROOM IN A SLUM)
Summary of the poem
In this poem, Stephen Spender has
brought out the miserable condition of the children studying in an elementary
school in a slum. The children in the classroom are pale and unhealthy and some
are even diseased. Their unkempt and dull hair has been compared to rootless
weeds. One of the girls is apparently burdened with the miseries of poverty.
One of the boys has inherited his father’s disease and has stunted growth.
Another student is sitting unnoticed and he is yearning to play outdoors. The
donations given to the school in the form of pictures, paintings and maps are
meaningless for the children. They exhibit the world of the elite and the
privileged while the children in the slum have a future that is sealed and
confined to the slum. Their future is dark and limited. The donations on the
walls only add to the frustration of the children. They are tempted to attain
what would be unattainable for them. The only hope for them is the support from
powerful people like the governor, inspector or an influential visitor. The
children in the slum can progress only if they are given good education and the
freedom to move into a world of opportunities and progress. The poet also
states that history is made only by those people who have the power of
knowledge. Hence, educating and letting the children into a free world of
opportunities would release them from the suffocating, wretched life in a slum.
Question and answers
1Q. What is the theme of the poem ‘An
Elementary School Classroom in a slum’?
(Ans) In the poem, Spender depicts the
pathetic life of slum children who are victims of government apathy. He
presents social injustice and class inequalities that prevails in society. The
poem is a bitter criticism on the state of education in elementary schools in
picture of the slum children is depicted in the poem?
(Ans) The slum children in an elementary
school look pathetic. Their hair are like wild weeds.
They are undernourished and diseased. They are used to dark, dirty, narrow
cramped areas closed in by a grey sky.
3Q.What do slum children receive
(Ans) The children inherit their
parents’ poverty and disease. A boy has twisted bones like his father. The slum
children inherit the diseases as they are subjected to inhuman dirty cramped
4Q. Explain ‘far from gusty
(Ans) ‘Gusty waves’ represents energetic
children who are like strong waves. The slum children are unlike the usual
children. They are undernourished and miserable.
is the comparison drawn with squirrel’s game?
(Ans) This is suggestive of the world
of dreams, the sweet and young boy lives in. He dreams of squirrel’s game in
trees away from his gloomy classroom.
6Q. Explain ‘like bottle bits on
(Ans) This simile describes the
shattered glasses of the spectacles some slum children have to wear. It looks
like the bits of glass on stone walls. It highlights the poverty and hardships
of people in slums.
7Q. Explain ‘like bottle bits on
(Ans) This simile describes the
shattered glasses of the spectacles some slum children have to wear. It looks
like the bits of glass on stone walls. It highlights the poverty and hardships of
people in slums.
8Q. In spite of despair and disease,
the slum children are not devoid of hope. Give an example of their hope or
(Ans) Even though the world of the slum
children is dark and their future bleak, their eyes dream of a better future
which is distant and beyond their reach. They dream of open seas, green fields
and squirrel’s game.
‘future’s painted with a fog’.
(Ans) The future of slum children is
uncertain and bleak. Just as fog blurs one’s view in winter, poverty and apathy
of the officials have dimmed the future of the slum children.
10Q. How is ‘map’ a bad example?
(Ans) Map opens before the slum
children a beautiful world. The map is a bad example because it tempts them to
aspire for a world which is beyond their reach. Their world is confined to the
dark narrow lanes in the slums.
11Q. Bring out the optimism in the
(Ans) Spender feels education is the
instrument of change. It can release the slum children from the miserable life
they lead. He appeals to the officials to become sensitive to their needs. This
will break down the barriers that hinder their growth.
can powerful people improve the lot of slum children?
(Ans) Powerful people can liberate the
slum children. They can do so by removing
social injustice and class inequalities.
They must provide opportunities to these children so that their childhood does
not get lost in dreary ‘foggy’ slums.
13Q. Explain ‘history is theirs
whose language is the sun’.
(Ans) Those people create history who outshine others. Through this metaphor, Spender feels
that only those people who have courage can leave their mark. To create
history, their language must have the power, brightness and warmth of the sun.
14Q. Far far
from gusty waves these children’s faces.Like rootless
weeds, the hair torn round their pallor:
(Ans) The children in an elementary
school of a slum have faces which are very different from those of other
children. They are not exuberant and full of energy (far far
from gusty waves).Their faces are like weeds in a garden (like rootless
weeds-simile) – They are rootless, unsure and lack stability. Their hair is
unkempt around their pale faces. The gusty waves symbolize the energy that
ought to be in children.
tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-seeming boy,
with rats’s eyes.
(Ans) The poet expands on the theme of
the miserable existence of the slum dweller’s children. The tall girl is
physically and emotionally exhausted. Her head hangs down in exhaustion. All
life has been dredged from her body and sapped from her mind. The children are
underdeveloped and live like rodents. A very sick and lean boy has “rat’s eye”
symbolizing that he is defensive and scared like a rodent. His prospect for
survival, let alone success seems bleak.
16Q.At back of the dim classOne unnoted, sweet and young his eyes live in a dream,
Of squirrel’s game, in tree room, other than this.
(Ans) The classrooms are equally dim
and pathetic. There is a child who is sweet and young but his “eyes live in a
dream” .This phrase has various interpretations:
1) He wants to get out as he is
bored and distracted.
2) He is mentally challenged and
he lives in a dream and not in reality.The child’s
desire is to be a squirrel playing in a hollow tree. This ironically reflects
his current life and is also suggestive of the world of dream he lives in;
being mentally challenged, he does not live in a world of reality like the
others but lives in a world that he himself has created.
sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head,Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map Awarding the world its world.
(Ans) The walls of the classroom are
off white or yellowish (sour cream). This dull colour
echoes the situation of the children and underlines the neglect in their lives.
The walls are decorated with pinups of Shakespeare’s head, domes of the
institution of the civilized world, photographs of the alpine valleys; etc. The
life of the slum children is far removed from all that is represented in maps,
books and pictures. These are contrasted with the reality of the situation.
‘Open handed maps’ suggest the map drawn by powerful people – ‘Awarding the
world its world’ suggests how the world is determined by the powerful leaders.
The poet thus hints at two worlds: the world of poverty, misery, depravity
represented in the slums which is contrasted with the world of progress and
prosperity peopled by the rich which is shown in the pictures on the wall. This
world is far removed from the lives of these slum children.
18Q. And yet, for theseChildren, these windows, not this map, their world,
Where all their future’s painted with a fog,A narrow
street sealed in with a lead sky,Far far from rivers,
capes, and stars of words.
(Ans) The world of stinking slums is
the world that belongs to these poverty stricken, ill
fed and under-nourished children. ‘These windows’ reflect the world exposed on
the maps. Education opens doors and windows to the ‘other worlds’ but it has failed
in this instance to liberate these children both physically and intellectually
from their restricted and impoverished existence. Their world has unpleasant
surroundings. The dirty windows figuratively and literally are their world. The
fog of uncertainty dominates their future. They are doomed to live in narrow
streets (symbolic of restricted life desolation) which do not lead them to a
better future. Their landscapes have no rivers or lakes.à
In the second stanza – all the positive symbols are
far removed from the lives of the children – cloudless dawn, Belled, flowery,
Tyrolese valley. The children’s future is bleak – painted with a fog and
covered with a lead sky (of industrialization).
19Q. Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, the
map a bad example,With ships
and sun and love tempting them to steal-For lives that slyly turn in their
cramped holes.From fog to endless night?
(Ans) These lines are in form of a
poignant question. The poet questions the study of Shakespeare to these slum
children. It is “wicked” because it can liberate them from their mundane life.
The map shows a world which is not theirs. Therefore it is a ‘bad example’. It
tempts the children with ideas of escape in the ships from their miserable
world with ‘lead skies’ to a sun filled world, and a love for life rather than
an existence full of dread and disillusionment. It raises false hopes in the
20Q. On their slag heap, these childrenWear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles
of steel. With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.
All of their time and space are foggy sulm. So blot
their maps with slums as big as doom.
(Ans) ‘On their slag heap’ represents
the physically diseased children who wander with bones peeping out of their
skins. “Wearing spectacles of steel” is a symbol of industrialization in which
they are all doomed. They wear spectacles with mended glass which look like
pieces of broken bottles on stone. Stones also reflect the expression on their
faces. This image highlights their impoverished existence. Their existence is
restricted to the “foggy” slums. Foggy is symbolic of ignorance. Fate has
charted out a bleak path as the future holds no promise for them. Their life is
an endless fog till they die. The maps of their future are already blotted.
21Q. Unless, governor, inspector, visitor,This map becomes their
window and these windowsThat shut upon their lives
(Ans) This stanza is full of optimism.
There is a touch of magic in its wider connotations. It is an appeal to the
governor, teacher, inspector and visitors to transport them beyond the dark
boundaries of today into the possibilities of tomorrow, otherwise these
classrooms will become like tombs. The lives of the children are magically
released from bondage. It is an appeal to these eminent people to rescue the
poor and oppressed from the tomb of class discrimination and to show the
children the beauty of the world. This map refers to the world of prosperity.
Their windows refer to their slums. The children will be able to peep through windows
only when the difference between the two worlds is abridged.The
simile: - These windows (slums that shut up their lives and stun their growth)
like cat combs (tombs).
O break open till they break the town
And show the children to green fields,
and make their world
Run azure on gold sands, and let
Run naked into books the white and
green leaves open
theirs whose language is the sun.
(Ans) Spender desperately wants that
the children should break out of these catacombs (or near death existence).
They should come out to the green fields and breathe in the open air so that
they can grow unrestricted and liberated and be creative. The poet ‘imagines’
the liberated children running on the gold sand, delving into books and exploring
the realism of knowledge. The white represents the printed word and the zeal or
natural world, which forms the pages of the book of education. It is then that
they will be truly liberated and the inextinguishable spirit of human
creativity will abide in them. Only those people create histories whose
language has the warmth of the sun i.e. – who have clarity of vision and power
of life; these children will have the power of expression “Whose language is
the sun" (metaphor). The children’s language world is like the sun –
indicative of brightness and hope. Thus the end is optimistic, symbolizing the
freedom of the children from their deathlike existence through education and
23Q.What is the central theme of
the poem An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum by Stephen Spender?
Ans . Deals with social injustice and
class inequalities The poet describes the plight of
the slum children. They are destined to be poor, with no escape from it.He distinguishes the elite from the poor. The poem also
discusses about the shear negligence of the Govt. the authorities etc towards
the poor. The poem also highlights the importance of education and the poet
says that the fruits of education and the freedom should reach this downtrodden