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“An Old Woman” by Arun Kolatkar and “Nothing’s Changed” by Tatamkhulu Afrika Essay Sample

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“An Old Woman” by Arun Kolatkar and “Nothing’s Changed” by Tatamkhulu Afrika Essay Sample

Chose to or more other cultures poems you have studied. How do the poets present the theme of protest?

‘What else can an old woman do?’

‘We know where we belong’

These two quotes, the first from An Old Woman by Arun Kolatkar and the second from Nothing’s Changed by Tatamkhulu Afrika, both seem to show a sense of abandoned protest and although the poems are from two very different cultures the theme of protest is clear in both.

An Old Woman is about an old Indian woman who follows a man just for a fifty paise coin. Kolatkar depicts the old woman’s protests with poverty and age. In Nothing’s Changed Afrika writes of his protests with the whites and segregation as a black person in South Africa. He tells of how District Six was destroyed to make way for a brash and misplaced white restaurant. An Old Woman focuses on the Indian culture, while Nothing’s Changed looks at the American culture and race.

In this essay I will attempt to show the similarities and differences between these two poems, highlighting how the poets have presented the varying themes of protest.

The title An Old Woman doesn’t really suggest much about the poem except that it is about an old woman. It has a very narrow focus, as now the poem cannot be about anything else. As we already now the poem has some form of protest in it we can guess the protest is with age. However the title Nothing’s Changed has a much broader focus, it’s very negative and connotes that something was bad and still is, because nothing has changed. It suggests that the poem has no progression.

In both poems the first statements use hard, aggressive words to describe how the ‘small round hard stones click’ and the ‘old woman grabs hold of your sleeve’.

The first, from Nothing’s Changed, is very hard to say and sounds quite harsh, and the use of onomatopoeia helps the audience to imagine the rough surroundings. The second, from An Old Woman uses forceful verbs such as ‘grabs hold’ to suggest that she wasn’t invited but she did it anyway. The same can be said for the next line where she ‘tags along’ again uninvited.

In the first stanza of Nothing’s Changed Afrika cleverly uses onomatopoeia to enhance the audience’s image, and then goes on to use an antithesis when describing the ‘amiable weeds’. This connotes that everything else is so awful that the weeds look good. These clever language choices are not used anywhere in An Old Woman, instead the opening is very clear and simple- just like the old woman.

Kolatkar does however stress the seriousness of the woman’s protest by writing about how all she wants is a fifty paise coin, which in English money would be worth less than a penny, and how she offers to take the person to the horseshoe shrine. This suggests to the audience that the old woman is very desperate as it is clear she doesn’t want much. She offers to take the traveller to the horseshoe shrine because many people go there on pilgrimages.

In the third stanza of Nothing’s Changed Afrika describes the ‘new, up-market…whites only inn’ and stresses how out of place it looks with it’s ‘incipient Port Jackson trees’ and it’s ‘name flaring like a flag’. This ‘brash’ image with it’s ‘crushed ice white glass, linen falls and single rose’ is then compared to the ‘working man’s café’ down the road. Afrika describes the take-away ‘bunny chows’ that are mainly eaten by the poor, and how you wipe you fingers on your jeans and spit on the floor because of intuition. This comparison emphasises how out of place the white restaurant looks and in a way encourages the audience to pity the black community.

The old woman asking ‘what else can an old woman do on hills as wretched as these?’ is Kolatkar’s way of encouraging the audience to pity the character. The only piece of direct speech in either of the poems, it helps to make the poem more vivid. It comes after the traveller has shown he has no time for the poverty stricken old woman and brings the turning point of the poem. Her simple question motivates him to look at her properly rather than keep pushing her away and as he looks through the ‘bullet holes she has for eyes’ he sees her as a person not a nuisance.

Kolatkar then goes on to use imagery to change the audience’s perception of the old woman and generate more pity. He describes her aging body with thoughts of hills and temples cracking and mentions the sky falling as she ages and comes closer to death. Kolatkar portrays the ‘shatter proof crone, who stands alone’ the only true rhyme in the poem and this exaggerates the fact that she is alone as well as describing her soul which is still youthful although her body is past it.

This clever use of imagery is not used in Nothing’s Changed; instead Afrika describes his emotions, especially anger, towards what is there already. He expresses the ‘hot, white, inward turning anger’ of his eyes when he sees the restaurant and it’s clear panes separating the two races, so similar and yet so different. In the last stanza he talks of how he wants ‘a stone, a bomb, to shiver down the glass’ anything to put an end to his protests and to segregation. The change of mind from a stone to a bomb is shows how he wants to hurt or even kill the white people as they did to his people.

In the last stanza of An Old Woman we are told of how the traveller now pities the old woman and is ‘reduced to so much small change in her hand’. This brings a sense of satisfaction to the poem, as the audience know that the old woman’s protest with poverty is over for the time being.

However in Nothing’s Changed repetition of ‘nothing’s changed’ lays emphasis on the fact that the poem has no progression and the protest goes on. This means the audience still pity the character.

The structure of the stanzas in An Old Woman are very short and direct, again just like the old woman herself. The stanzas are all quite regular in rhythm and there are no rhymes. This helps the audience to feel finality that the old woman does. Most of the stanzas only consist of one sentence. In Nothing’s Changed however, the stanzas are much longer and much more complex. The rhythm is irregular compared to that An Old Woman. Again there is no rhyme used.

The ways in which the poets present the varying themes of protest are very different in the two poems. In An Old Woman Kolatkar relies on the use of imagery to paint a detailed picture on the mind of the audience. Afrika however uses what is there already to promote pity, and comparisons to further express the protests he has with the whites and segregation. Personally I find Afrika’s techniques more effective because of his clever use of emotions, like the way he tells how he would do anything to put an end to segregation. As there is no turning point in Nothing’s Changed pity is felt throughout the poem and I think this keeps the audience interested. In An Old Woman it’s the excellent use of imagery that keeps the audience engaged. This makes the two poems completely different as well as the different cultures and traditions.

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