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Please identify themes and/or symbols in Roger McGough's poem "The Lesson."

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As a teacher, I can imagine that beneath the surface of Roger McGough's poem, "The Lesson" is a sense of frustration. It is this that I believe is the theme of the poem: frustration of teachers over the ineffective actions a teacher may take to bring order to the unruly classroom. In a certain environment, a polite request will do. However, there are many times, as seen in this poem, where the teacher feels that options available to him or her are inadequate.

Because the choices portrayed in this poem are so far from acceptable, it would seem that this poem is a satire, which uses exaggeration to make fun of a person, idea, institution, etc. Satire is harsh (whereas "parody" is generally more playful). What little humor there is in this poem (that comes from wordplay) is extremely caustic.

Generally, a theme is a life-truth that an author is trying to get across to the reader. Symbols are items that appear within a piece of literature that are not generally to be taken literally, but represent something else. (E.g., a dove represents "peace.") I see the theme to be (even though the teacher says it's "violence") that the teacher and/or educational system has lost the ability to control its students: often the students seem to control the classroom, and the teacher is beyond frustrated. The symbols (which often support a theme) are found in the form of weapons. The exaggeration of the satire (to me) is that nothing short of all-out violence will force the recalcitrant students to cooperate.

The title of "The Lesson" is a double-entendre. The teacher is presenting a lesson, but by punishing (killing) the students, he is teaching them "a lesson / one that you will never forget," as is noted in the second stanza of the...

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