in Essay Technique, Poetry, Writing Skills

This is a practise essay from the poem “Little Boy Crying” by Mervin Morris – completed by myself, not in timed conditions. It would receive an A* / full mark grade, due to its clear structure, in-depth exploration of themes and ideas, sensitivity to a personal response, and focus on form, structure, and language. Use it as an idea of what to aim for in your own essay writing. Make sure to write down any useful essay words or phrases as well.

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The Question: 

How does Morris present parent-child relationships in ‘Little Boy Crying?’

The Essay Example

Morris’s presentation of parent child relationships in ‘Little Boy Crying’ is interesting and somewhat controversial. He expresses the attitude that parents should physically discipline their children, and demonstrates the belief that, despite it being difficult, parents must teach their children essential lessons. He also explores empathy in parent child relationships.

Morris presents controversial attitudes towards parenting and parent child relationships in ‘Little Boy Crying’. Rather than comply with the widely held view that parents should treat their children softly and without resorting to physical punishment, Morris demonstrates the belief that parents have the right and duty to discipline their children, and to reprimand them for unsuitable behaviour; in the poem, the father hits his son for misbehaving – we do not know exactly what the boy has done but the use of continuous verbs, such as ‘swimming’ and ‘splashing’, to describe the boy’s behaviour suggests that he is full of energy, is always moving and is difficult to control, therefore possibly requiring strong punishments. The final stanza of the poem: ‘You must not make a plaything of the rain’ is a metaphor that highlights the belief that children should be disciplined, and that parents cannot always make their children feel happy at the cost of ruining ‘the lessons you should learn.’ The fact that this stanza structurally stands out, because it is a monostitch (consists of one line), indicates its importance and demonstrates how it holds the thematic statement that Morris is attempting to convey. The poem’s structure also highlights Morris’s attitudes towards parenting; the stanzas are fairly regular and ordered, reinforcing the idea that discipline and order are necessary when it comes to parenting. The language used also illustrates this idea; Morris uses a fairytale allegory to describe the boy’s desire to hurt the father: ‘you imagine/ chopping clean the tree he’s scrambling down’. This comparison to the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk illustrates the belief that parents should teach their children important lessons, because fairytales exist to teach children moral lessons and good values. The soft rhyming that is used throughout the poem gives it a lullaby quality, enhancing the fairytale imagery.

Morris also presents two contrasting parent child relationships in ‘Little Boy Crying’. The majority of the poem describes the father and son’s relationship as being bitter and resentful, characterised by ‘spite and hurt’, however, there is also mention of a happy and playful relationship between the father and son, demonstrated by the compound nouns ‘piggy-back’ and ‘bull-fight’. This suggests that, despite the struggles they face within the poem, they do, at other times, get along and have fun together; the use of compound nouns creates a childish and playful impression. 

In the poem, Morris discusses the concept of empathy in parent child relationships, and he presents a relationship in which there is a lack of empathy between the parent and the child. The child, hurt by the monosyllabic ‘quick slap struck’, views his father as an ‘ogre’ and ‘a grim giant, empty of feeling’, and imagines ways in which he can hurt his father. Contrastingly, the father actually finds physically disciplining the child extremely hard and ‘longs to lift (him), curb (his) sadness with piggy-back or bull-fight’. This apparent lack of empathy and emotional intelligence between the parent and child could be the reason why physical punishment was necessary in the first place – if the father had realised the boy’s position and tried to understand his motivations for his actions, and if the boy had been able to respect his father, then the father would not have needed to resort to physical punishment. Morris could be implying that empathy is essential in parent child relationships as it eradicates the need for violent methods of discipline.

Morris presents a parent child relationship in ‘Little Boy Crying’ in which the parent has the power and the control. The father is, from the boy’s perspective, described as an ‘ogre’ and a ‘giant’. He is physically much larger and stronger than his son, therefore possessing a lot more power.


Thanks for reading! If you find this essay useful, you can access our full CIE IGCSE Poetry course here.

For our other English and Literature courses, click here.

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