Essay Sample on Critical Analysis of the Poem "Not a Number"

Published: 2023-04-20
Essay Sample on Critical Analysis of the Poem "Not a Number"
Essay type:  Critical analysis essays
Categories:  Poem Analysis Human trafficking
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1756 words
15 min read

Despite intense efforts made in the last few decades to end modern-day slavery, the exploitation of vulnerable groups for profit motives remains a major socioeconomic issue in many parts of the world. In her poem, Not A Number, Alysia Nicole Harris lays bare the grim realities of human trafficking and the adverse effects of the practice on the victims' ability to lead a life of dignity. Published by Love 146 in 2017, the piece reveals how the vulnerabilities of women and children are exploited to generate money for people and organizations globally. It is huge business for particular people and that is why the issue hurts. She regrets that human trafficking and other forms of degradation of women and children will persist in the foreseeable future. Still, there is a need to speak out loud about these abuses. Although there are a few instances of confusion in style, Harris skillfully utilizes rhyme schemes, alliteration, tone, and imagery to show how women and girls are treated as commodities while urging fellow women to rise and demand action against these vices.

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Alliteration is one of the literary devices that Harris has used to pass the message that abuse of women and girls in the name of profit is prevalent in today's society. For instance, the author says, "Good for nothing, never worth much"(line). The consonantal sound "n" is repeated in two words that are close to each other. Further down the stanzas, she also repeats the sound p in the line "Those who treat people, like products"(line 10). Another example can also be noted in the line "you might be fractured, but unlike a fraction, you cannot be produced"(line). In this case, the syllable "fra" is repeated in words that are slightly apart. Besides creating rhythm, these examples of alliteration promote the main idea in the poem. Notably, they represent how women and children are considered trading items as well as the sense of vulnerability and hopelessness that most victims of human trafficking manifest. The repeated consonant sounds capture the people under focus in the poem and their harrowing experiences. For one to grasp the position of the persona, memorability of the words represented by the sounds is essential in this regard. Such an objective is realized by making the reader note the areas of emphasis by the author. As found by Lea and others, alliteration reactivates the memory of the reader, thereby helping in appreciation and interpretation of the subject matter in poetry (709).

The rhyme scheme is also another stylistic device that the author employs to communicate with readers about human exploitation. As the reader goes through the text, they can observe that Harris has used end rhyme to induce flavor in the poem. A few lines from the start of the text, the sound "s" for words, jeans, and friends have been used at the end of the two lines containing the listed terms. The rhyme scheme is rarely seen in subsequent lines until the last few lines of the poem. Here, the sound "s" has been repeated in words, cameras, and words. The author further uses the "s" sound in words, answers, solutions, ends, and yours. The kind of rhyme scheme demonstrated in the text is not continuous. Such style may make it harder for the reader to decipher the reason for the use of the rhyme scheme in the text in the first place. However, the format followed by the author does not necessarily remove the effect of rhyme in the poem. Specifically, the rhyming sounds have an essential role in revealing the theme of the text. The rhyme scheme adds aesthetic value to poetry as it enhances the emotional involvement of the audience due to increased processing of the meaning of words (Obermeier et al. 1-2). In the case under review, the rhyme scheme helps to provoke feelings among the audience regarding the problem the speaker is addressing. The author appears emotive about the issues affecting women and girls, thereby evoking the appropriate response from the readers.

Apart from the rhyme scheme, the author has used repetition to create various effects. The technique of repeating words and phrases is what appears to have been considered by Harris as having the potential to deliver the message she desires. The author has done well in picking words and phrases that relate closely to the topic, and their effectiveness in this regard is quite impressive. For instance, the words the author has repeated include happy, hue, you, sound, and put, among others. The phrases are maybe, you will not, and I don't. These words and phrases have the effect of creating a musical trend in the text, thereby making it enjoyable to listen. However, it is their ability to capture the intention of Harris that the highlighted words and phrases seem more valuable to the persona. One of the significant functions of repetition is that it emphasizes the significance of an issue under focus in any given literary work as it relates to the human condition (Riberio 189-91). In the case of Harris, she has repeated the words and phrases not only to underscore the need for the audience to appreciate that human trafficking is an endemic problem but also to create the feeling of urgency for action about the subject matter. That many women and children are suffering already. Therefore, immediate measures are required by all stakeholders to ensure that the dignity of every individual, especially the vulnerable persons, is guaranteed. The consequence of such a strategy is that it evokes emotions among the audience, which is likely to provoke action as desired by the author.

The deployment of figures of speech as a group of poetic tools is an effective way the author develops her message in the text. Smile is the style used under this category. Right at the onset of the poem, the author describes the situation of many women and children who have been exploited for profit purposes. She says, "May be you know they sting like razorblade"(Line 2). The other simile states, ".....that lingers inside you like the taste of a last cigarette on the thumb"(line 4). The author further refers to traffickers as individuals who treat "people like products." A sting involves the release of a poison that harms the victim. A razor blade can cause injuries. The lingering feeling of the last bit of a cigarette causes hesitancy as it implies the lack of willingness of a smoker to throw away the butt. Treating people like products represents the objectification of women and children to generate profits. The three similes capture the major ideas of the speaker as it covers the painful experiences human trafficking victims undergo. Besides building the theme, these tools are used to generate emotions among the audience as a strategy of rallying support for anti-human trafficking initiatives. Such style is a manifestation of the excellent skills the author has mustered in articulating issues of concern in poetic terms.

Closely related to similes is the deliberate choice of symbolic words to denote an idea in the poem. An example of symbolism is the use of the term box. The box, as we know it, serves the function of packing goods or storing items at market outlets where merchandise is kept for sale. In other words, it is a tool for confinement whereby things that do not possess attributes of life are stored for further utilization by human beings. When Harris observes that human traffickers put victims in a box and then on the shelves in preparation, she does not appear to use the term box in a literal sense. That is the case as human beings cannot be naturally put in a box and displayed for purchase since they would die. In the strict sense, therefore, the author uses the term to highlight the forces in society which propagate vulnerability among women and children, making them more susceptible to exploitation by people who seek to generate profits of their situations. It also represents the attitudes of human trafficking agents who do not consider vulnerable people as human beings but valuable items that can be converted into money. The function of the box, in this case, covers the main issue against which the author is advocating.

Lastly, the tone is perhaps the device that Harris chose to express her disappointment with the practice of exploiting human beings for profit. A sad tone is reflected in the poem. The author carefully chooses strong words and phrases to express her deep feelings about the subject matter. Examples of words deliberately chosen to create tone include vulnerable, profitable, worthless, irreplaceable, and nothing, among others. Phrases like shut up, damaged goods, and I am not a number reveal the tone of the persona. During the recitation, the speaker raises the voice while changing the facial expressions that signify sadness. The sad tone plays an essential role in connecting the audience with the subject matter since it provokes emotions that motivate the audience to give attention to what is being discussed by the speaker.

In conclusion, Harris makes deliberate decisions that enable her to not only communicate the central message of the poem but also woo the audience toward her line of thinking. If Harris intended to expose the horrors of women and child trafficking, then she has done an excellent piece toward the realization of this objective. The goal has been accomplished by carefully using tone, symbolism, and similes. Other devices include a rhyme scheme, repetition, and alliteration. The enlisted poetic devices develop the theme of human trafficking. They also call on all stakeholders for an immediate conversation on the need to increase their efforts against the commodification of human beings. Most importantly, the author manages to urge women to rise against exploitation. Even if they have been exploited, the author encourages fellow women not to despair as life always presents a second opportunity for everyone. The highlighting of issues and urging of action are two elements of the poem that make it a perfect text to listen or read.

Works Cited

Harris, Alysia N. "Not A Number." YouTube. Love146, 2017. Web. 11 Mar. 2020.

Lea, R. Brooke., David N. Rapp, Andrew Elfenbein, Aaron D. Mitchel, and Russell S. Romine. "Sweet Silent Thought." Psychological Science 19.7 (2008): 709-716.

Obermeier, Christian, Winfried Menninghaus, Martin Von Koppenfels, Tim Raettig, Maren Schmidt-Kassow, Sascha Otterbein, and Sonja A. Kotz. "Aesthetic and Emotional Effects of Meter and Rhyme in Poetry." Frontiers in Psychology 4 (2013): n. pag.

Ribeiro, Anna C. "Intending to Repeat: A Definition of Poetry." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65.2 (2007): 189-201.

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