Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Living Photograph by Jackie Kay - An Analysis


Okay so this post is school/student related so, there will be no bashing nor bitching here.

If you are still reading this, then you are probably a Form 4 student, an English teacher or someone who is neither both but just in love with me.

So this year marks the new cycle of the English literature component for Form 4 and Form 1.



 One of the poems that is required to be taught is The Living Photograph by Jackie Kay.


Since there are no reference books yet, yours truly had so much free time to spent 'coz she's no longer planning the wedding of the year.  You're welcome.

***

The Living Photograph

My small grandmother is tall there,
straight-back, white broderie anglaise shirt,
pleated skirt, flat shoes, grey bun,
a kind, old smile round her eyes.
Her big hand holds mine,
white hand in black hand.
Her sharp blue eyes look her own death in the eye.

In the photograph, the persona's supposedly "small' grandmother is "tall'.  Her hunched back grandma (hence the word "small") was still youthful and "straight-back" and so she looks "tall" in the photo.  "Straight-back" could also signify she was poised and composed.  She is wearing a "white broderie anglaise shirt" and a "pleated skirt" which shows she was a woman of class, upper or middle.

She was a kind and loving person "kind, old smile..." and she accepted and loved the persona unconditionally - "Her big hand holds mine, white hand in black hand".  See Jackie Kay is half Scottish, half Nigerian, and she was adopted by a Scottish family.  The persona could be Ms Kay herself, or a character that she wants to portray as biracial, hence the "white hand in black hand".

The persona's grandma was a fiercely brave person, a person who wasn't afraid of death - "Her sharp blue eyes look her own death in the eye."

Note that her *spoiler* grandma is dead, and yet she refers to her in present tense.  This shows that she is alive in her heart, and that the state of her grandma in the photo is how she wants to remember her.

It was true after all; that look.
My tall grandmother became small.
Her back round and hunched.
Her soup forgot to boil.
She went to the awful place grandmothers go.
Somewhere unknown, unthinkable.

However, the persona's grandma didn't stay like that in the photo.  She started to grow older and develop a hunch back.  Dementia set in - "Her soup forgot to boil". And in the end, she died - "She went to the awful place grandmothers go."  As a kid, the persona didn't understand what that place was, it was just "unknown" and "unthinkable".

Note that in this stanza, the persona refers to her grandma in past tense when describing her actual state before dying.  As the grandma is described in past tense, this also shows that the persona is over the tragedy; and that this small, hunched back senile woman that was her grandma is now dead.

But there she is still,
in the photo with me at three,
the crinkled smile is still living, breathing.

Nonetheless, despite watching her grandma growing old and die, the memory of her still lives on.  The persona doesn't want to remember her grandma as old and senile, but she wants to remember her as how she was in the photo with her when she was three years old - poised, loving and fierce.  She will always be alive in her heart and the good memories will live on, noted by the use of present tense once again.

Two themes are clearly seen here.  One, it is the positive image people create in remembrance of a departed person.  The persona wants to remember her grandma as how she was in the photo, not the days before she died.  When our loved ones die, we no longer see the ugly side of a person, whether their physical appearance before dying (aging, diseased,bad plastic surgery), their horrible attitude (was a bitch/dick) or bad habits (substance abuse).  We will remember them in their prime age, the great things about them and their contribution to society.  Look at how all those hated, heavily criticised drug abusing, trash-talking, plastic surgery-loving celebrities are being revered and paid homage to only when in death.  We forget and forgive all their shortcomings, unfortunately, only when they die.

Another theme is the coping with grief and loss.  And one way to cope with grief and loss is to hang on to the good memories of a person, instead of remembering the painful way he or she died.  The persona who was struck with grief by the loss of her grandma found a way to cope with it - which is to keep it in her heart that although her grandma is not with her anymore physically, she is still alive in her heart.  This is probably the best way to deal with loss, by telling ourselves that even though that person is not with us anymore, he or she will always be with us in spirit.  Believing in it brings comfort and closure.

***

I hope you find my analysis helpful.  If there is anything you'd like to add or question, I'm open for discussion.

Stay tuned for the next poem analysis, The Charge of The Light Brigade (an extract) by Lord Tennyson.

P/s: NOT PLANNING A WEDDING FEELS SO AWESOME. I LOVE NOT PLANNING A WEDDING!

85 comments:

Rungitom said...

Toplel on post scriptum.

Anyway, I believe much has change to the syllabus since 2003?

I remembered studying "There's been a Death, in the Opposite House," by Emily Dickinson.

Perhaps you can analyze that on the next blog entry? :P

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@Rungitom: Lol. Did you ever understand it? Haha. You could probably find hundreds of analysis, like, deep as shit analysis on Google, but I could try and get my freak on.

Hamba Allah; Rheitta Umairah said...

Hello dear. I really wanna thank you for the analysis. It helps me a lot, especially the 'white hand in black hand ' part. May I take some ideas of yours as notes for my students?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@Hamba Allah; Rheitta Umairah: Hi! Yes sure! My pleasure :)

靖仪 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
靖仪 said...

Hi thanks for the analysis. How should I answer this question : why the poet used the term of black hand to describe grandmother's hand?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Hello! Well actually, it's the other way round. The persona's hand is black, not the grandmother.

Anonymous said...

http://www.pala.ac.uk/uploads/2/5/1/0/25105678/falcescalvo2010.pdf

pg4 item b

Anonymous said...

http://www.pala.ac.uk/uploads/2/5/1/0/25105678/falcescalvo2010.pdf

pg5 paragraph last

靖仪 said...

but this question is from my workbook, so I dont know how to answer.. is that wrong question?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Could be an error. But if you have to, just say that the grandmother is black then, though that is not based on Jackie's grandmother's decription.

Anonymous said...

love this!very helpful!

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@anonymous: you're welcome!

Anonymous said...

kemntrian rushng to implemnt high-levl thnkng elemnt amidst studnts' strugglng maturity

where cn we have dscussion sbh fr deep undrstndng ef ltertre

patsy said...

Hi dear. Thanks for sharing. Love it. A question : "It is true after all; that look" What do you think the persona is referring to?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@anon: Yup, that's true.

@Patsy: Hey! I think it refers to the grandma's ageing look - the state of being "small".

Anonymous said...

White hand in black hand means
Grandmother black hand holds persona white hand, is it right??

Anonymous said...

literature is open to interpretation

KPM should come up with a book for teachers and students so that interpretation don't get astray

even worse examiners limit themselves to just limit interpretation

and that would certainly kill the beauty of literature

Anuar

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@ANON:It can be that way, or, if we want to think of the persona as personally the poet, then it is the other way round.

@Anuar: I agree.

Anonymous said...

Ms amanda wong,i thank u heaps for ur analysis here :-) clear n precise,it helps me understand d poem more before explaining it to my students,esp. d extra info of jackie kay being biracial.thanks so much again

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@anon: no problem :)

Anonymous said...

Hi can I as a question how old the persona when the photograph was taken?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@anon: She was 3

A said...

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5639/2020/1600/chica_o_vieja.jpg
notnew

kingsley ho said...

Can translate all in chinese? 😂

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@kingsleyho: haha sorry i can't

Justin J said...

The first word that caught my eye, Bitch

Justin J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SenseiM said...

Thanks Miss Amanda for the explanation on the poem

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Hah

Amanda Christine Wong said...

No problem!

Kuro said...

hi, i'm in need for an answer for this question, The persona is three years old when her grandmother dies. Is it true or false?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

False. Grandma was still her regal self as in photo.

kyying98 said...

if exam paper can u estimated wat question teacher will ask?

kyying98 said...

Hi can I ask u as a teacher will ask about what question ?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

There are so many questions your teacher can ask.from easy questions like,what is the persona's grandma wearing in thr photo,to harder one's like,how does the persona cope with her grandma's death. It's endless!

Anonymous said...

Hai!Amanda~thanks for the analysis!help me a lot!=) btw u hav another analysis for the' THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE'?

Anonymous said...

hello teacher amanda! i just read the part of "white hand and black hand" from your blog and from another site. it makes me confuse that the other site told that the white hand represents the persona's youth,purity and innocence while the black hand represents that the grandma is experienced, an old soul and all. So what do you think, teacher? are those answers will still get marks or vice versa???

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Hi there! Poetry is very subjective- there is no right or wrong answer as long as it is supported. That is a very interesting way to look at it,so if im the teacher,i will accept that answer.

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Hi! I do have,but I havent published it. Still finding time to do it. However,there are tonnes of analysis over the net,mine would just be a summary of it :)

ANUAR said...

if I wre you i would hve knowledge , sight , and thoughts only for own sake bcuz they're precious . any question related to testwhatsoever ask kementrian . keep wrtng

A said...

https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/4939709-the-living-photograph

figuratve meaning good . I learn too

ANUAR

ANUAR said...

persona is kay's granddaughtr cuz kay in my opinion sees herslf as grandmthr and she's trying to prtray or show hw it'd be whe she pss awy . she [kay] prbbly hs a granddghtr tht she loves mch

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Interesting. Thanks for the share!

Hikmatul Hasanah said...

HASANAH said ......
thank you teacher for the fantastic explaining. I think I understand this poem more than yesterday. Thank you very much.

mohd azizi said...

hey. Thanks. I also love not planning a wedding btw

Farizul Afzan said...

dear blogger , I want to ask you something

can you tell me , what kind of literature component will be in question for SPM next year

I hope that you can give me some guide and explanation for my question


hmm before I forget , I want a list of poem in form 4 silibus

can you provide it , or else you can also send it by my email on

farizul_afzan@icloud.com

thank you

Anonymous said...

Wat da hell this is!!.......Is this a SHIT! Huh? Wat kinda thing this blog!
It just like a fucking shitties ass mother fucker lickick sucking cock under the sperm water!.You should improve it what it is theam not the stupid ugly bitch picture that you send at the your fucking blog! You should close you blog ! . WHAT A SHAMELESS


YOU LIKE A SHEMALE IN THE HARD COCK!

Anonymous said...

What a fucker blog! WOW You are post living photograph books not the introduction.
Bravo! You just a fucking brat!you should show it what the persona says Not the shit books! better you close you blog!.Before you getting more SHAME!

THIS IS WARNING!
YOU WILL FUCKED BY ME

SINCERLY,

NICKY MINAJ
-----------
Mother fucker bitch ass scker dick!

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Hi there faceless anon, I am trying to understand what you are trying to tell me..but I guess my English isn't as good as yours.

anuar asfandi jamaludin said...

Looks like things were tough for you these days ! : ) delete button is there . too much negative things to the extnt of spiting on dignity is not human easy say : )

Anonymous said...

thanks for your analysis! it helps me a lot :)

PrincEss AleeN said...

Hi...
can i ask u a questions??

how do think persona feels when she looked at the photograph??
reason??

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Meh,just let that person be. Maybe he or she needs it. I'm totally fine with it.

Amanda Christine Wong said...

No problem. Thanks for dropping by!

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Nostalgic. She's thinking of the memoriea she had with her grandma

Kong Mun Jun said...

I think it means that the daughter was adopted by her mother , thats why it's stated there " white hand in black hand" ?

Kong Mun Jun said...

I think it means that the daughter was adopted by her mother , thats why it's stated there " white hand in black hand" ?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

@Kong Mun Jun: yes...

Anonymous said...

In stanza 1, which word mean 'open embroidery on white linen'? can you answer? please help me!!

Anonymous said...

why do you think the grandmother forgot to boil the soup?

Anonymous said...

1. When do you think the grandmother can be described as 'tall there'?

2. What do you think was the age gap between the persona and her grandmother in the photo?

Can you answer please?!

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Sorry can you please clarify your question?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

The grandmother had become senile/had alzheimer

Amanda Christine Wong said...

1. Grandma still looks young.
2. The persona was 3 years old.maybe about 50-60 years old.

Anonymous said...

what does`that look' in line 8 refer to?

Unknown said...

The persona is white and the grandmother is black. It says her big hand holds mine, white hand in black hand. So the grandmother, who is black, is holding the persona's hand.

Haziq said...

Hi, can I get questions about this poem? Thankss

AZRYANTY MOHAMAD ARIFIN said...

Hi Manda..... if im not mistaken...

the persona is said to be a Nigerian who was adopted by a Scottish family.

thus, white hand becoz the grandma is a Scottish while black hand becoz he is a nigerian..

through this line, we can discuss about people who r being so racist nowadays ;)

*anyway guys.. reading the background of the poet can help us understand the poem better


good job Manda.. really a helpful blog.. proud of you

Amanda Christine Wong said...

It refers to the 'small' appearance of the grandmother.

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Sure.drop me an email at venus_crest@yahoo.com.

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Hayyy...finally a familiar face! Or name.haha.yup,i did some research on it,but x terfikir pla mau include here.hopefully the readers will read this thread.thanks! :)

Unknown said...

how are the people in the photograph related?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Grandmother and grandchild

IcedCrystal said...

my teacher copied this analysis and didn't notice the "(bitch/dick)" part hahaha. A moment of silence for my class lol

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Omai.must have been real fun.haha

Unknown said...

hey,hope you can answer me these questions.
1.did you find the poem appealing?if so,explain briefly.
2.how do you think the grandmother endeared herself to the poet?

Ling Hwa Tay said...

hey,hope you can answer me these questions.
1.did you find the poem appealing?if so,explain briefly.
2.how do you think the grandmother endeared herself to the poet?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Let me see.
1. The appeal of the poem is the unconditional love between grandma and granddaughter. Different skin colour didn't matter between the two.
2. You mean persona,right?Well she's always kind and warm towards the persona.

Anonymous said...

tq very much teacher

Anonymous said...

tq very much teacher

Ong Choi Shean said...

what is the age gap between the persona and her grandmother

Wxlee said...

hello,can i ask why you think the grandmother forgot to boil the soup?

Amanda Christine Wong said...

Maybe 60 years

Amanda Christine Wong said...

She was senile