An afternoon nap
By Arthur Yap
the ambitious mother across the road
is at it again. proclaming her goodness
she beats the boy. shouting out his wrongs, with raps
she begins with his mediocre report-book grades.
she strikes chords for the afternoon piano lesson,
her voice stridently imitates 2nd. lang. tuition,
all the while circling the cowering boy
in a manner apt for the most strenuous p.e. ploy.
swift are all her contorted movements,
ape for every need; no soft gradient
of a consonant-vowel figure, she lumbers
& shrieks, a hit for every 2 notes missed.
his tears are dear. each monday,
wednesday, friday, miss low & madam lim
appear & take away $90 from the kitty
leaving him an adagio, clause analysis, little
the embittered boy across the road
is at it again. proclaming his bewilderment
he yells at her. shouting out her wrongs, with tears
he begins with her expensive taste for education.
Analysis for an afternoon nap
An afternoon nap is set in the local context, where the environment of growth of a child is depicted. Arthur Yap writes from a third person perspective, about the discipline measures a mother takes to ensure her son excels. This shows the flawed educational system in Singapore from an outsider’s perspective. Parents put too much pressure on their child to have good academic grades. However, when the son breaks down later in the poem, the Arthur Yap prompts readers to question if sacrificing childhood is really worth good results, allowing us to re-evaluate the effectiveness of our current model of education.
An afternoon nap is effective in conveying the message that education in Singapore comes with a hefty price. The mother’s ‘expensive taste for education’ suggests that huge investments are dumped into grooming children in anticipation of their future career success. This implies that public assumption of more tuition would lead to good grades which equates to a good job and a bright future. In order to give their children an edge over others, parents often sign their children up for numerous tuition classes. ‘Little pocket money’ is left after paying for the boy’s tuition, suggesting that the mother paid little attention to the boy’s true needs and desires. The mother did not consider boy’s perspective and his real interests. Pushed to his breaking point, ‘he yells at her. Shouting out her wrongs, with tears’. The boy’s dissatisfaction is expressed when he is no longer able to withstand the pressure. The use of imagery which appeals to the reader’s sense of hearing depicts the mother and son having an extremely heated argument to the extent one of them cries, showing the large extent of pent-up frustration inside the boy. This sours the relationship between the mother and son as the boy now bears great resentment towards his mother. The invaluable bond between mother and son is the price to pay for education in Singapore. We feel pity the boy for his plight — a dull childhood living under constant pressure to perform well — but feel helpless as he has no choice but to survive in that restricting life. After all, sacrificing childhood, a period of time which is typically carefree and enriching, is not worth the ideal of progress society is constantly chasing after. Therefore, the authorial intent can be seen as he laments that education in Singapore is costly financially, comes at the expense of children’s interests and makes irreplaceable familial relationships fragile, effectively communicating his disapproval of stifling environment children in Singapore is forced to grow up in.
This poem is extremely effective in showing that Singapore’s education system is ineffective in promoting true learning. In Singapore, education is mostly results-oriented. However, this may not be the best way to measure one’s intelligence or aptitude. The poem starts off with the mother ‘shouting out [the boy’s] wrongs, with raps’, beginning with ‘his mediocre report book grades’. This suggests that academic results are heavily emphasised in Singapore as the boy’s greatest mistake is scoring badly in exams. The manner in which the mother punishes the boy for unideal grades implies that the boy has done some great mistake, something so bad it warrants physical punishment, in this case, caning. This punishment is cruel — criminals in jail receive the same punishment — comparing performing badly in exams to serious crimes. This reveals that grades hold a notable importance in Singapore education. The Asian culture of tough love can also be seen through the discipline actions of this tiger mum. Singaporean’s over-competitive nature is also portrayed through the mother’s dissatisfaction towards the boy’s results. The poet brings out the issue that local parents are always unsatisfied with their child’s performance. parents who are too focused on their child’s academic results, paying little attention to the child’s well being and development. This scene reflects the situation many students face locally. Furthermore, the poet deliberately misspelled proclaiming in ‘proclaming her goodness’ twice. This hints that the education system in Singapore is unable to fulfil its basic function, thus is ineffective. It suggests that the amount of effort and sacrifice by the mother and son for the boy to excel does not pay off well. The poet leaves the reader wondering if the current model of education is relevant and of good quality. The poet’s choice of word used is odd. It implies that the mother is justifying her actions by asserting that she is doing this for the boy’s sake, yet, that declaration feels hollow. The poet’s sarcastic tone suggests that her actions do not really benefit the boy, instead, it may actually be detrimental to his development. This opinion is impressed upon the reader as the poem progresses. After all, the mother need not declare her rightness if she was truly working with the boy’s interests at heart. That should be understood by both parties. In addition, it is expected that a good person does not resort to violent acts. Ironically, the mother tries to convince both of them that she is so strict for the boy’s good while beating her son. Through these examples, the poet’s disapproval towards the mindset of education in Singapore is shown, effectively conveying that education in Singapore is not effective.
The poem is also effective in showing that the environment Singaporean children develop in is too demanding. The title of the poem is ‘An afternoon nap’. This makes the reader expect a nice quiet afternoon filled with rest and relaxation. Ironically, the entirety of the poem depicts a boy’s stressful afternoon routine, representative of the lifestyle lead by children in Singapore. There is no mention of a chance to relax or unwind. This subtly hints that students like him have such packed schedules that they have no spare time to catch a breather, probably something they yearn for regularly. To illustrate, ‘each monday, // wednesday, friday’ his teachers arrive to teach him ‘adagio, clause analysis’. The use of enjambment, break between monday and wednesday, emphasises the numerous tuition days. It surprises the reader with the seemingly never-ending amount of tuition in Singapore. The boy has to balance his various commitments such as studies and piano lessons, explaining his lack of recreational time. Furthermore, he shows no inclination that he even enjoys playing the piano. The poet portrays his commitments as burdensome as there is no joy for learning. The constant need to complete task after task without rest is pressurising. Therefore, this poem conveys the authorial intent that the environment in Singapore is too demanding for a child.
Though all parents wish for the best of their children, Singaporean parents are too hard up on the academic achievements of their child. Childhood is ideally the best stage of life as it is a time of innocence and happiness. Perhaps, parents should start consider their child’s interests and well being.
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