What is the purpose of inner conflict (poet vs skinhead) in Tony Harrison ’s V? Tony Harrison by employing different voices and different linguistic styles he achieves to demonstrate the antithetic distinctions of personas belonging to different social and educational backgrounds. The shifts in linguistic styles in the poem, between his voice as a poet and to the skinhead clearly illustrate two characters that are completely contradictive. The poet is educated using elevated language, the skinhead, not at all, using slang. The poet is refined, sophisticated, cultivated; the skinhead is vulgar, crude.
Although these two different characters reflect different ethical and cultural inclinations, their coexistence in the poem, serves the purpose of unfolding the social inequalities, and to remind the traumatic consequences of a divided world due to the war intervention. We must take into deep consideration what Harrison wanted to declare with the poem, what was the trigger of his inspiration and under what sentimental state he put his poetic words. Initially and apparently, deeply irritated by the desecration of his parent’s grave, he is voicing his anger and disapproval through his poetry.
This incident and also the marks of the second world war, lead Harrison‘s pen to poetry, to react against the intolerable vandalism of sacred places and most importantly and the “vandalism” of world peace. Particularly in an interview he stated that he creates his poetry when he wants to express his feelings about an event of his life. As far as I am concerned Harrison ‘s “V” unfolds multiple issues both personal and social. If our focal point is to address what is the purpose of this inner conflict between the skinhead and the poet we will discover that this conflict firstly derives from inside him.
This inner conflict is Harrison‘s own questioning where he belongs. Coming from a working class and then becoming an intellectual, Harrison identifies a mismatch of his background with his current status as an educated poet. Harrison seems to recognize that poetry is a communicative way of expressing thoughts and passing an opinion to public but does not ignore the fact that “common” people like baker and butcher provide us with the essentials of life. In his childhood he belonged to a family of bakers and he could be simply another baker or another deprived child of education and a quality life.
There is a suggestion that deprivation of opportunities to have a normal life with the essentials like bread and education could make somebody a skinhead. A person who reacts with his own way against the social injustices or he is fanatical about football because he lacks proper education. At this point, I could insist that this conflict of skinhead and the poet springs out from an internal conflict of Harrison‘s, and his anxiety about his identity. I definitely share the opinion of many critics that, there is an “alienated” skinhead within the poet, an “alter ego” that creates division and tension in his existence as a persona.
This immense fear of the poet of losing his identity, of not knowing who he really is now, a poet or a raged “skinhead” with intellectual skills, creates dichotomy in his identification of himself as an ego. The inner conflict of skinhead and poet reflects his own internal conflict of self-knowledge and dilemmas of denying the part of skinhead within him or accepting in it. “To this, Harrison confesses himself, Originally I was drawn to metrical verse because I wanted to ‘occupy’ literature, as I said in ‘Them and [uz]’.
Now that I’ve occupied it in the sense that I could do it, I learned it as skillfully as I could in order that people would pay attention. I don’t feel happy in the world of literature, and nor do I feel happy—with my education and my identity as a poet in my old working class background: I’m in a way alienated from both, and I have to do justice to that alienation in the poem. ”(Liang 112 )Surely towards the final stanzas we can see that the poet is compromised with a coexistence within him and the skinhead’s who share a common purpose: to voice their reaction “against the social and political realities of the 1980s. My alter ego wouldn't want to know it, His aerosol vocab would baulk at LOVE, the skin's UNITED underwrites the poet, the measures carved below the ones above. “V” cannot be seen only as a form of art, but also as a protest against the socio-political malfunctions. “Luke Spencer praises Harrison’s ‘uncompromising intervention in the politics of the 1980s’ and notes the poem’s ‘willingness to take risks in dramatizing a cultural crisis and imagining its solution”4 The skinheads are the result of these chaotic, faulty political and sociological failures.
The skinheads are the victims of an industrial society who deprives its members of equal opportunities of an economical development. They are the representative of the working class and a failed economical system to provide employment opportunities. Since the Thatcher project failed to protect the working class and resulted in a class struggle, Harrison‘s V is the versus against all this mistreatment of the poor and unprotected people in the industry.
Harrison cannot ignore his origins; he belonged once to the working class and now as an intellectual is voicing his disapproval by symbolism of the skinhead as a faulty product of Thatcherism, and a capitalistic society. Harrison ‘s V can be seen as a description of an unpleasant social reality: Class v. class as bitter as before. The poet expresses his condemnation towards this social dichotomy. Consequently the poet and skinhead’s conflict is a significant symbol of these disunities that make the poet outburst in creating poetry.
Harrison’s social sensitivities and anxieties are clearly depicted in “V”. “V” is multi-signifier of conflicts, controversies, clashes. But also “V” can be a reference to the second world war; it stands as another versus against war and all the pain that it cost. Surely the poet condemns all these contributors of the war including skinheads. We must not ignore the skinhead as representative figures of neo-Nazis and fascism. “Skinheads became associated, in the public mind, with neo-Fascist political parties such as the National Front and with inter-racial violence.
As this suggests, they articulated a sense of traditional stable identities coming under threat. Most importantly, perhaps, their instantly recognizable ‘uniform’ of shaven heads, Doc Marten boots, military surplus trousers or jeans, ‘bomber’ jackets and tattoos expressed a yearning for solidarity and even community. This yearning came at the end of a decade whose political and popular emphasis had been on what Raymond Williams, in The Long Revolution, had dismissed as ‘the supposed new phenomenon of classlessness”. Kennedy 175)
Based on the above descriptions we can clearly understand what purpose the conflict, poet-skinhead serves. If we imagine the graveyard as a battle yard and the skinhead as a soldier, then we can get another portray of the skinhead as a powerful, violent, figure removing human lives and undermining world’s peace. As far as I am concerned “V” does not only address to Britain as a national poem but also it can be seen as a poem that voices the post-war pain and injustices. Harrison’s anger about he desecration of his parents grave does not only address a personal or a national level, but also it addresses all these world hooligans, all these world soldiers that pulled the trigger and will continue to pull it, to destroy values, sacred places but most importantly to destroy human lives. His resentment to this status-quo is expressed by having an argument with the skinhead not as a common hooligan, but as the embodiment of a massive, catastrophic force, political and social. The conflict of the poet and skinhead is reveals not just an argument but also a clash of different cultural trends.
The opponent linguistic styles that Harrison uses to form the dialogue between skinhead and the poet give the reader a deeper view about their backgrounds and origins. Although one can argue that Harrison ‘s origins are not from an upper class, still at the particular moment that he applies his critic against the uneducated and illiterate skinhead he is detached from that person who could articulate in the past. Consequently we can again understand why Harrison has this problematic reception of his own identity as an intellectual middle class individual. It is another clash of who he was and who he became.
The fact that he himself he also sprays on the grave is a peak point that conveys multiple meanings. Firstly it shows Harrison‘s compromise with his past, a past that could easily host a touch of a skinhead within him. Surely, we must make a clear distinction that the skinhead who exists in the poet does not share every feature with the him but only the desire to voice his disappointment to the social inequalities, to call the common opinion for understanding the unfair situation and to invite for union using the dual layers of his identity: a working class and an intellectual poet.
Some critics argue that the poet acknowledges the skinhead in him as a faulty part of his personality, however towards the end of the poem all these “UNITED” significations are the integration of his identity, as I dare to suggest another individual that expresses his anger either by poetry or graffiti. Besides graffiti and poetry share a common purpose: to speak about values, or to express discouragement about a certain fact.
If Harrison achieves to write poetry by using language stylistic swifts then “V” does not address only academic experts, it is a poem for all the people with low educational standards. However the glimpses of very advanced discourse is Harrison‘s attempt to intensify the cultural clash of skinhead –poet but also to satisfy his deeper desire for recognition as an expert of discourse and sophisticated individual. Successfully Harrison in “V” achieves to speak about his personal issues of anxiety combined with his anxieties on a sociological and political level.
Harrison ‘s critical voicing against the racial and social discrimination are effectively achieved by this inner conflict of poet –skinhead. In an overview of what this contradiction shows us I will conclude this essay by emphasizing briefly that “V” is a theatrical representation of Britain ‘s history, is a recall of the painful consequences of the Second world War and a depiction of the social and political British reality. V” is a poem that speaks to every reader academic or not, a poem that is not created for the sake of art but it also functions as tool of unfolding social, economical and political problems. Harrison‘s “V” is a poem that can be experienced as a form of art, as a call for change, as a call for a “UNITED” world.