What is a detailed analysis of the poem entitled "The Migrant" by A.L. Hendriks in terms of language, tone, structure, themes, imagery, and symbols?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem "The Migrant" by A. L. Hendriks is a poignant reflection on the migration of Jamaicans after WWII. 

Language: The language is formal, businesslike, and intellectual--a style that is unusual for poetry yet consistent with the bureaucratic feel of having to move to another country. Words like transit, realization, departure, appreciably, eventually, and considering are intellectual rather than emotional words.

Tone: This formal language produces a somewhat detached although sympathetic tone. The woman described is being observed from a distance by someone else who cannot fully read her emotions but knows her situation in a general sense. 

Structure: The poem is written in free verse without traditional rhyme, meter, or rhythm. It contains six stanzas, each of which could be considered simply a paragraph if this were written in prose. Lines usually begin with a new sentence or clause. The first five stanzas focus solely on the woman, the migrant; the final stanza reveals the narrator and that he or she is a fellow migrant.

Themes: Themes that the poem brings to mind are: 

  • Leaving a place you've lived all your life is incredibly hard.
  • For a Jamaican, this relocation experience brings up the generational wounds of slavery.
  • People-watching helps us process our own emotions as we project onto others what we ourselves are going through. 
  • Experiencing major life changes as a single person adds another layer of difficulty to a hard situation.

Imagery: The strongest imagery in the poem is of the travel brochures--we can picture them laid out in their glossy promise. The poem also creates imagery of slow forward movement--shuffling--throughout the whole poem as the woman reluctantly makes plans to move. This is fulfilled in the final stanza as the narrator shuffles forward in line. When the narrator and his family "finger our own documents," readers can imagine that sensation.

Symbols: The travel brochures are a symbol that the life the migrant faces will be disappointing. The fact that they are described as "gaudy, competitive, plentiful" makes us distrust them. The queue the migrant and the narrator are in represents the slow, unpleasant, and reluctant process of leaving one's home unwillingly. The gate marked "For Embarking Passengers Only" is a symbol of finality; the woman will not be returning to the place that all her life she has considered her home. 

In this poem A. L. Hendriks uses formal language, a detached but sympathetic tone, free verse structure, symbols, and imagery to reinforce the strong themes of loneliness and leaving home.