The construction and challenges towards identity in ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Island

The construction and challenges towards identity in ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Island Man’. Construction and challenges towards identity is thoroughly explored in the poems ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Island Man’. Individuality is discovered in ‘Once Upon a Time’, following a narrative storyline showcasing a conversation between a father and son, whom bitterly speaks about the truth about society and acknowledges how conformed his life was, turning to his son purposely trying to regain this childhood innocence. ​ Whilst ‘Island Man’, focuses on cultural identity, ​focusing on the difficulties that a man faces with cultural differences when moving to London. Juxtaposing this dreamlike state, audiences are introduced to the bustling city life of London, where it is portrayed as nothing but loud. Both poems discover identity through the realisation of loss and how it can overcome and overwhelm us.

In ‘Once Upon a Time’, Okara uses imagery of costumes and animals to portray the significance and the effect of trying to fit into a clean and cut society. Okara, compares “wearing many faces” to dresses, hinting at a society where the father felt the need to dress up and adjust his personality and behave differently to suit an audience. As an audience, we get a closer look at the many ‘faces’ he had needed to put on; “homeface, officeface, streetface, hostface, cocktailface” are all used to imply the different contexts and occasions that the faces played a part in covering the underlying emotion and motions. “Snake’s bare fangs!” showcases the animalistic tendency and the loss of humanity, connecting it with a snake, the smile is inverted showing signs of viciousness on top of the use of an exclamation point. ​ ​Connecting it to a “fixed portrait smile”, it shows that even the smiles and actions are fake, they will continue on smiling even when they don’t mean it and no matter the occasion. Whilst the repetition of “face”, emphasises the significance of the author reacting to societal expectations, it could also show how all aspects of Okara’s life was negatively affected.

Hypocrisy can simply be put as pretending or acting a certain way, creating a fake appearance. ‘Once Upon a Time’ explores the falseness in society and the underlying meaning behind words. Society superficially says “Goodbye”, when they really mean “Good-riddance” and “Glad to meet you” when they really weren’t glad at all. Juxtaposing positive words with negative words show how pretend and fake people were, especially focusing on having to act differently, to please others.

Despite not wanting to be ‘them’, the father has undoubtedly developed ways to cope against society, changing his identity to adapt, causing him to take action towards things that he doesn’t believe in and speak about things that doesn’t concern him. Throughout the poem, Okara speaks of his battle towards a insincere and false world and his coping mechanism was to change. Consisting of a​ free verse poem, ‘Once Upon a Time’ is stylised with the irregular rhyming scheme connoting society as an inconsistent pattern and the frustration and negative outlook the father has on life. A​s an audience, we begin to see the desire to reconnect to his past and identity as we close to the end of the poem. Awareness towards the change of his identity is introduced, and the immersive reality that he hopes for, is answered when looking towards his son for the gain of his humanity and innocence. ​ ​Childhood innocence ends the poem, when the father pleads “I want to be what I used to be”, showing the desperation and longinginess the father has towards regaining his identity through “want” and “used to be”. Sympathetically, the audience opens up to the idea of the father having changed his outlook through “so show me; son”. This all is dependent on the stereotypes of children that are portrayed as people who do not fake things and show what they truly feel.

Tone also plays a massive role as it signifies nostalgia for the father remembering his past. “Once Upon a Time”, opens the poem through a story like convention, connoting the unreal fantasy that the his past has become. Identity is also seen in Nichols poem, ‘Island Man’, however, unlike Okara, Nichols, explores the cultural identity of a caribbean man, a contrast to Okara’s poem about individuality. Cultural identity is shown through the motif of dreams, which is applied through the first two stanzas of the poem. Sound and natural imagery both play a significant role in the poem, portraying the paradisiacal land where the island man comes from. “The sound of blue surf,” creates a calming and tranquil environment yet, the added “in his head” implies that the waves are not actually happening in reality but is a passing memory. Describing the waves as “breaking and wombing”, the ‘ing’ of the two words show the smoothness but also the nurturing and motherhood that carries great significance to the island man as is suggests the birthplace. “His small emerald island”, showcases the richness and preciousness of the island through “emerald”, and what it means to him, the added “his” is a possessive adjective connoting the importance of the island.

Significance of place is challenged in ‘Island Man’, as cultural difference is shown between places, the island versus the city life. Distinguishing dream from reality is difficult to decipher until the change in tone of “groggily groggily”. Use of repetition in “groggily” shows the island man’s confusion and reluctance to return to reality, beginning to the show the difference between places. Dehumanisation begins through the “grey metallic soar” creating a dull and bland image, in contrast to the use of colour “blue” and “emerald” to describe the land within the dream. “Surge of wheels” creates the loudness, fast paced and over-powering strong movement to show the chaotic lifestyle surrounding a London day. Also, “soar” and “roar”, both rhyme to emphasise the man made and bustling city but to also show how overwhelming the lifestyle change is for the island man. Contrasting between the dream and reality, shown through ‘surf’ and ‘traffic’, but also the irony placed through the use of “sands” to describe ‘grey and metallic soar’, compared to the sands of the island, all showcase the significance of place and the impact towards the island man. ‘Island Man’ showcases isolation and the reluctance towards the different lifestyle, through the wording and the structure of the poem.

Structurally, ‘Island Man’ is a free verse consisting of informalities that is set with the use of no punctuation allowing no control and a free-flowing narrative, allowing Nichols to focus on the waking of the island man. It also shows the vulnerability and lack of control, hinting that the island man feels weak and separated from the loss of connection from the man’s birthplace. “Man” in ‘Island Man’ carries significance through the dehumanising effect it has as the person does not have a name, whilst it also shows the loneliness as it signifies one person. Audiences is shown the disinclination that the island man has through “heaves himself” especially through the verb ‘heave’. Nichols uses the repetition between words “groggily” and “muffling” explores the change in mood and tone that the island man feels when facing reality from dream, but it also could be challenged that is shows the struggle that the island man has faced when moving from his island to London.

Finally, Nichols creatively finished the poem without a full stop signifying how the island man feels about his life seemingly being endless and overwhelming fear of isolation and separation. Both poets hint towards the challenges that belong to identity and how it can bring isolation. Okara, follows a conversation between the crumbling facade of a struggling father trying to fit in and a child bearing innocence. Nichols, on the other hand, further challenges isolation through the significance of place and how it can be a disheartening and a melancholy experience, which truthfully I found more significant. Perhaps it goes to show that no matter who you are or where you come from, challenges facing identity will always seem to find another way to uncoil.

13 January 2020
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now