Critical evaluation – In the Snack Bar Edwin Morgan

When I first read In the Snack Bar by Edwin Morgan, I was taken aback and marginally disgusted by the topic the poet had chosen. However, on further inspection I realised that the plot had given the poet a chance to discuss meaningful issues in an entertaining and absorbing way. How Morgan uses techniques to create a vivid and memorable image is what I shall now discuss.The poem describes the crusade of taking a helpless old blind man to the toilet. This simple task takes the poet through a series of life altering thoughts and realisations about the cruelty of this man’s existence and the trust he must place on strangers to stay alive.In the Snack Bar could be set any time within the last ten to fifteen years as there are no specific details on the time; mention of a “coffee machine” and a hand “drier” are the only things that hint a time but both became common in snack bars within the last decade or so. Where the poem is set is, again, unclear. However, I believe that since the poet himself is Scottish, the poem too is set in Scotland. Hints that it could be set in a large city (like Glasgow) are that a bus arrives as soon as the narrator leaves the snack bar – suggesting regular buses – and the snack bar itself is busy.The poem is written in first person and this is apparent by the constant use of the personal pronoun “I”. Writing in this way allows the reader a deeper view of the narrator’s thoughts and opinions and allows the poet a more personalised view of the situation.Edwin Morgan enriches the poem by using a variety of visual imagery. Techniques such as similes and metaphors create images in the reader’s head allowing them a closer more detailed view on the poems subject.An example of an effective simile is:”Like a monstrous animal caught in a tent”The simile is used to describe the blind man and his general appearance. It is effective as not only does it make the blind man seem less than human (his supposed inhumanity is a theme referred to throughout) by comparing him to an animal, it also emphasizes how out of place the blind man is in a crowded, busy snack bar. “Monstrous” also has fearful connotations so encourages the reader to think of the old man in a negative light, directly reflecting the attitudes of those who catch a glimpse of him. This reaction evokes pity and persuades the reader to dwell on their own prejudices.A metaphor used to good effect is:”we drift towards the stairs”The metaphor is describing the movement from one end of the snack bar to the other. The use of “drift” has two outcomes: the word itself has negative ghostly connotations, once again forcing the reader to connect the old man and fear. Also, “drift” emphasizes the slow, steady movement that is taking place.Another metaphor that is used well describes the old man as he rises from his chair:”levers himself up””levers” continues the ‘inhuman’ theme. However, this time the poet is comparing the old man to a machine. The use of “levers” also highlights the old man’s lack of energy and power as well as showing the slow edgy movement of the man trying to stand. The way Morgan has used such strong visual imagery to detail such a simple motion persuades the reader to realise that for the old man this simple motion is a laborious task- indeed a great achievement. This realisation evokes sympathy and allows the reader to further grasp the old man’s plight and the crusade like journey he is about to undertake.A further technique Morgan used to highlight the old man’s quest is the personification of inanimate objects. He refers to the “roar” of the hand-drier and the coffee machine emits a definite “hiss”. Talking of these objects in conjunction with the sounds that are renowned for being the call of dangerous animals shows that, to the old man, these objects provide as much danger and fear as a wild lion or poisonous snake would to the general public.The animal sounds not only provide visual imagery – in the form of personification – they are also onomatopoeic which adds more life and detail to the snack bar.Other sound imagery present is the use of alliteration. “Cup capsizes” is used to describe the plastic cup falling over onto the formica table. The repetitive ‘c’ an ‘p’ sounds are effective as they are fast short sounds emphasizing the fast, sudden sound of the cup falling.Another example of alliteration is: “slow setting out”. The ‘s’ is a long, steady sound showing the slow steps of the old man.The use of sound and visual imagery allows the poet to fix a clearer, more memorable image in the reader’s head. However these are not the only techniques he uses. Morgan also employs repetition and punctuation to get the image across to the reader.Repetition is used to describe the slow repetitive motion of climbing the stairs.”And slowly we go up. And slowly we go up.”Not only does the repetition create an easily pictured image, it also creates a steady rhythm that puts even more emphasis on the slow motion of climbing the stairs.Hyphens are also used to build rhythm when the old man says:”Give me – your arm – it’s better.”The hyphens break up the statement and give the effect of building an image of how the old man speaks – slow and exhausted, as if it has taken the old man a lot of his energy just to say this. The hyphens act also to give the impression of panting, almost gasping breath – again emphasizing the struggle of the old man to do such a simple thing.The old man’s plight and struggle is highlighted even more by Morgan’s word choice; words like “slithering”; “dismal”; “monstrous” and “drift” all have negative connotations. By using words with negative connotations, Morgan shows the negative way the old man is perceived.Throughout the poem, Morgan uses the old man and his struggle to represent the prejudice the general public feel towards the helpless and disabled. The old man also symbolises the struggle that many go through everyday just trying to live their lives.Although the poem disgusted me at first – by the sheer nature of the events detailed – I saw on further inspection that Morgan has used a simple event to describe a much deeper meaning. By doing so he has allowed me to witness and consider the weak and the disabled in a way I had not before.In the Snack Bar by Edwin Morgan takes a straightforward event and uses it to create a lasting image of the cruelty of many people’s lives.

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