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Critical Essay On The Jaguar English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1102 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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A poem I have recently read which is strongly linked to a specific location is “The Jaguar” by Ted Hughes. During the poem, Hughes is making his way through a zoo, seeing all the animals such as apes and parrots in their cages, exhausted. Soon he reaches the jaguar’s cage and stops to watch the admirable creature, noticing its apparent determination not to be beaten by the confines of its cage.

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Hughes’ attitude towards man in made clear from the first verse of the poem. We are instantly given a startling image, “The apes yawn and adore their fleas in the sun”. This causes me to envision the apes, exhausted with their boredom and with only their fleas to amuse them. The use of the word “adore” makes it very clear that the apes have nothing else to do, and are totally engrossed with their fleas. This undignified, unflattering image of nature portrays the writer’s contempt towards man for his destruction and degradation of nature, and effectively captures the essence of the zoo, as this degradation is what people go to see at the zoo, as much as they claim it is not, as, by going to zoos, they support the caging of animals for their own entertainment.

This unflattering view of the animals is continued when the poet uses the simile “Like cheap tarts to attract the stroller with the nut” to describe the way in which the parrots “strut”. This suggests that the parrots are like prostitutes; selling themselves to gain the attention they have been starved of. I am also inclined to imagine that, due to them being put in cages, the parrots have been psychologically damaged, and now have to “strut” to entertain people, being rewarded for this by receiving food. This makes me feel very sympathetic towards these poor creatures, and guilty for man’s cruelty towards them.

The writer’s theme of man’s cruelty is made very clear at the end of the second verse when we are told, “It might be painted on a nursery wall”. The tone is indignant, flippant and dismissive, conveying the writer’s belief that these animals aren’t being treated with the dignity they deserve. He is contemptuous of man for doing this, which also strengthens my opinion.

There is a stark contrast between the first two verses of the poem and the last verses, in which the writer sees the majestic jaguar. Long vowel sounds are used throughout the first two verses, such as in the first line, “The apes yawn and adore their fleas in the sun”, whereas when the writer sees the majestic jaguar, short vowel sounds are used to achieve a fast pace, such as when we are told “who runs like the rest past these arrives”, which is very different compared to the slow, bored pace of the first two verses. This change of pace indicates a turning point in the poem; the bored, weary creatures of the first two verses are left behind, and the writer goes to see the magnificent, energetic, exciting jaguar. Although this is a positive thing – the jaguar has not yet been beaten by its confines – the writer implies that the jaguar will eventually end up exhausted and overwhelmed by boredom, like the other animals. The contrasting pace also conveys the feelings of the visitors to the zoo, as, to begin with, they are bored due to the animals being sleepy and not entertaining, whereas, on seeing the jaguar, they become animated and excited, as the jaguar is full of life and spirit. I believe the jaguar symbolises hope, as it is unaffected by its confines. The caged jaguar also emphasises man’s cruelty and stupidity for keeping it in a zoo when it should be allowed to roam free in the wild.

We are reminded again of the location when we are told, “who runs like the rest past these arrives/At a cage where the crowd stands, states, mesmerized”. This conveys the nature of the zoo, as zoos are simply places in which people stand and look at animals in cages.

The writer also makes us aware of how magnificent the jaguar is when he says that the jaguar is “hurrying enraged/Through prison darkness after the drills of his eyes”. The use of the phrase “hurrying enraged” conveys the anger felt by the jaguar, unlike the other animals that seem defeated by their confines. The metaphor, “the drills of his eyes” suggests that the jaguar’s penetrating eyes are focused solely on freedom, making it seem like a very powerful creature.

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Hughes further emphasises the jaguar’s determination not to be beaten by the cage in which it is being kept. We are told, “there’s no cage to him”, which is ironic as he is in a cage, but shows that he has not given up – he does not see the cage, as he is focused on his freedom to such an extent that he refuses to accept that he will, tragically, never be free. This idea is continued when we are told, “More than to the visionary his cell”. The use of the word “visionary” suggests to me that the jaguar is a very powerful, spiritual creature, which is capable of imagining that he has not been put in a cage. The use of the imagery, “The world rolls under the long thrust of his heel” is extremely effective in illustrating the jaguar’s power, as it suggests that the jaguar, or perhaps nature itself, is the driving force of the world, an idea which is further emphasised in the final line of the poem when we are given the image, “Over the cage floor the horizons come”. The plural “horizons” further emphasises the jaguar’s tremendous power, and suggests that the jaguar believes he is the driving force of the planet – perhaps animals actually do have a sense of themselves, like humans.

Throughout the poem, Hughes effectively captures the essence of the zoo as well as making clear his negative opinion of man for his arrogance; man believes nature is inferior, and zoos display this arrogance perfectly. Hughes does not hold man in high regard whatsoever, as he believes that man is under the impression that he is in control of nature but is destroying it, rather than celebrating it, with zoos. The location is exploited in such a way that we are able to clearly understand the writer’s themes – nature’s superiority and man’s arrogance and cruelty towards nature – as well as to sympathise with the animals and feel contemptuous towards man for his cruelty.


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