Good Essay On Reality And Perception In Children’s Innocence
Society puts a lot of effort into protecting children’s innocence; parents are constantly told that they should monitor their young ones so that they are not exposed to the more mundane aspects of human nature, such as sexuality and violence. However, this necessarily skews children’s encounters of the reality of human existence, leading them to biased perceptions. The poems “A Barred Owl”, by Richard Wibur, and “The History Teacher”, by Billy Collins, explore these themes, commenting that even though parents can do all they can to prevent their children’s exposure to horrible aspects of nature, they will only be trying to cover reality up. Through the use of irony, both poems present the theme by offering different perspectives of the same object, but which hold different tones. They use play on words to change the meaning of the reality that the child perceives, championing the importance of figurative language. Nevertheless, this is to no avail, as the crude reality ends up exposed anyways, with direct references to the children themselves.
Wilbur and Collins use irony in their poems to show the reader that the natural reality does not change, even if the discourse that refers to it does. In “The Barred Owl”, the eponymous animal is first presented as harmless and almost comical, only to later reveal that it is a predator. Likewise, “The History Teacher” presents the students as innocent, passive beings, and later as bullies. In both poems, the tone changes when this is revealed, going from something innocuous and almost childlike, to describing fierce and aggressive events.
This ironic statement is achieved through a change in the use of language. Wilbur changes the predatory owl’s hoot to a playful question, “Who cooks for you?” (6), while Collins uses related words to hide the horrors of human conquests, like in “The War of the Roses took place in a garden” (11). The adults in these poems intend to change the reality of the situation by changing the discourse on it. Nevertheless, even though the children’s perceptions may be changed for a moment, nature ends up rearing its ugly face, be it human or animal.
When aggressive natures return, it is the children themselves who are portrayed as prey. In Wilbur's poem, the use of the same adjective to describe the protagonist as a “small child” (9), and the owl’s prey as a “small thing” (11), draws a parallel between the two. On the other hand, in Collin’s portrayal, it is the children themselves who prey upon each other, breaking their glasses and bullying them. One must note that it is perhaps easier for them to be oppressed due to this ignorance of the dark sides of nature.
In conclusion, Wilbur’s “A Barred Owl” and Collin’s “The History Teacher” both deal with the protection of children’s innocence. They both present two different viewpoints, creating irony, using language to try to change children’s perception about the threatening object. Nevertheless, this is not enough, as the children end up being referred to as prey. This raises the issue of the value of children and innocence in society. Even though this is not an easy question, it should be constantly pondered and processed, as it affects not just the present, but also the future.