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Telling The Truth (Ted Hughes, Kurt Vonnegut)

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Telling the Truth


Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes

Weapons of Mass Delusion - Phillip Adams

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut

How do your texts represent the idea of truth?

Ted Hughes' collection of intimate and deeply personal poetry, along with Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions and Phillip Adams' controversial article Weapons of Mass Delusion all represent versions of the truth. In many ways, they represent truth as a kind of impossibility, as it is constantly in a fluid state of instability and ambiguity. There can never be a 'true' representation of reality as perspective, time, memory and language tarnish truth. This notion resounds throughout these three texts which assert that the possibility of representation is limitless.

Birthday Letters is Hughes attempt at "opening a direct and inner contact" with his late and emotionally disturbed wife Sylvia Plath. Victoria Laurie describes the poems as a "a collection of elegiac tender and harrowing poetry addressed to his dead wife.". through Birthday Letters, Hughes asserts that the facts and memories of his life and relationship belong to him and not to the world or the media. He says "I hope that everyone owns the facts of his or her own life." In this sense, as well as being a personal address to Plath, Birthday Letters is also Hughes' attempt to own his truth.

His poem 'Sam' is a direct adaptation of Plath's poem 'Whiteness I Remember' which tells the account of Sylvia's near death experience ridding a horse. Hughes has appropriated ideas from this poem to create a metaphor for their tumultuous and destructive relationship. A sense of alienation is created by the alliteration of the 'h' sound, "horribly hard" . The abrupt and rhythmic assonance of "the cataract of macadam" creates a feeling of lethal speed and a lack of control that Hughes sees as embodying their relationship. The poet has employed stylistic contrasts "adored/dead" and "hugged/strangled" to evoke the notion that the truth of their relationship is ambiguous and multi faceted. By creating an uncertain tone through constant questioning, "were you wearing a helmet?/what saved you?" Hughes tells the reader that even his first hand version of the truth is masked by perspective and memory. This questioning also reiterates that the poem is a direct address to Plath.

This notion of memory can also be seen in the poem 'The Fulbright Scholars' where the poet presents us with a series of statements but simultaneously engages with the idea that his truth is "only as I remember it". A sense of tonal ambiguity and forgetfulness is evoked through constant questioning "were you among them?" / "was it then I bought a peach?" Furthermore, the alliteration of the 'i' sound creates a sense of Hughes trying to pinpoint pieces and moments of memory. Alliteration of the 'm' sound, "I studied them, not to minutely, wondering which one of them I might meet" , arouses a felling of 'uming and aring' as the poet tries to pull the truth from his murky reservoir of memory and release the constraint of elapsed time.

Through Birthday Letters Hughes aims not only to ascertain his ownership of his version of the truth, but also to illustrate the idea that there are infinite interpretations of the truth and reality. He suggests that language, the medium in which he works, is a powerful manipulator of the truth.

This is a prominent theme of Phillip Adams' article Weapons of Mass Delusion. Adams is essentially exploring "the way in which lies dominate our live - most of all our political lives." as well as the power of language to perpetuate these lies. These political lies, Adams suggests, are generated



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