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Published: 01-11-2019

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Division, Unity and Identity in Tony Harrison’s “V”

“V” is a poem in which Tony Harrison illustrates the operating class hostility towards the political establishment and Margret Thatcher’s government in the course of the 1984 miner’s strike. However, it also focuses on the unity among himself and his “woman” and effectively as his parents. It is also clear that this poem centres on a confrontation with himself. “Tony Harrison took inequality, deprivation and division and gave them a physical existence”. The title of this poem, “V” stands for versus and instantaneously indicates to the reader that it focuses on division in British society: “Class v. class as bitter as prior to, the unending violence of US and THEM, personified in 1984”. Harrison has used this quote to refer back to the miners strike in 1984, which was a turning point in British society. A divide by way of the nation was designed based on which side you supported and tore several households apart. Moreover, Harrison refers to a single of his other poems: “Them and UZ” whereby he highlighted to the reader how the upper class judged the operating class based on their pronunciation of the English language. Even though his poem is notable forts bitter, angry, and potentially divisive tone, this perform also represents an try to spot Harrison himself in a meaningful gender and historical context.

Harrison contains distinct dates and place names such as “1984” and “Leeds United” for two major reasons: firstly, to give the reader anything to relate to effectively, specifically those from a functioning class background. The act of matching his words with context makes his poems a lot more offered to the men and women of his culture by providing it a sense of reality and encourages the sense of conflict within the poem and the “tug of war by way of Tony himself” (Simon Armitage). Secondly, Harrison areas “1984” on a shorter line than the others, exactly where it cannot be missed to allow the irony of Orwell’s novel to speak for itself. Whereby the totalitarian oppression is demonstrated in the brutality of the police towards the labouring classes. When the poem “V”, was very first published it cause outrage and the Every day Mail described Harrison as a “potty mouthed poet”. This is due to the initial confrontation between Harrison and his alter ego, the skinhead. “But why inscribe these graves with CUNT and SHIT?” “ This pitman’s of last century daubed PAKIGIT, this grocer Broadbent’s aeroslled with NIGGER?”. Harrison used such language not to “arouse the dead from their deep peace”, but to shock the living. They are used deliberately to illustrate to the reader how the ‘public have an unflinching examination of the divided society that we live in”. When it was first set to broadcast on channel four, Mary Whitehouse and other primarily conservative MPs attempted to stop the poem from becoming broadcasted purely on the basis of the language employed. This is ironic simply because the poem focuses on the core fundamental issued in our modern day society, but what shocked people was the language utilized and not the division that clearly exists among “US and THEM”. Furthermore, a lot of feminist readers have protested against the word “cunt” getting used due it inappropriate reference to a woman’s body.

Nonetheless, it could be argued that Harrison does not use these ‘taboo’ words in an insulting manner, at least where Harrison the man is concerned, but just as a part if the skinhead’s dialect. These are the “words of the people” and critics have argued that if Harrison had tamed this poem he would have been dishonest to himself, his readers and most importantly his roots. It also suggests that he could have been that skin but was distanced from his alter ego due to the fact of his grammar college education. “So what’s a cri-de-Coeur, cunt? Can not you speak the language that your mam spoke. Feel of ‘er! Can you only get yer tongue round fucking Greek”” She didn’t talk like you for a starts! I shouted where I thought the voice had been”. The irony in this stanza is the truth that the skinhead assumed “cri-de-Coeur” to be a word of the Greek language, when in truth it is a French expression indicating a passionate appeal or protest. Furthermore, Harrison articulates his divided self and the divided British society in the course of the 1984 strike by employing two voices all through the poem the foul-mouthed skin in a confrontational dialogue with an educated poetic voice. Harrison and his alter ego illustrate that the “language in Tony Harrison is the web site of class struggle”. Moreover, the two voices used are distinguished by printing the skinhead’s voice in italics which is ironic since Harrison enhances the already existing division as the character of the skinhead can be regarded as a stereotype. By splitting himself into two voices, Harrison is empowered to express the anger and distress of the functioning class skinhead and bring his voice into dramatic confrontation with his own educated voice. The contrast created between the two characters permits him to anxiety to the reader that there is anger inside all of use nonetheless it is “education that provides us the definitive manage as to how we show that anger and our emotions”. The cemetery in which Harrison’s parent are buried and exactly where he hopes to be buried is the connecting point amongst Leeds Grammar school and the football stadium, exactly where Leeds united play and “disappoint their fans week after week”. “If buried ashes saw then I’d survey the places I learned Latin, and discovered Greek, and left, the ground where Leeds united play” These two locations are utilized as juxtaposition to every other due to, ironically getting connected by the graveyard. They also act as a metaphor of the functioning class and the middle class worlds that Harrison is torn between he is the binding factor amongst these two classes, but is also divided by every of them.

Following going to his parent’s grave, Harrison returns residence and focalises the poem on the theme of unity. “Home, home, house, to my woman as the red darkens from a flesh blood to a dried. Property, residence, to my woman, property to bed where opposites look often unified”. The word “home” is repeated, consecutively in this stanza and acts as a parallel to the word “against”, which was also repeated earlier on. This final episode in the poem brings him back to his companion and to the warmth of th coal fire. “Home, property to my woman, exactly where the fire’s lit…and perished vegetation from the pit”. Ironically his residence is not in Leeds, but elsewhere. Nonetheless, it is clear that he has managed to escape some of that division that tormented him since he feels united with his operating class roots through the mention of “vegetation from the pit” a reference back to he mines. Furthermore, this part of the poem offers the reader a degree of hope and optimism, yet its force is lessened by means of the use of the phrase: “seem occasionally unified”. Harrison admits that a perfectly integrated society is unrealistic. However, he hopes that the barriers among “Black/White, man v wife and class v class” are transcended. This is evident due to the fact he later on states: “I know what the word UNITED that the skin sprayed has to mean”. The word “has” been italicised to indicate the there is one obvious which means to the vandalism on the grave. It represents a plead of the “tongueless” functioning class for the conflict to end and peace to embrace each societies. Near the ending of the poem, Harrison turns and speaks straight to the reader. “Will erode the UNITED binding us together. And now it is your selection: does it keep?… If adore of art, or really like, provides you affront that the grave I’m in’s graffitied then, perhaps erase the move offensive FUCK and CUNT but leave, with the worn UNITED, one tiny v. victory? For vast, slow, coal-creating forces that hew the body’s seams”. This stanza empowers Harrison to totally connect with his roots. He brings the reader to the graveyard, where he wishes to be buried and evokes the idea that the reader will be paying a check out to Harrison’s own grave and just as he attempted to clean his parent’s grave, it is now the turn of the reader to clean Harrison’s.

Tony Harrison tells the reader when to come and visit his grave: “But chose a day like I chose in mid-may”. He wants the reader to check out Beeston Hill, when “5 children nonetheless play at producing blossoms fall and humming as they do here comes the bride”. The concept of the celebration of marriage pinpoints unity as the theme of the poem. The phrase “does it remain?” indicates that it is now the reader’s option as to regardless of whether to leave it on his grave or erase it. Nonetheless this depends on no matter whether there is still demand for unity or has it currently been achieved. It becomes clear to the reader that the second northern voice of the skinhead is Tony Harrison’s alter ego. “He aeroslled his name. And it was mine”. This quote explores how throughout the entirety of the poem, Harrison has been enduring self-conflict. In this stanza he reveals that he also could have been a skinhead, who utilized sturdy colloquial language efficiently. Nonetheless, due to his middle class education which he received, he is capable to manage his anger in the type of the alternating rhyme scheme ABAB and uses his type in verse due to the fact “it can hold the wonderful power and stress of his emotions” (Richard Hoggart). When Harrison visits his parent’s grave, he finds that the cemetery is constructed over an abandoned mine. “I stroll on the grass and graves with wary tread more than these subsidences, these shifts below the life of Leeds supported by the dead”. The land is collapsing, the graves and obelisks tilt and there are shifts under the surface. The imagery designed of depth instability and coal represent the instability of life throughout the miner’s strike and the conflict in Northern Ireland with regards to the IRA. It can also be inferred that Tony Harrison is stressing to the reader the shift in time scale. “A matter of mere time and it will swallow this spot of rest and all the resters down”. Harrison is panning out eternity to illustrate how insignificant ones life can be. Furthermore, what can also be understood from this imagery of shifting and instability is the questioning of Harrison’s identity.

Harrison does not fear the grave, but the “great worked-out black hollow below mine”. This makes him query his identity as it connects the poetic voice of the scholar with the skinhead (sharing the very same skin). This query of identity carries guilt due to the fact Harrison realises that he can not be one particular of these characters, but both. Even though he feels distanced from his functioning class roots, there is still proof of the basic connectedness with his alter ego: “the skin’s UNITED underwrites the poet”.
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