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ToK Essay Titles May 2019

By ToKTutor, Sep 23 2018 11:29AM

Question 6:

'Not waving but drowing', by Steview Smith.

Stevie Smith’s poem is a powerful example of when the failure to take on contrasting perspectives becomes a life or death matter. The poem is woven out of different perspectives – the speaker’s, the dead man’s and the bystanders’ – but the tragedy of the poem is that none of them ever coincide. In relation to our Q, the tragedy is that no one knew the crisis in the dead man’s life; nobody actually knew the man at all. On one level, the idea that the man ‘loved larking’ suggests he brought on the tragedy himself: he always projected the stereotype of a happy-go-lucky man who no-one could take seriously. So, from everyone’s perspective, he looks like he's messing around when he’s waving from far away in the water. Hence the almost unsympathetic excuse that he died of a heart attack because it was ‘too cold’. On another level, perhaps his humour was a façade to hide his deeper hurt: he was projecting a comic mask of himself to compensate for the ‘cold’ he felt continuously in his life. So, from his own perspective, he was really asking for help all along. Hence the threefold echo of the expression, ‘not waving but drowning’ to underline the emotional pressure he was under. The message of the poem seems to be that the distances and barriers people put up between themselves mean that they cannot see beyond the narrow perspective of their lives to acknowledge others’ suffering. The universe described by Smith’s poem is a bleak one, inhabited by indifferent, unempathetic beings, trapped in their own small worlds and alienated from others. In this universe, the nurturing of contrasting perspectives is crucial but always appears out of reach…

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