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Essay/Term paper: "a mongoliod child handling shells on the beach" robert snyder

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Poetry

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Diction, Theme and Imagery in Richard Snyders Intro To Poetry

"A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the Beach"

When you first read Richard Snyders narrative poem, "A Mongoloid Child

Handling Shells on the Beach", it may be perceived that the poem is indeed about a child,

happily gathering shells upon the shore. However, if we closely consider the diction and

connotations that Synder uses, we can speculate that the meaning of the poem depicts a

deeper and darker theme. The title itself gives us an idea from the beginning. The word

Mongoloid, as identified in Websters New World Dictionary (675), is an early term for

Down's Syndrome, a state of mental retardation. Therefore I believe that the poem

represents the child as an outcast from the norm of society.

There are several words in the text that refer to the child that we usually wouldn't

associate with youth. An early clue would again be found in the title, "A Mongoloid Child

Handling Shells on the Beach". Notice that Snyder used the word "handling" instead of

playing or collecting, words wich we might think of while envisioning a young girl

investigating sea shells. Snyder also uses the word 'slow' to describe the child on more

than one occasion, as we see in line one and line eight : "She turns them over in her slow

hands/ ...hums back to it its slow vowels." Yet another example could be in line four,

which reads: " they are the calmest things on this sand." Calm is yet another word that we

would not most likely use to portray a young child. It very well could be that the author is

trying to paint a picture of her impairment and symbolize her condition through her


Considering Snyder depicted the ocean as "..the mazarine maze,"(3) instead of

simply stating that it is the "deep blue sea", it is easy to speculate that the ocean represents

life itself. Her being outside of the water while all the other children are swimming is a key

example of her being isolated. The way that she is presented, which is slow and rather

solemn, contrasts with the other children who are "rough as surf, gay as their nesting

towels."(6). I feel that this kind of symbolism is repeated throughout the remainder of the


The sea shells, for instance, are another important representation of her isolation.

It reads in line three: " broken bits from a mazarine maze,". If we look at the mazarine

maze as being life, and the shells are broken bits of it washed ashore, it becomes clear that

the girl is swept out of the regular society, much as the shells were swept out of the sea. It

is even more comprehensible when we consider the line "The unbroken children splash and

shout,". What Snyder meant by "unbroken children" is that they are not broken off from

life, much like the child. They are not broken off of the sea, much like the shells.

The child and the shells seem to have a valuable bond in portraying the girls

solitude form society. This idea becomes even more graspable if we look at lines seven

and eight: "But she plays soberly with the sea's small change...". Websters New World

Dictionary defines the phrase small change as " petty or unimportant"(721). It may very

well be that the child is seen as less important by people of the society. She is the only one

who plays with the shells, perhaps the only one who can truly appreciate them. Perhaps it

is that the other children ignored the shells on the beach, and were tantalized by the water

instead, and maybe this is a foreshadow of her life-to-be, being ignored and pushed out by


It is unmistakable that this poem describes a child on the margin of society. Yet

even though she does not enjoy the beach as the other children do, I feel that she does not

resent them, but rather takes pleasure in the small and insignificant things, much like

herself. Snyder uses a cacophony of symbolic imagery and carefully chosen words to

convey a message about the girls life as it is, and perhaps how it will become. 

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