March 3rd, 2003
AP Score: 7/9
1997 English Literature Question 2
Train of Oppression
The passage illustrates the narrator’s experience as a small child who is forced to leave home in an unsanitary, overcrowded train. The passage is divided by a double carriage return into two distinct sections. A clear dichotomy of literary elements between these sections reflects the narrator’s complex attitude toward the past.
The passage begins with “We are leaving the B.C. coast,” thereby speaking from the general perspective of the Japanese Canadians. The narrator’s feeling of oppression is conveyed through a number of metaphors. The narrator describes her kin as “hammers and chisels in the hands of would-be sculptors” to say that although these people are perfectly viable resources, they are not being utilized and instead are being imprisoned. The narrator’s feeling of exile in this first section is epitomized by stating that her people are “eyes covered with mud and spittle.”
A more personal, reminiscent tone is established with, “The memories are dream images,” in the first line of the second section. The narrator begins to convey increasingly intricate details and switches to a first-person point of view. The narrator further deviates from the ominous tone of the first section through the utilization of onomatopoeia in instances such as “clickity-clack,” “mews,” and “hiss.” The personification of the train “lurch[ing] groggily” illustrates the fact that the story is now observed through the eyes of “a small child.” At the time, the narrator was far less aware of the oppression and instead recalls the sense of family and charity, such as the gift to Kuniko-san.
The two noncongruous sections in this passage each convey a unique aspect of the narrator’s attitude. The first section enumerates a feeling of oppression and confusion through an exhaustive set of metaphors and contradictions. The detailed descriptions, onomatopoeia, and personification in section two, as told from a first-person perspective illuminate a somewhat lighter facet of the narrator’s view. It is through these literary elements including point of view, structure, selection of detail, and figurative language that the author conveys the narrator’s complex attitude toward the past.