Key Themes in ‘the Whitsun Weddings’
Analyse the Whitsun Weddings in relation to the key themes. Support your analysis with reference to Joyce, (Dubliners). There are six key themes shown in Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings, these are journeys, relationships, repressed emotions, England – town/country, disappointment and a metaphor for. Many of these themes can also be seen in Joyce’s Dubliners. The most striking theme is journeys, as the whole poem is about what the narrator sees from his train carriage whilst journeying between Lincolnshire and London.
His entire journey is a metaphor for how he feels he is getting older, “being in a hurry gone” suggests that Larkin is slowly drifting through life with no purpose, all the time getting older. The first stanza is open to different perspectives, there is a lexical field of happy images or unhappy images depending on how different people feel about it. Being in a “three-quarters-empty train” would be nice for some people yet not so for others, Larkin was probably happy with it due to his shyness and detachment from the world.
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The different perspectives can be seen in how the train “ran behind the backs of houses”, Larkin is seeing houses within the city from a different side, instead of the street face he is seeing the hidden private back garden. This could be viewed as being intrusive, as can be seen in ‘Araby’, where the boys ran through “dark muddy lanes” and encountered “rough tribes”. The second stanza continues his journey, but alternates between positive images and negative, unappealing images.
This doesn’t let the reader draw a conclusion on the atmosphere of the poem, even though the title appears to be cheerful. His journey takes him through “wide farms” and “short shadowed cattle” but then as he enters a city it becomes “ industrial froth” and “acres of dismantled cars”. There is a quick flash of beauty occasionally, “a hot house flashed uniquely”, showing an inaccessible glimpse of something exotic growing in the green house. This is similar to the “striking” women in ‘Counterparts’ that Farrington admires yet is completely ignored after she gazed at him “once or twice”.
Showing how they both can see things exotic to them but cannot do anything. The theme of relationships is shown through the poem between the families of those getting married. Larkin does not appear to feel any connection with the people getting married as he travels past, “Waving goodbye to something that survived it” suggests that he views marriage as dangerous and to be avoided. He is always apart from the outside world, “I leant” shows how he is observing the weddings with interest but not participating.
He only really notices the weddings in the third stanza from the “noise” they make, the first two being about the journey. Relationships play a more important role in ‘Dubliners’, where they nearly all are affected by the social views at the time, the opening story is about the relationship between a young boy and a paralysed Father Flynn and how the adults around him view the friendship. Old Cotter “wouldn’t like children of mine… to have much to say to a man like that”.
A way repressed emotions are shown in the poem is how extreme the weddings are, “pomaded”, “parodies of fashion”, “jewellery substitutes”, this could be because Larkin lived through the Second World War and so seeing the freedom people are feeling afterwards is different to the repressed emotions experienced at his age, to the extent that he views it as “wholly farcical”. “gripping their handbags tighter” suggests ‘Dubliners’ shows this theme a lot more clearly as nearly every character feels repressed and trapped by the circumstances they are in.
They seek a way out but cannot completely achieve their dreams. The school boys in ‘An Encounter seek’ “adventures” but instead find a “queer old josser” and do not even achieve what they set out to do. These emotions are also shown in ‘Counterparts’ where Farrington lets his repressed emotions out and achieves some freedom but is immediately forced to “offer an abject apology”, he then has a bad evening drinking and loses an arm wrestle, he takes out his frustration on those weaker than himself, by beating his children.