What is the meaning of "rootless weeds"?

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thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his poem "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum," Stephen Spender directs our focus toward the situation facing slum children. He employs strong visual representations or imagery of the children in order to clearly describe the conditions the children are growing up in. The poem addresses the issues of social injustice and inequality caused by poverty. The have-nots are shown to be leading extremely miserable lives compared to those that have. The troubling part is the fact that they are caught up in a trap that they may never escape from unless the society steps in and helps.

The phrase “rootless weeds” appears on the second line of the poem and serves to describe the children in a classroom in a slum. The phrase is a simile that compares the children to rootless weeds. Roots are meant to hold the plant to the ground and provide a channel for food for the plant. Thus, without roots, the plant cannot hold itself to the ground and subsequently dies off. Weeds are unwanted plants that are uprooted to provide space and reduce competition for nutrients with the wanted plants. Thus, the children suffer a double tragedy: they are not only unwanted, but they also lack support. They are hopeless.

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.