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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Fence by Lenrie Peters

Literary Analysis (Summary)

The Fence is an African poem that meditates on the internal moral conflict human beings are burdened with when faced with making a decisive choice between what is good and what is bad. For someone to sit on the fence at that crucial stage, it implies one is avoiding taking sides or making a specific decision. This is Lenrie Peters’ central preoccupation. The poet is deeply troubled with the indecisive and neutral stance of major stakeholders in the society in times of making the right decisions that would better the lots of the helpless masses. Lenrie Peters feels it is necessary for one to stay on a side in times of struggle. We should not maintain a posture of being neither here or there. One should not sit on the fence when policies are being made. Maintaining a neutral pose in critical times can only encourage more evil to be perpetrated.

The setting of The Fence is in post-independence Gambia, the country-home of the poet. During this time, the Gambian society was polarised along economic lines.  While some got richer by amassing ill-gotten wealth to themselves, the common citizens were impoverished. Only the privileged high-class people had access to the best of social amenities and services. The lowly and the oppressed people in the country were ignored. No one was ready to listen to their plight or struggles for equal opportunities for all. Those who are supposed to lead the cause have decided to remain silent and sit on the fence.

Lenrie Peters, in this respect, captures the moral dilemma of being caught between two divides. The poem x-rays the problem of irresolution which affects so many people at the point of deciding whether to do good or bad.

From the first stanza of the poem, the persona is caught in-between his “dim past” and his hopes and aspiration for an undefined future. He doesn’t know whether he should go back to his dark and shady past or focus on a future with vague (nebulous) hopes. There he lies!

In the second stanza, the persona is entrapped in a struggle between truth and falsehood. This complicated struggle between telling the truth and telling lies is described as an “endless and bloody combat”. Falsehood would not give in to the truth and neither would the latter give in to the former. This makes things very complicated for the persona in that he cannot decide on which path to follow.

The third stanza reveals the nature of time as it “moves forwards and backwards” in such a way that the speaker appears lost on which side to flow on the tide. However, there is no time to waste on decision making because there is “not one moment’s pause for sighing”. This gives credence to the popular saying: Time and tide waits for no one. But the persona is notwithstanding irresolute whether to go back into the past or move forwards into the future.

As we move into the fourth stanza, the speaker talks of how his “body ages relentlessly’. With his inability to make a solid decision, he sounds quite regretful as he moves into the last phase of his life. In the twilight years of the persona, his mind has become weak (feeble) and he no longer has the energetic drive to make firm decisions. All he is left to do, while still sitting on the fence, is to wonder “in open-souled amazement” the shortness of life.

The fifth stanza details the confusing and disturbing state of mind of the speaker.  The “opposites” forces of good and bad penetrates him “to plague the inner senses”. These contradictory forces haunt the persona, tormenting his soul. He seems to have lost his senses as he holds his head “and then contrive to stop the constant motion”. He strives to maintain a good composure to strategise on reaching a final decision between the forces of good and evil, but his head keeps spinning round and round as if he is drunk. He feels the “buoyant waves” in his head and he staggers, unable to make a decisive resolution.

In that state of moral intoxication, the persona feels the world has changed its ethical outlook and shifted its moral grounds. But the persona later realises that he has a wrong view of the world as a result of his inability to cross the fence. His failure to cross the fence has made him become stagnant and ill-informed in the scheme of things.

Having acknowledged his indecision, the persona has interposed himself between “the need for good” and actually doing what is good. At this stage, the persona has not fully gained his mental discernment. He is still trapped on the fence trying to understand “the need” for good and the struggle for its actualisation. 

The poem contains twenty-five lines in seven unequal stanzas. The dominant literary device in the poem is refrain with the repetition of the expression, “there I lie”. The emphasis on this particular expression is significant in the poem. It buttresses the persona’s total indecisiveness. As he battles with the forces of good and evil in “bloody combat”, he tries to make a decisive resolution on which side to switch but all his efforts are futile. He remains on the fence.

The problem of indecision
The conflict between good and evil
Indecision breeds regression
Time and tide waits for no one

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1 comment:

  1. Neither here nor there. The Fence talks about eceryone. It examines a situation that is common to everyone. Indeciveness is a challenge to everyone. For someone to sit on the fence, it means he has decided not to play an active role or take a quality decision in critical times.