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Gabriel Okara Poem: Title, 'Once Upon A Time' ; Course Work For GCSE 2006:

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'Once Upon a Time' is a poem by Gabrial Okara, discussed as Course Work for GCSE 2006.
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Updated 3rd April, 2010
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List of Subjects

Poem by Maya Angelou
Poem by Gabrial Okara
Novel by Charles Dickens


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Poem Stanza Five: Learned to Laugh With Only His Teeth.

Stanza five of the poem tells of the fake attributes to go along with the fake looks. It also repeats some of the acts that were mentioned earlier in the poem. Repetition seems to be a key technique in this poem. He says that he has also, 'learned to laugh with only his teeth' and 'shakes hands without his heart'. This suggests that he has copied the western ways as this is what they did earlier in the poem. He then goes even further by saying he has learned to say, 'Goodbye' when he means, 'Good-riddance' and 'Glad to meet you, without being glad'. I think that the man is ashamed of himself and is confessing to his son how far the fake attitudes have developed, he seems to hate what he has done. Stanza six and seven then show the man showing his regret as he says, "I want to be what I used to be when I was like you", showing that he wants to be honest and truthful again.

My Laugh in the Mirror Shows Only My Teeth, Like a Snake's Bare Fangs'.

He then calls his new personality muting which suggests he thinks they are boring and have no expression. It is as though he can no longer find his own voice to express what he really thinks and feels. He then says he wants to, 'relearn how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror shows only my teeth, like a snake's bare fangs'. This gives off negative feelings as a snake is seen to be poisonous and not to be trusted; a symbol of deceitfulness and treachery from the bible. I think this is a very good description as it really makes the reader realise that the man loathes himself. The final Stanza, number seven, shows the man asking his son, 'how to laugh. Show me how I used to laugh and smile, once upon a time, when I was like you'. This shows the man's true regret and he realises his fakeness and problems. An ironic and hopeful ending as he wants to learn from his son how to be what he used to be.

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Two Poems Compared Many Similarities and Differences.

Overall I think that Gabriel Okara expresses her views very well with this poem as she shows how, when things change, people adapt, and it is not always positive. She also deals with things such as regret and self-respect. The poems 'Coleridge Jackson' and 'Once Upon a Time' have many similarities and differences. For example both of the poem's main focuses are racism, but the theme is expressed differently. In Coleridge Jackson, the man receives direct verbal racism and discrimination when he is called 'Sambo' and a 'sorry nigger' whereas the main character in 'Once Upon a Time' is subject to racist treatment and personalities in a less direct way. Another similarity between the two poems is that the two main characters are black males. Also each poem shows how each man reacts to his racist abuse. In 'Coleridge Jackson' the effect is that he turns violent and lets frustration out on his family who become the victims in the so called cycle of violence. In 'Once Upon a Time' the man's reaction is that he regrets that he followed and copied racist and false attitudes of the western people, and in this case, the man's family is a form of hope where he turns to his son for help.

Poems, 'Once Upon a Time' and 'Coleridge Jackson', Both Slow Paced Poems.

Also both of the poems show how black people have been treated in western society, by racist individuals. The structure of the poems are very similar as they are both slow paced, with lots of punctuation and no rhyming. This is a technique used to slow down the poem and make the reader think about what is being said. The two main differences in the structure of the two poems is that firstly 'Coleridge Jackson' is written in a third party style whereas the style in 'Once Upon a Time' is first person. Secondly, 'Coleridge Jackson' is a narrative story telling style whilst, 'Once Upon a Time' is a personal monologue explaining personal experiences. Both of the poems use similes and metaphors to describe the character attributes. The endings of the two poems are very different. 'Coleridge Jackson' has a very negative, depressing, and hopeless ending, as we see the cycle of violence is not going to end. The ending of, 'Once Upon a Time' is full of hope and positive feelings as the man decides he is going to do something about the problem and asks his son for help. Overall I think that both poems express their views on racism very well, but I prefer 'Coleridge Jackson' as it uses shock tactics, direct speech, and a narrative style to explore a theme which is just as relevant in today's society.


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