Richard Snyder Essay

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 actions. 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 poem. 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 others. 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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