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No matter how developed and civilized the world has become, there is always space for a variety of distinctions between people. Differences may be based on skin color, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. However, there is one more issue that has always existed and is highly unlikely to disappear – the problem of belonging to various social classes. Some people are poor and others are rich, and the disparity between them has always inspired people of art.
There are many kinds of music, literature, and other pieces that depict class differences. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes” and Ana Castillo’s “Napa, California” belong to the masterpieces of poetry illustrating social inequality. The current paper will discuss the issue of class division as the most prominent theme of Castillo’s “Napa, California” and Ferlinghetti’s “Two Scavengers…”
The Issue of Class Inequality in the Poems
Both Castillo and Ferlinghetti discuss the lack of balance between different social groups of people by means of depicting hard labor. In “Napa, California,” the story is being told in the first person. The narrator describes the grueling work of grape pickers and the unfair treatment of landowners where these people are employed. In “Two Scavengers in a truck…” the story is being told in the third person, and two different kinds of work are described. Both authors manage to present a distinct contrast between the jobs of poor people and those who can afford education and well-paid positions. In Castillo’s poem, grape pickers have “weatherworn hands” (l. 4) and “sun-beaten brows” (l. 10).
They are so exhausted that they “pick / With a desire only survival inspires” (l. 18-19). It is impossible not to feel sympathy towards these poor workers who never have any rest. They work from early childhood and never manage to notice any fun in life: “our youth seems to pass before us and we have grown” (l. 14). The laborers do not see anything pleasant in their life, and they are deprived even of pride and dignity. Their pessimism is most vividly seen in these lines: “And the land / That in turn / Waits for us” (l. 24-26). People who spend their whole life in hard labor have only one thing to wait for: death. Their only consolation is “A little love” (l. 29) in the end.
Ferlinghetti’s poem is less pessimistic, but it also depicts a rather hard and underestimated job: that of garbagemen or scavengers. As well as grape pickers in Castillo’s poem, these two men grow rather tired towards the end of their working day. They are “up since four a.m.” (l. 16) and “Grungy from their route” (l. 17). Ferlinghetti does not use many words to describe the hardships of the scavengers. However, it is possible for the readers to understand that doing strenuous work all day long cannot be an easy thing. Unlike in Castillo’s poem, “Two Scavengers…” does not depict a disparity between the workers and their employers. However, both poems show how underrated physical work is and how society does not appreciate those who do it.
Comparison and Contrast between Class Representatives
In both poems, people belonging to different classes are contradicted each other. In “Napa, California,” hardworking grape pickers suffer from the unfair treatment of cruel landowners who know nothing about strenuous physical work. In Ferlinghetti’s poem, “Grungy” (l. 17) garbagemen are contrasted to “elegant” (l. 9) young people in a posh car. However, in “Two Scavengers…” there are also some similarities between the representatives of different classes. Young men from both social groups look similar – the one in Mercedes has “blond hair & sunglasses” (l. 12), and the one on the garbage truck has “sunglasses & long hair” (l. 24). This feature, along with the red light, is what holds “all four close together” (l. 32) “for an instant” (l. 31).
Figurative Elements in “Napa, California” and “Two Scavengers…”
“Napa, California” contains only a few figures of speech whereas “Two Scavengers…” is richer in such elements. However, in both poems, figurative language makes a great impression and adds to the depth of the theme. In Castillo’s poem, there are two instances of wordplay. In both cases, the narrator contrasts workers to landowners using the same word that gains a different shade of meaning depending on the subject of the action.
“We pick” (l. 1) said by the narrator is contrasted to “they pick / at our dignity” (l. 5-6). The second case of wordplay is the verb “wipe: “[they] wipe our pride / away” (l. 7-8) “Like the sweat we wipe” (l. 9). In both examples, the word is used in a positive sense concerning the workers and with a preposition and in a negative sense concerning the employers. Another figure of speech in the poem is repetition: “and make / A little love / And make a little love” (l. 28-30). By this element, the author tries to draw attention to the only positive thing the workers have in life.
In “Two Scavengers…” repetition is also used for emphasis: “an elegant open Mercedes / with an elegant couple in it” (l. 8-9). Also, Ferlinghetti employs simile: “like some / gargoyle Quasimodo” (l. 21-22). With the help of this device, the author makes rather clear the appearance of the old garbageman. He shows what hard work can do to a person and how it can impact one’s health. There is also a brilliant example of a metaphor: “across that small gulf / in the high seas / of this democracy” (l. 35-37).
This element helps to depict the idea of the democracy deficit in modern society. Another figure of speech employed in the poem is irony. While scavengers are at a lower level of social hierarchy, they “[are] looking down” (l. 7) and “gazing down” (l. 26) on the rich young people. Irony helps the readers to see that they should always treat others with sympathy because no one can be sure that his or her position in society is constant.
Ana Castillo’s “Napa, California” and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes” are great examples of poetry depicting social inequality. With the help of figurative speech and elements of comparison and contrast, both authors draw the audience’s attention to a serious issue of bad treatment of people from the working class. Castillo and Ferlinghetti convey an idea that every person’s work should be appreciated. Frequently, people underestimate those who do the “dirty” job which they would never do themselves. Dividing people into classes is one of the acutest problems in the modern world. Such authors as Ferlinghetti and Castillo make a contribution to the fight against inequality.
Castillo, Ana. Napa, California. n.d. Web.
Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes. n.d.. Web.