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Analysis of ‘Plenty’ by Isobel Dixon

I really love this poem. It makes you think so much about the difference between wealth and poverty; having everything or nothing. This analysis of ‘Plenty’ helps break apart some of the major themes and examine important language features. It’s useful for students studying GCSE exam boards such as CIE (Cambridge) and Edexcel IGCSE, as well as AQA, OCR, Eduqas, Wjec and CCEA. You can always use it as unseen practise too if it’s not in your specific anthology!

If you like this analysis of ‘Plenty’ be sure to check out my CIE English Literature poetry course and other Lit / essay writing courses here: scrbbly.teachable.com/p/cie-igcse-poetry

“When I was young there were five of us,
all running riot to my mother's quiet despair,
our old enamel tub, age-stained and pocked
upon its griffin claws, was never full...”

(Full poem unable to be reproduced due to copyright)

STORY / SUMMARY

Stanza 1: we learn that there are 5 young children and one mother. The mother finds it difficult to look after so many kids.

Stanza 2: we learn that the family is poor, and the mum is struggling.

Stanza 3: we learn that the mum has to do a lot of maths and worry about money, and keep track of shopping lists to make sure the family have enough to eat

Stanza 4: the things that the mother could afford with the money that she has — petrol, porridge, aspirin, bread, toilet paper — everyday items, bare essentials (no luxuries)

Stanza 5: the children thought the mother was very mean and disobeyed her, stole extra biscuits

Stanza 6: the children stole extra water for their baths, and thought this was a luxury

Stanza 7: Focus shifts (VOLTA / TURNING POINT) into present tense, we focus on the poet herself. This allows us to compare the poet’s life now to her mother’s life when the poet was young. The poet’s life is very luxurious now — she leaves the heating on, she has long baths.

Stanza 8: the poet (daughter) misses her childhood, her sisters who are now ‘scattered’ and her mother, the difficult time they shared together

SPEAKER / VOICE

Stanzas 1–6 are from the point of view of the poet, as a child, looking at her mother and not being sure why she’s so mean

Stanzas 7–8 from the daughter’s point of view when she’s grown up — she sees her mum and childhood differently, she realises how lucky she is now

Personal point of view, memory / reflection on the past

ATTITUDES

Being poor can be difficult

“where dams leaked dry and windmills stalled.” without water you cannot clean the dishes, shower, etc, so we realise that the poet’s childhood was tough and that her family struggled to cope with basic necessities

The children formed an alliance against the mother, playfully resisting her strict rules — they “swiped biscuits” / “Stole another precious inch” of water for the bath

Because the poet was poor she had limited supply of food and very limited access to luxurious or pleasurable experiences, this suggests that the few things she did have were very special to her — we shouldn’t feel sorry for her because she did enjoy her childhood, but we should learn to appreciate and be thankful for what we have

Being poor can sometimes be fun as it brings people close together, especially families and siblings

When we’re older, we can realise that we didn’t fully understand something important in our childhood

The daughter misses the squabbles that she and her mother used to have when they had a long time ago, suggesting that they were a form of entertainment and never too serious, perhaps they were an important bonding experience for her and also a way for her to create her own identity by being defiant against her mother’s strict rules

Later when the poet is mature she realises that the mother’s strictness wasn’t because she was mean, but instead because she was trying to protect the family and make sure they had enough money to live. She changes her attitude towards her mother and begins to appreciate everything she did for her as a child.

LANGUAGE FEATURES

“running riot” > alliteration, creates a strong image of the children being chaotic

“dams leaked dry and windmills stalled” > strong visual imagery — dams and windmills are countryside images, perhaps she lived in the countryside, alliteration of ‘dams’ and ‘dry’

“it was a clasp to keep us all from chaos” > talking about the mother’s smile — a metaphor, the tightness of the smile creates a sense of being restrained

“Anger” > powerful, emotive language — shows the reaction of the mother to the difficult time, suggests frustration, struggling, difficulty coping

“warmth / disgorged from fat brass taps” > visual imagery, also tactile imagery (warmth shows the feeling of the water), enjambment — the image flows from one line to the next, the flow of the line is similar to the flow of the water into the bath. ‘Fat brass taps’ > uses assonance (half-rhyme, repeated ‘a’ sound) to reinforce the image, to create a sense of largeness. ‘Fat’ is also a sign of luxury, and a type of personification. It suggests that the bath is a moment of luxury. The word ‘disgorged’ suggests that the taps are spitting out water from their throats, a kind of personification.

STRUCTURE / FORM

Dashes — creates a pause, a breathing space, in the flow of the poem. Stops the flow of images, makes us pay attention. Sometimes it shows shock or confusion of the poet as a child e..g. “at some fault — // of mine” > shows confusion

Volta > turning point in stanza 7, the tense shifts from past to present, the focus shifts from the poet’s memory of childhood to her life now. She makes a comparison between her easy life now and her difficult life as a child, but we realise she had a happy childhood.

Free verse — the poem is set into quatrains (four line stanzas), which gives it some sort of regular structure, but within that the line length is irregular and there is no set rhyme scheme. This perhaps represents the way in which memories are both set and fluid in our minds, or the struggle between the mother’s attempt to keep everything regular and the children trying to cause chaos.

THEMES

Poverty — not having enough food to feed the family, or heating to have a proper bath. The mother suffers and struggles to provide enough for the children, but the children seem happy. They enjoy playing around with the mother, and testing boundaries.

Luxury — in later life, the poet has enough money to leave the heating on and take a long hot shower, these are luxuries compared to her childhood — this is kind of normal, not luxurious exactly, but when we see the poet’s earlier life we realise it’s a luxury for her

Parenting — there is an absence of a father figure, so we assume that the poet’s mother raised her five children by herself. She seems strict and as though she doesn’t allow the children to have fun, but we realise later (as the poet also realises when she’s older) that in fact she was trying to protect her children and to make sure they didn’t suffer from being poor. She seems like a tired figure, but a protective and good mother, and in adulthood the poet is able to appreciate everything she did for her and her siblings.

Pushing boundaries — the children test the limits of their mother’s patience, she hides her stress and anger with a tight smile / grimace. This is part of growing up, and in the poem it’s always presented playfully rather than showing serious tension.

Difficulty — difficult times help you to appreciate good times, difficult times bring people together, sometimes you don’t realise how difficult or serious a situation is until you’re out of it and you can reflect on the experience

Childhood — there’s an innocence and naivety to the poet’s memories, as if she goes back to a state of childhood when she thinks about them. Despite struggling, she appears to have had a very enjoyable childhood with a lot of strong memories and close family bonds built.

VOCABULARY

Plenty — a lot / more than you need

Grimace — a painful smile

Sybarite — an ancient Greek person who lived in Sybaris, a luxurious city in what is now Southern Italy. Sybarites are pleasure seekers who live an extravagant lifestyle.

Disgorged > poured out from

Co-conspirators > people who plot together against something

POSSIBLE ESSAY QUESTIONS

How does the poet explore ideas about parenting in ‘Plenty’?

How does the poet present the theme of childhood in ‘Plenty’?

ESSAY

I wrote an essay on this poem and the theme of childhood, you can read it here: https://medium.com/@scrbblyblog/an-essay-on-childhood-in-isobel-dixons-poem-plenty-e1ca0dc74ffa


Thanks for reading this analysis of ‘Plenty’! If you like this resource be sure to check out my CIE English Literature poetry course and other Lit / essay writing courses here: https://scrbbly.teachable.com/p/cie-igcse-poetry

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

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