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Comparative Essay

Hey guys how’s it going? Sorry for being inactive for so long. Today I’m posting a comparative essay I did on the Poem “Once upon a time” by Gabriel Okara and the picture ‘Amanda and her cousin Amy’ taken by Mary Ellen Mark. I hope you like the essay. Both of the pieces will be down below if you want to look at them.

“Once upon a time” By Gabriel Okara

Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes:
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.

There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts:
but that’s gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.

‘Feel at home!’ ‘Come again’:
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice-
for then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.

And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say,’Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.

But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!

So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.


“Amanda and here cousin, Amy” by Mary Ellen Mark

Is our perception of the future hopeful or hopeless?
The future has always been unclear but does talking about past mistakes affect how we see it? Like most things, the perception of the future is still hard to convey through text and pictures, however, the poem “Once Upon a Time” by Gabriel Okara and the image “Amanda and her cousin, Amy” taken by Mary Ellen Mark took in 1990 manage to do just that. The poem talks about a time where people used to laugh with their hearts, but now they only smile with their teeth while the picture shows a young girl in a pool smoking with another girl sitting in the background. Both of these pieces discuss how the future can be affected through repetition and physical features.

Repeating something can always bring more attention to what you’re trying to say, in the poem “Once Upon a Time” by Gabriel Okara, repetition reveals the theme/tone hope for the future. The repetition of the word ‘son’ appears in the poem five times, five significant times. (Okara 1, 9, 19, 33, 40). The first time, it is used in the first line which h goes: “Once upon a time, son,” the use of son indicates that the narrator is talking to someone younger which sets up a dynamic between the narrator and the ‘son’. The use of ‘Once Upon a Time’ also indicates a connection to fairy tales and things that used to be which ties in together with the word ‘son’ since the younger generation grows up with stories starting from ‘once upon a time’ (1). Inline 7, “There was a time indeed” the use of indeed indicates that the narrator is reassuring the younger person, to whom the story is being told. The reassurance makes the audience believe that the kid doesn’t believe the story he is being told which ties in with the generational gap since the things that we don’t grow up with always seem unbelievable. “So I have learned many things, son.” the wording of this line indicates that the story has come to an end and that the narrator is telling what he learnt from the story (19). This gives the audience the idea that the story is personal to the narrator. The personal part of the story is further discussed in lines 25 to 32 when the narrator says: “And I have learned too / to laugh with only my teeth / and shake hands without my heart. / I have also learned to say, ‘Goodbye’, / when I mean ‘Good-riddance’, / to say ‘Glad to meet you’, / without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been / nice talking to you’, after being bored.” These lines talk about how the narrator has changed as the story goes on and how the narrator has started doing the very things he hated other people doing. This shows a change in the narrator’s behaviour and how their outlook on life changed because of their exposure to the behaviour which showed neglect and fakeness. “I want to be what I used to be / When I was like you. I want / To unlearn all these muting things / Most of all, I want to relearn / How to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror / Shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!” In these lines to the contrast of the previous lines, the narrator talks about wanting to change his demeanour and get better but more importantly, the narrator wants to relearn how to laugh. The change in the vocal tone repeated at the start and end of the poem means that the narrator wants to grow as a person and improve themselves. (33 – 39). The author uses repetition to show how the narrator changed over time and that the change can be both good and bad.


While the poem uses repetition to make the audience understand the change that comes with time, the picture “Amanda and her Cousin, Amy” by Mary Ellen Mark uses physical features such as the girls to put the impact of time in. The ages of the 2 girls don’t look more than 10 which makes the audience uncomfortable since one of the girls is smoking and has a cigarette in her hand, this makes the audience realise that the girl harming herself and is putting herself in danger but the posture of the girl and the way the girl holds the cigarette has a stronger impact since it tugs at the audience’s brain and makes them realise that what this girl is doing is wrong and concerns them for the future because if this young girl can smoke a cigarette in the presence of another younger girl then their future is not going to be good. The monochromatic palette makes the mood darker and adds concern to the audience’s mind about the darker part of childhood, which is almost always hidden from the naked eye. The young girl in the background looks confused and a little startled as if she has seen something that she wasn’t expecting to see and her hands are positioned as if she was going to pull herself up, but she is too shocked to do so. The facial expression of the girl smoking is almost confident and contrasts that of the girl in the background, indicating that she is not shocked by whatever scared the girl in the back. The look of confidence goes hand in hand with the girls clothing since the girl in the foreground is almost imitating an adult while the girl in the background sports more of a simple outfit. The contrast of the outfits makes the audience uncomfortable since it shows a direct contrast between a kid and an adult however in the picture the distinction is only visible through the clothes since the girls are about the same age. This troubles the audience since a girl so young shouldn’t be acting so well above her years. The photographer uses the ages of the girls, their facial expressions, composure and the monochromatic palette to make the audience worry about the future and what kinds of change will follow it.

It is believed that the future rests upon the current generation The poem uses its repetition to help the audience remember the good times but also to help them learn in the present and be waiting for the future with open arms. The poem makes the audience excited for the time to come where things will surely get better, but on the other hand, the picture uses its physical features to remind the audience that the future may not always be as good as you’d hoped and that things might get worse as the time comes. The two very different outlooks on time and the future leave the audience conflicted and left to choose between 2 extreme viewpoints. Some might agree that the future will be bright and sunny and that things will get better while others might argue that if things are bad in the present, then they are sure to get worse in the future. Both of these pieces make solid arguments on our perception of the future and time on its own but to make a decision on which one is right will only leave us more conflicted.

Repetition and subject features in a poem or a picture can change how time is depicted in them. The poem uses tense changes to help the audience reminisce the past, understand the present and be hopeful for the future while the picture uses physical features to, frown at the present and be worried for the future. Both of the pieces give very different perspectives on time can change things; however, in the end, the perspective of time and what the future will bring will keep changing just like time itself.

I hope you liked that. Don’t forget to like, comment and share. I will be posting another Comparative essay very soon too. So keep your eyes open for that.

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