What is the meaning of "rootless weeds"?

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sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The phrase "rootless weeds" is found in Stephen Spender's poem "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum."  The poem itself highlights the misery and squalor of inner city slum schools and the students that attend them.  The poetry is vivid in its descriptive language of the students and school.  It also highlights some basic social injustice and inequality issues.  

"Rootless weeds" is found in line two of the poem. It is a simile for the children in the slum school.  It says that they are "like rootless weeds."  That's a harsh thing to say about children.  First, nobody likes weeds.  They are unsightly, prickly, and often negatively affect the growth of the other plants by choking out nutrient availability.  Most people pluck weeds out right away, or spray them with poison.  The point is weeds are harmful and should be killed.  But to say that children are like weeds? 

Second, rootless is another way of saying that something doesn't belong. So now not only are the children unwanted, but also they are being told that they do not belong anywhere.  They have no place in society. They are rootless. 

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