Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426
“The Kid” is perhaps the most disturbing of Ai’s poems. Told in the first-person voice, this is the story of a boy of fourteen who is far from ordinary. The poem begins in a fairly straightforward way. The boy clearly lives on a farm; he is busy whacking the tires...
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“The Kid” is perhaps the most disturbing of Ai’s poems. Told in the first-person voice, this is the story of a boy of fourteen who is far from ordinary. The poem begins in a fairly straightforward way. The boy clearly lives on a farm; he is busy whacking the tires on the family’s truck with an iron rod. His father calls to him “to help hitch the team,” and then his mother calls him. He tosses a rock at the kitchen window, but he is unsuccessful in making his point in such a tame manner.
In the second stanza, this boy has given up whacking tires, and he splits his father’s skull open with the iron rod; when his mother comes running, he bludgeons her as well. He then proceeds to abandon the rod for a gun and starts shooting, first killing horses and then his little sister. The short poem is, however, more than a mere picture of bloody violence. It is the boy’s attitude that gives this poem its power: “Yeah. I’m Jack, Hogarth’s son./ I’m nimble, I’m quick.// I’m fourteen. I’m a wind from nowhere./ I can break your heart.”
There is no attempt by some outsider to justify the boy’s acts. The reader is not told about overly stern parents, about a “disturbed” child, or any such situation. Yet, obviously, something is wrong.
After the boy has killed his family, he puts on his father’s best clothes, packs his sister’s doll and his mother’s nightgown in a suitcase, and heads for the highway. It is as if, by taking his family’s belongings and symbolically identifying with his father, he has somehow justified his actions.
The most terrifying aspect of the poem is that the reader is compelled to identify with the boy and, in some strange way, to feel sorry for him. Modern culture tends to assume that a boy of fourteen who murders has somehow been mistreated by society. The point is that even a child can be a monster, and perhaps the way in which children are viewed is a large part of the problem. As the poem opens, there is a tendency to picture a cute, innocent-looking boy who is merely being hassled by his parents and annoyed by his sister while he is trying to play. The fact that this play turns to grisly murder hardly changes that opinion. Readers can hardly excuse the boy’s acts, but they wish they could, somehow.