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Analysis of ‘Little Boy Crying’ by Mervyn Morris

Here’s an analysis of ‘Little Boy Crying’ by Mervyn Morris, tailored towards IGCSE and GCSE Exams — CIE, Edexcel, WJEC, OCR, AQA and Eduqas. I’ve written some exam-style questions at the bottom too for you to practise!

If you like this resource be sure to check out my English Literature poetry and essay writing courses here: scrbbly.com/courses

I can’t reproduce the poem here for copyright reasons, but here’s a link to the full poem: https://www.poetryarchive.org/poem/little-boy-crying

STORY / SUMMARY

Stanza 1: The father has hit a three year old child, and the boy is crying. The boy looks for ‘guilt’ or ‘sorrow’ in the father.

Stanza 2: The child views the parent as an ‘ogre’ because of his size and cruelty. The boy is perhaps scared of the father. He hates the father at this point, because he can’t understand why the father slapped him, and he can’t understand why the father feels no remorse. He imagines getting revenge.

Stanza 3: The boy is too young to understand that he can also hurt his father, the father actually is pretending to feel nothing but on the inside he feels bad. He wants to play with the boy and make him happy, but he dare not because if he does that, the boy won’t learn a lesson.

Stanza 4: The poem ends with a single line, about how we should take the rain seriously. Perhaps this is a metaphor suggesting that things we don’t like sometimes are important and good for us. The father wants to play with the boy, but he needs him to take the discipline seriously.

SPEAKER / VOICE

> Who is talking in the poem? Who is the audience? Is the speaker the same as the poet?

The speaker is talking straight to the boy (the addressee), about his father — we assume the speaker is the poet himself. We can see both sides, because the story is told from a removed point of view.

The father can have a good side and a bad side, the boy also has a good and bad side — there is a subtle exploration of parent-child relationhips

ATTITUDES

> what opinions / beliefs are there in the poem?

  • Empathy
  • Parenting is a good way to treat a kid
  • Discipline is important for children, as they need to learn lessons about life — the father thinks that physical discipline is acceptable as a punishment for bad behaviour — this is not necessarily a good idea because the punishment could traumatise the child, it could impact his future relationship with his father, the father is much stronger than the child
  • The boy is sad, angry and confused
  • The father has no enjoyment in hitting the boy, he wants to comfort him and make it better but can’t because he feels that the boy needs to learn a lesson

LANGUAGE FEATURES

Alliteration, onomatopoeia

The poem draws parallels between the situation with the boy and the father, and jack and the beanstalk (fairytale allegory)

‘You must not make a plaything of the rain’ The poem ends with a single line, about how we should take the rain seriously. Perhaps this is a metaphor suggesting that things we don’t like sometimes are important and good for us. The father wants to play with the boy, but he needs him to take the discipline seriously.

STRUCTURE / FORM

> the shape of the poem (stanza, line length, rhyme, punctuation)

Each stanza is one single sentence, exploring a different idea

Stanzas : 7 lines, 6 lines, 6 lines, 1 line — roughly regular and then one line at the end

The last line ‘You must not make a plaything of the rain’ stands by itself — this proves a point, it serves as a lasting message — even though some things are difficult or unpleasant, they are still necessary

No formal rhyme scheme, some assonance (sounds that connect through vowels)

E.g. spite / hurt, tight / bright eyes, feet / hint > soft rhyming sound through the poem, gives it a lullaby quality

CONTEXT

> background knowledge

  • Written 2006
  • Mervyn Morris is a Jamaican poet (81 years old) — the poem was written when he was in his 70s, so he is looking back at a time where either he is the father, acting like this to his young son, or he is the child, thinking about his father’s attitude to discipline

THEMES

> big ideas / concepts that a text explores

Relationships — the father and son have a bitter relationship at the moment of the poem, but not always. The father often plays ‘piggy-back’ and ‘bull-fight’ with the son, so we know that at other times they have a happy relationship.

Vulnerability — both the son and the father are fragile, but the son doesn’t realise his father is feeling vulnerable

Parenting — ways in which a parent shapes a child’s development, and knowledge that they pass on to the child. The father feels that hitting a child and delivering physical punishment is an acceptable way to teach the son a lesson.

Love — even though the father has hurt the boy, he does so out of love

POSSIBLE ESSAY QUESTIONS

Explore the ways in which Morris’ words and images create feelings of sadness in ‘Little Boy Crying’?

Morris uses alliteration and onomatopoeia

How does Morris make memories so vivid in ‘Little Boy Crying’?

In what ways does Morris make ‘Little Boy Crying’ such a powerful poem about relationships?

IF YOU LIKE THIS ANALYSIS OF ‘LITTLE BOY CRYING’, TAKE A LOOK AT OUR COMPLETE ENGLISH REVISION COURSES HERE: SCRBBLY.COM/COURSES

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