An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Extra Questions and Answers

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An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Extra Questions and Answers

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Extra Questions, Notes, Assignment and study material for Class 12th as Per CBSE Syllabus

Chapter- 2 English Language and Literature

         An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Extra Questions and Answers

 By- Stephen Spender

An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Author

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Stephen Spender (28 February 1909 – 16 July 1995) was an English poet, novelist and essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work. He was appointed the seventeenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the United States Library of Congress in 1965.

An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Theme

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 The poem touches upon themes of social injustice and class inequality. It questions the value of education in a slum. It exposes the widespread neglect of these children who are uncared for, like rootless weeds. It gives the readers a description of malnourished children with pale faces, stunted growth and twisted bones. But the poem does not dwell upon pessimism. It highlights the role of the educators and the more privileged class in society to liberate the children and infuse them with human creativity.

An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Theme (2) :

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum deal with the social injustice and class inequalities and attacks on the capitalistic economies in which the rich are becoming richer and even as more and more problems and miseries mire the lives of the poor. They are devoid of any opportunity and have become prey to social injustice. In this poem, Spender demands equal opportunities for education for the poor and the underprivileged.


The poem is written in a simple style with the use of poetic devices and images which conveys the narrator’s feelings of sympathy and anger. The images convey the poverty, hunger and neglect of state schools in the slums.

An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Message

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The poem appeals to the rulers, the law enforcing bodies and the philanthropists represented by the ‘governor, inspector, visitor’ to improve the condition of the children in the slums which can be done through education. The poem ends on an optimistic note with the message that there are solutions to this problem and a lot of these children can be improved. The poem raises concerns like sensitivity towards the underprivileged, equity, equality, awareness, philanthropy, optimism, determination, and the need to change the condition of these children

Background of the Poem

Written in 1964, the poem is an example of Spender’s political voice resonating in a poem. He expresses his ideological positions on government, economics, and education. The students in this classroom are underprivileged and malnourished. The capitalistic government is supposed to supply equal opportunity for education, but the classroom in the slum offers little hope for change or progress. Spender names no nation or race. It appears to be a response to the global question concerning social injustice which was an essential issue in the American Civil Rights movement of the time. Throughout the Poem the poet’s tone changes from pensive to belligerent and finally from frustration to an appeal.

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An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Poetic Devices


  • gusty waves’ — the privileged children are compared to gusty waves — energetic and exuberant.
  • ‘future’s painted with a fog’ — refers to the future of the slum children which has been compared to the fog because it is uncertain and unclear.
  • ‘sealed in with a lead sky’ — refers to the dull and grey colour of the sky and also the depressing future of the slum children
  • ‘stars of words’ — refers to the words or literature written by writers like Shakespeare that create images which are as bright, beautiful and inspiring like stars
  • ‘from fog to endless night’ — refers to the future of the slum children which is without any ray of hope, a future that can only go from bad to worse
  • ‘wear skins peeped through by bones’ — refers to the thin emaciated bodies of the children which has been reduced to mere skin and bones
  • let their tongues /Run naked into books’ — refers to the act of allowing children to go taste/experience the variety life as depicted in the books or giving the children an experience of the beautiful bright world outside the depressing confines of the slum
  • ‘whose language is the sun’ — refers to the children who live in pleasant surroundings and thereby have happier lives


  • ‘like rootless weeds’ — the children have been compared to weeds or the unwanted section of society.
  • ‘like bottle bits on stones’ — The spectacles frame their stony-eyed expressions/hard faces.
  • ‘windows that shut upon their lives like catacombs’ — the classroom and the homes in which the slum children live have been compared to underground burial chambers


  • ‘weighed down’ — refers to the burden of poverty and hopelessness that weighs down the slum children


  • ‘reciting’ literal — the boy is reciting the lesson. figurative — he is more prominently reciting his father’s disease i.e. he has inherited his father’s disease of twisted bones and deformity.
  • ‘sour cream’: literal — the neglected walls have turned a dirty yellow figurative — a dismal place where all dreams turn sour (in this case the classroom)
  • ‘lead sky’ literal — sky polluted with industrial fumes figurative: A sky that does not open opportunities.


  • ‘squirrel’s game’ — something that helps the child to escape the grim reality of his surroundings `civilized dome riding all cities’ — cities that show the progress of the civilization and its marvellous architecture (also Personification — riding all cities).
  • ‘open-handed map’ — a map drawn arbitrarily by the people in power and the privileged.
  • ‘map with slums as big as doom’ — the grim reality of the lives of the slum children.
  • ‘fog’ — bleak and unclear.
  • ‘ships and sun’ — adventure and beautiful lands offering opportunities.
  • ‘slag heaps’ — industrial waste, toxic filth and squalor.
  • ‘windows’ — windows of the slum classroom do not open out to opportunities and the wide world. They show only fog covered slums where they are confined.
  • ‘green fields, gold sand’ — colour, happiness, nature and golden opportunities.
  • ‘white and green leaves’ — learning from pages of books and nature.
  • ‘run azure’ — experience the rich colours of the blue waves.
  • ‘sun’ — symbol of enlightenment /clarity/ equality/purity.


 Break O break open till they break the town

‘ Far, far’

An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Chapter Nutshell

Stephen Spender highlights the plight of slum children by using vivid images and apt words to picture a classroom in a slum. Through this, he touches, in a subtle manner, the themes of social injustice and inequalities.

Opening metaphor:

(i)The opening line of the poem, an image, contrasts the slum children’s faces with elite and powerful class, described as `gusty waves’.

 (ii) The next image of ‘rootless weeds’ (metaphor) produces a double effect. ‘Weeds’ indicate being unwanted and `rootless’ indicates not belonging, no firm foundation of education.

(iii) The slum children are like ‘rootless weeds’ unwanted by society and not belonging to society.

Description of slum children:

(i)The tall girl with head weighed-down with sadness, disinterestedness or shame or a mixture of all the three she is probably over-aged for the class.

(ii) Thin, emaciated boy like paper and his eyes pop out looking furtive like a rat’s.

 (iii) A boy with stunted growth who has inherited a disease resulting in twisted growth of bones from his father. Spender uses the word `reciting’ to show mindlessly reading without understanding, the boy has only his inherited crippling disease to show/recipe in the class.

(iv) Right at the back of the badly lit room is an unnoticed young boy lost in a world of dreams. He daydreams of a squirrel’s game and about the tree house, absents mentally from the classroom.

Description of the classroom:

(i)The word ‘sour’ used to describe the cream walls of the classroom indicates its derelict condition.

(ii) Contradicting this state and the slum children are posters and pictures children can’t relate to:

(a) Shakespeare’s head indicating erudition,

 (b) the picture of a clear sky at dawn and a beautiful Tyrolese valley indicating beauty of nature and hope,

 (e) dome of an ancient city building standing for civilization and progress,

 (d) a world map awarding the children the progressive and developed world.

World of the slum children:

(i)Limited to the world seen through the windows of the classroom and not what the map promises.

(ii) Ironical when contrasted with the misery and hopeless condition of the slum children.

(iii) Their future is foggy, bleak and dull.

 (iv) Their life/world is confined within the narrow streets of the slum enclosed by the dull sky indicating a bleak future.

(v) Far away from rivers, seas that indicate adventure and learning

 (vi) Cut off from the stars that stand for words that can empower their future.

(vii) ‘Lead sky’ symbolizes the bleak, dull life and future of the slum children.

Shakespeare and the map are bad examples:

(i)Head of Shakespeare and the map are cruel temptations for these children

(ii) They live in cramped houses (holes- metaphor, comparing their lives to that of rats), whose lives revolve around (slyly turns) dullness (fog) and hopelessness (endless night) as they imagine and long for (steal) adventure (ships), for a better future (sun) and for love.

A bleak future:

(i)Their emaciated bodies, with skin peeping through on account of malnutrition and unhygienic conditions.

(ii) Live amidst slag heap.

(iii) Wear spectacles of steel with cracked glasses

 (iv) Lead a harsh life, with a distorted vision of the world

(v) Hold on to a glimmer of hope in their otherwise harsh life

(vi) The slum is their world as big as the doom (simile).

(vii) Their life (time and space) is foggy and dim. The poet repeatedly uses the word fog to talk about the unclear, vague and dull life of the slum children.


(i)Their life confined to this slum that encloses their lives like catacombs (underground cemeteries).

(ii) Life can change for the better if some initiative is taken by the governor, inspector of schools or a visitor.

(iii) Children should be empowered with education and a conducive environment.

(iv) We need to break the barriers that divide society into haves and have-nots.

(v) Children should be exposed to the green fields and golden sands (indicating the unlimited world), which will be theirs.

(vi) They will then rewrite their history from their own experiences which will be bright and progressive like the sun (metaphor).

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An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Summary

The children in an elementary school of a slum have faces which are very different from those of other children. They are not exuberant and full of energy (far from gusty waves). Their faces are like weeds in a garden (like rootless weeds [simile]) — They are rootless, unsure and lack stability. Their hair is unkempt around their pale faces. The gusty waves symbolize the energy that is missing in these children.

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The poet expands on the theme of the miserable existence of the slum dwellers’ children by listing out some of the typical children who can be found in these schools.

First is the tall girl who is physically and emotionally exhausted. Her head hangs down in exhaustion. All life has been dredged from her body and sapped from her mind. The children are underdeveloped and live almost like rodents. Another child is a very sick and lean boy who has `rat’s eye’ symbolizing that he is defensive and scared like a rodent. His prospect for survival, let alone success seems bleak. The ‘rats eye’ also refers to the searching eyes of the boy who appears to be looking for food, acceptance and love. These children are underdeveloped and some of them have inherited their diseased bones from their parents. This implies that diseased generations (father’s gnarled disease) have been living in the slum. A child who is disfigured and ‘trapped in a physically challenged body’ (unlucky heir of twisted bones) is another child attending the elementary school.

The classrooms are equally dim and pathetic. There is a child who is sweet and young but his “eyes live in a dream”. This phrase has various interpretations. On one hand, it could mean that the boy wants to get out as he is bored and distracted or that he is mentally challenged and lives in a world of dreams far removed from the dark reality of his presence. The child’s desire is to be playing with or watching squirrels playing in a hollow tree. The ‘tree room’ is symbolic of the cramped holes in which the children live. The squirrel, in contrast, is free.

The first stanza evokes pity and empathy reflecting the pathetic and miserable existence of the slum children. There is despondency and pessimism in the first and second stanza but hope and optimism in the last two stanzas. The walls of the classroom are off-white or yellowish (sour cream) in colour. This dull colour echoes the miserable situation of the children and underlines the neglect in their lives.

The walls are decorated with pinups of Shakespeare’s head, domes of the institution of the civilized world, photographs of the alpine valleys, etc. The life of the slum children is far removed from all that is represented in maps, books and pictures and only highlight the pathetic nature of their present condition. ‘Open handed maps’ suggest the map drawn by powerful people and ‘awarding the world its world’ suggests how the world is determined by the powerful leaders. The poet thus hints at two worlds: the world of poverty, misery, depravity represented in the slums which is contrasted with the world of progress and prosperity, the world of the rich which is shown on the pictures on the wall. This world is far removed from the lives of these slum children and a world that they cannot relate to.

Sadly, the world that these children are familiar with is the world of stinking slums, a world that belongs to the poverty-stricken, ill-fed and under-nourished children. ‘These windows’ reflect the world exposed on the maps as well as the windows of the classroom that open out to the dark and dingy world that they live in. Education which has the ability to open doors and windows to the ‘other world’ has failed in this instance to liberate these children both physically and intellectually from their restricted and impoverished existence. Their world has unpleasant surroundings. The dirty windows figuratively and literally are their world. The fog of uncertainty dominates their future. They are doomed to live in narrow streets (symbolic of a restricted life, a life of desolation) which do not lead them to a better future. Their landscape has no rivers or lakes.

All the symbols of positivity mentioned in the second stanza, i.e., the cloudless dawn, Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley — are far removed from the lives of the children. In fact, the children’s future appears to be bleak, painted with fog and covered with a lead sky (of industrialization).

Next, the poet questions the wisdom of exposing these children to Shakespeare and terms it ‘wicked’ because he talks of a world of kings and noblemen which is far removed from their mundane, dismal lives. Similarly, the map shows them a world which is not theirs. Therefore, it is a tad example’ as it tempts the children with ideas of escape from their miserable world of ‘lead skies’ to a sun-filled world, and a love for life rather than an existence full of dread and disillusionment. According to the poet it raises false hopes in the children, which is cruel. These false hopes encourage them to resort to illegal and criminal means to achieve the good things in life.

 In the third stanza, the poet talks about their ‘slag heap’ which represents several things. At one level they refer to the waste left by the industries. Figuratively it refers to these children who are like the waste or the unwanted section of society and also to the slums in which they live and which are ugly unwanted parts of a city or town. The phrase ‘wearing spectacles of steel’ is a symbol of industrialization in which they are all doomed. They wear spectacles with mended glass which look like pieces of broken bottles on stone. Stones also reflect the expression on their faces. This image highlights their impoverished existence which is restricted to the “foggy” slums. Foggy is symbolic of ignorance. Fate has charted out a bleak path as the future holds no promise for them. Their life is an endless fog until they die. The maps of their future are already blotted with gloom and doom.

The last stanza is full of optimism. There is a touch of magic in its wider connotations. It is an appeal to the governor, teacher, inspector and visitors to transport the unfortunate children beyond the dark boundaries of today into the possibilities of tomorrow, otherwise, these classrooms will become like tombs(catacombs) burying these children in the dark confines of the slums forever. Therefore, only if these people lend a helping hand can the lives of the children be magically released from bondage. It is an appeal to the eminent people to rescue the poor and oppressed from the tomb of class discrimination and to show them the beauty of the world. This map refers to the world of prosperity. Their windows refer to their slums. The children will be able to peep through windows only when the difference between the two worlds is bridged.

 The poet desperately wants the children to break out of these catacombs (or near death existence). They should come out to the green fields and breathe in the open air so that they can grow unrestricted and liberated and be creative. The poet ‘imagines’ the liberated children running on the gold sand, delving into books and exploring the realm of knowledge. The white leaves represent the printed word and the green leaves the natural world which both contribute to educating a child. This will be truly liberating and lead to creativity. According to the poet, only those people create history whose language has the warmth of the sun i.e. — who have clarity of vision, the power of life, brightness and hope.

Thus the poem ends on an optimistic note symbolizing the freedom of the children from their deathlike existence through education and social transformation.

An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Summary

The poem starts with a detailed description of the pathetic condition of the children who study in a school located in a slum. These children are malnourished and sick. The poet compares them with rootless weeds. It seems as if their physical and mental growth had stopped. They have no exposure to the real world. These children are unkempt, hungry, weak and emaciated. They are bony and carry the legacy of poverty and diseases. They are living in an environment of utter hopelessness. They are given a glimpse of the outside world through the pictures hanging on their classroom walls. These seem to be totally meaningless to them. The map on the wall proclaims a world which is vast and limitless but the world of these children is limited to the slum. The pictures of Shakespeare, valleys, buildings, domes, etc. have no meaning for these slum children. All these are out of context for them.

In the last stanza, the poet urges the stakeholder, i.e. inspectors, visitors and governors to realise their moral responsibility to these children. They must do something to unshackle these children from the bond of poverty and ensure them equal rights and opportunities. They should get a good education and become a part of the real world where they should be entitled to social equality.

An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum MCQ

  1. What does ‘gusty waves’ imply?

(a) slum children                              (b) energetic children

(c) deceased children                      (d) unhappy children

  1. What are children like in the slums?

 (a) underfed and sickly                 (b) poor but happy

(c) underfed but energetic          (d) happy and playful

  1. Identify the literary device in ‘like roofless weeds’.

 (a) simile                                             (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                                    (d) personification

  1. why are children compared to rootless weeds?

(a) they have no home                  (b) they are unwanted like weeds

(c) they are thrown into schools (d) they are sturdy like weeds

  1. Identify the literary device in `rat’s eyes’.

(a) simile                              (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                    (d) personification

  1. One of the following phrases implies unhealthy children. It is

 (a) one unnoted                              (b) eyes live in a dream

(c) a paper seeming boy                               (d) from gusty waves

  1. Identify the literary device in ‘father’s gnarled disease’.

(a) simile                                              (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                                    (d) personification

  1. ‘The tall girl with her head weighed down’ means

(a) the girl is ashamed of something (b) has untidy hair

(c) is ill and exhausted                       (d) is shy

  1. The paper-seeming boy with rat’s eyes’ means the boy is

(a) sly and secretive                        (b) short and lean

(c) hungry and thin                          (d) sad and depressed

  1. ‘The stunted unlucky heir of twisted bones’ means the boy

(a) is short and bony                       (b) is poor and unlucky

(c) is sad and unwell                       (d) has an inherited disability

  1. The colour of sour cream is

 (a) white                                             (b) yellow

(c) off-white                                      (d) pale

  1. What are the classrooms like?

(a) dim and pathetic                       (b) temples of learning

 (c) means of escape                      (d) a happy place

  1. Who sits at the back of the class?

(a) a sweet and young pupil        (b) a paper seeming boy

 (c) a tall girl                                        (d) a girl with hair like rootless weeds

  1. His eyes live in a dream. What is the dream?

 (a) to eat good food                      (b) to be a squirrel

(c) to go out into the world          (d) to see Tyrolese Valley

  1. ‘On sour cream walls. Donations’ suggests

(a) schools are well equipped

(b) schools are small but they try to impart education

(c) schools have a poor and ill-equipped environment

(d) schools meet the education requirements of the children through donations

  1. Which of the following words imply a bleak future?

 (a) sour cream walls                       (b) awarding the world its world

(c) future’s painted with a fog    (d) Shakespeare’s head

  1. What is the stunted boy reciting?

 (a) the lesson from his desk                       (b) Shakespeare’s poetry

(c) leaves of nature                                         (d) his composition

  1. The classroom walls have

 (a) pictures of Shakespeare, buildings with domes, world maps and beautiful valleys

(b) pictures of Shakespeare, rivers, valleys and world maps

(c) pictures of Shakespeare and Wordsworth, rivers buildings and world maps

(d) pictures of Shakespeare, buildings, rivers, mountains and valleys

  1. What does the map represent?

(a) world of the rich and powerful            (b) world of the poor

 (c) world of the slum school children      (d) world the poet wants for the slum children

  1. What is the future of the children?

(a) happy and secure                                     (b) poor but satisfied

(c) uncertain and bleak                                  (d) unhappy but secure

  1. Shakespeare is wicked because he the children.

(a) educates                                                       (b) tempts

(c) loves                                                               (d) hates

  1. The night is endless as there is no for them.

(a) future                                                            (b) education

(c) wealth                                                            (d) support

  1. Identify the literary device in ‘future’s painted with a fog’.

 (a) simile                                                             (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                                                    (d) personification

  1. The lives of slum children are confined in

(a) elementary school                    (b) Shakespeare’s world

(c) narrow streets of slums          (d) Tyrolese Valley

  1. The map is a bad example as it makes one aware of

  (a) the beautiful world                                (b) cleaner lanes

(c) the political structure               (d) the civil design

  1. They are symbolic of the joy, and the brightness of life which these children are deprived of

 (a) elementary school                   (b) visitors

(c) ships, sun and love                   (d) lead sky

  1. Where do their lives ‘slyly turn’?

 (a) in their cramped holes           (b) towards the sun

(c) towards the school                   (d) towards the windows

  1. Choose the phrase that talks of poverty

(a) ships and sun                              (b) on their slag heap

(c) so blot their map                       (d) Shakespeare is wicked

  1. The last stanza is unlike the rest of the poem.

(a) long                                 (b) short

(c) optimistic                      (d) pessimistic

  1. Identify the literary device in ‘lead sky’.

(a) simile                              (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                    (d) personification

  1. Identify the literary device in ‘spectacles of steel’.

 (a) simile                             (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                    (d) personification

  1. Who spells hope for the slum children?

(a) school                                                            (b) Shakespeare

 (c) governor, inspector and visitor           (d) no one

  1. The imprisoned minds and lives of the slum children can be released from their bondage if they are given an experience of the outer world.

 (a) never                            (b) soon

 (c) eventually                   (d) magically

34, Identify the literary device in ‘like catacombs’.

 (a) simile                             (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                    (d) personification

  1. ‘Break O break’. What should they break?

 (a) the donations            (b) all bathers

(c) the slums                      (d) the schools

  1. Their world will extend to the golden sands as well as the green fields

 (a) azure waves                               (b) cities

(c) civilized world             (d) the rich people

  1. Identify the literary device in ‘whose language is the sun’.

 (a) simile                             (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                    (d) personification

  1. The word catacombs imply of the slum children.

(a) diseased existence                   (b) secure

(c) near death existence               (d) poverty ridden

  1. Identify the literary device in ‘slums as big as doom’.

 (a) simile                                             (b) metaphor

(c) alliteration                                    (d) personification

  1. Through the description of the slum children, the poet wants to express the prevailing in society

 (a) social injustice and class inequalities (b) poverty

(c) disease                                                          (d) slums


1(b) energetic children

2. (a) underfed and sickly

3.(a) simile                             

4. (b) they are unwanted like weeds

5.(b) metaphor

6. (c) a paper seeming boy

7.(b) metaphor     

8. (c) is ill and exhausted

9.(c) hungry and thin

10. (d) has an inherited disability

11.(c) off-white

12. (a) dim and pathetic

13.(a) a sweet and young pupil

14. (c) to go out into the world

 15.(c) schools have a poor and ill-equipped environment

16.(c) future’s painted with a fog

17. (a) the lesson from his desk

18. (a) pictures of Shakespeare, buildings with domes, world maps and beautiful valleys

19.(a) World of the rich and powerful

20. (c) uncertain and bleak

21.(b) tempts

22. (a) future

23. (b) metaphor

24.(c) narrow streets of slums

25.(a) the beautiful world

26. (c) ships, sun and love

27.(a) in their cramped holes

28. (b) on their slag heap

29.(c) optimistic

30. (b) metaphor

31.(b) metaphor                      

32. (c) governor, inspector and visitor

33.(d) magically

34. (a) simile

35.(b) all barriers

36. (a) azure waves

37.(b) metaphor     

38. (c) near death existence

39.(a) simile

40.(a) social injustice and class inequalities

An Elementary School Classroom in A Slum Extract Based Questions

1. Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces

 like rootless weeds, the hair was torn around their pallor:

The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-

Seeming boy, with rat’s eyes.

(a)Which children are referred to here?

Ans. The slum children who are sitting in an elementary school are referred to here.

 (b) Explain ‘like rootless weeds’. Identify the literary device.

Ans. Rootless weeds suggest growth devoid of any nurturing. The slum children’s scattered hair look like the haphazard growth of weeds. The literary device is a simile.

 (c) What is the comparison drawn with rat’s eyes?

 Ans. Rat’s eyes suggest eyes searching for food. The poet compares the boy’s eyes with that of a rat because the undernourished boy looks around as if searching for food, security or acceptance.

  1. ….. The stunted, unlucky heir

of  twisted bones, reciting a father’s gnarled disease,

 His lessons from his desk. At the back of the dim class

One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,

Of Squirrel’s game, in the tree room, other than this.

(a)Who is the unlucky heir? Why is he called unluckily?

Ans. The thin slum boy is the unlucky heir. He is so called because he has inherited poverty, despair and disease from his parents.

 (b) Who sits back unnoted? Why?

Ans. A young boy sits at the back. He is different from the others. His eyes like the others in his class are not full of despair but are lost in a world of dreams.

(c) Pick two images each of despair and disease from these lines.

 Ans. The images of despair are, ‘unlucky heir’, ‘dim class’, and that of disease are, ‘twisted bones, gnarled disease’.

  1. On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head,

 Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.

 Belled, flowery, Tyrolese Valley. Open-handed map

 Awarding the world its world.

 (a) What is the colour of the walls? What is it symbolic of?

Ans. The colour of the walls is pale yellow or sour cream. Sour suggests a colour that is dull, decaying and depressing.

(b) Which two words does the poet hint at?

 Ans.The poet hints at two worlds. The world of poverty and disease contrasted with the progressive world represented in the pictures on the walls.

(c) What does ‘donations’, ‘Shakespeare’s head’ and ‘Tyrolese Valley’ suggest?

Ans. The pictures are all donations which represent a world that the slum children are deprived of. Shakespeare’s head or good literature may raise desire which can never be fulfilled. Tyrolese Valley suggests natural beauty which is out of reach of these children.

  1. …And yet, for these

 children, these windows, not this map, their world,

Where all their future’s painted with a fog,

 A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky

Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

(a)What is ‘their world’ for these children?

 Ans. Their world is the slums which are characterized by poverty and disease.

 (b) What future is in store for these children?

 Ans. The future for these children is uncertain, bleak and foggy.

 (c) What does ‘lead sky’ symbolize?

 Ans. Lead sky symbolizes pollution and the burden of the industrial world. It also represents a grey and dull existence which comprises the life of the slum children.

  1. Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, the map a bad example

with ships and sun and love tempting them to steal-

For lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes

From fog to endless night?

 (a)Why is Shakespeare wicked?

 Ans. Shakespeare represents good literature which uplifts a person’s soul. According to the narrator, he is wicked because he describes a world of kings and noblemen which the children of the slums aspire for but can never reach.

(b) What tempts these children?

Ans. The beautiful world of kings, noblemen, ships, the sun and love tempts these children as they are deprived of these things.

(c) Explain ‘From fog to endless night’.

 Ans. The children in the slums struggle from morning to night merely to exist. It also means that they struggle from the beginning of their life to their death i.e. their life is one of endless struggle and darkness

  1. Break O break open till they break the town

 and show the children to green fields, and

 Run azure on gold sands make their world

History theirs whose language is the sun.

(a) What should they break?

Ans. They should break all barriers and obstructions that hinder the school children’s growth.

(b) What kind of a world does the poet imagine for these children?

Ans. The poet imagines a world where these children run around in the fields on sea beaches in a carefree manner. They should also enjoy the freedom of knowledge and expression.

(c) What does the word ‘sun’ symbolize?

 Ans.Sun’ symbolizes light and brightness which comes with education. Proper education alone can improve the lives of these slum children.

  1. Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces, [Delhi 2017]

 Like rootless weeds, the hair was torn around their pallor;

The tall girl with her weighed-down head.

(a)Who are these children?

 Ans. These are the children studying in an elementary school classroom in a slum.

(b) Which figure of speech has been used in the first two lines?

Ans. The figure of speech is used in the phrase ‘Like rootless weeds’. It is a simile.

(c) Why is the tall girl’s head weighed down?

 Ans. The tall girl’s head is possibly weighed down by the burdens of her life which have robbed her of her confidence.

(d) What does the word ‘pallor’ mean?

Ans.`Pallor’ refers to the pale and sickly complexion of the children.

  1. At the back of the dim class [All India 2017]

One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,

 Of squirrel’s game, in the tree room, other than this.

  • Why is the class dim?

 Ans. The class lacks light and electricity. It is a symbol of dullness and the drudgery of the slum.

  • How is the young child different from others?

Ans. The child is sweet and lost in his dreams. He has hope in his eyes of escaping from the grim reality of the slum. He is positive.

  • What is he doing?

 Ans. He is dreaming of a beautiful world and the game of squirrels.

  • What is a tree room?

 Ans. The tree room can be a squirrel hole or a dwelling place in a tree which excites his imagination.

An Elementary School Classroom In A Slum Short Questions and Answers

1. What is the theme of the poem ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a slum’?

 Ans In the poem, Spender depicts the pathetic life of slum children who are victims of government apathy. He presents social injustice and class inequalities that prevail in society. The poem is a bitter criticism of the state of education in elementary schools in slum areas.

2. What picture of the slum children is depicted in the poem?

Ans. The slum children in an elementary school look pathetic. Their hair is like wild weeds. They are undernourished and diseased. They are used to dark, dirty, narrow cramped areas and a polluted grey sky. They have no hope of any change in their future.

3. What do slum children receive an inheritance?

 Ans. The children inherit their parents’ poverty and disease. A boy has twisted bones like his father. The slum children, like the paper-seeming boy, inherit the disease. They are also subjected to inhuman, dirty, cramped conditions with no sun or greenery.

4. Explain ‘far from gusty waves’.

Ans. `Gusty waves’ represents energetic children who are like strong waves. The slum children are unlike the rich children. They are undernourished and miserable.

5. What is the comparison drawn with squirrel’s game?

 Ans. This is suggestive of the world of dreams the sweet and young boy lives in. He dreams of squirrel’s game in trees away from his gloomy classroom.

6. Explain ‘like bottle bits on stones’.

Ans. This simile describes the shattered glasses of the spectacles some slum children have to wear. It looks like the bits of glass on stone walls. It highlights the poverty and hardships of people in slums and the fact that they cannot afford spectacles.

7. In spite of despair and disease, the slum children are not devoid of hope. Give an example of their hope or dreams.

 Ans. Even though the world of the slum children is dark and their future bleak, there are a few unnoted children, probably backbenchers who dream of a better future which is distant and beyond their reach. They dream of open seas, green fields and squirrel’s game.

8. Explain ‘future’s painted with a fog’.

Ans. This refers to the future of the slum children which according to the narrator is uncertain and bleak. Just as fog blurs one’s view in winter, poverty and apathy of the officials and those in power have dimmed the future of the slum children.

9. How is ‘map’ a bad example?

Ans. The map opens before the slum children a beautiful world. The map is a bad example because it tempts them to aspire for a world which is beyond their reach. Their world is confined to the dark narrow lanes in the slums.

10. Bring out the optimism in the last stanza.

Ans. The narrator feels education is the instrument of change which can release the slum children from the miserable lives they lead. He appeals to the officials to become sensitive to the needs of these children so that the bathers that hinder their growth can be broken.

11. How can powerful people improve a lot of slum children?

 Ans. Powerful people can liberate slum children by removing social injustice and class inequalities. They must provide opportunities to these children so that their child does not get lost in the dreary ‘foggy’ slums.

12. Explain ‘history is theirs whose language is the sun’.

 Ans. This line means that these children can create history when their language is like the sun. Through this metaphor, Spender feels that only those people who have courage can leave their mark. To create history, their language must have the power, brightness and warmth of the sun.

13.To whom is does the poet in the poem ‘An Elementary School Class m in a Slum” make an appeal? what is his appeal?                                                                                                                                

Ans. The poet appeals to the inspectors, visitors and governors to improve a lot of the slum children by providing them with a quality life and quality education.

14. Which words phrases in the poem show that slum children are suffering from acute malnutrition?

Ans.‘Stunted’, ‘twisted bones ‘paper-seeming boy’, ‘skin peeped through my bones’, etc. are some of the words/phrases that show the conditions of acute malnutrition of the slum Children.

15. What changes does the poet hope for in the lives of slum children? [Foreign 2014)

Ass. The poet hopes that these children will get rid of their poverty and will be nourished properly. The doors of the world will be thrown open to them. They will get a quality education and quality life.

16.  What message does Stephen Spender convey through his poem ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’?

Ans. Through this poem, Stephen Spender wants to convey the idea of social injustice and class inequality. Expressing his concern at the plight of the slum Children, he appeals to the governors, visitors and inspectors to provide equal opportunities for education to these children.

17. What is the theme of the poem?                                                         

Ans. The poem deals with social injustice and class inequality. The poet highlights the lack of political will on the part of the authorities and indifference on the part of society that compels these children to live a life of poverty and hunger. They are deprived of their basic rights.

18. How does the poet describe the classroom walls? What do they symbolize?


 What do you think is the colour of ‘sour cream’? Why do you think the poet has used this expression to describe the classroom walls?                                                                                                                 

Ans. The classroom walls are painted in a dull creamy colour which symbolizes the bleak future of the slum children who study these. They are deprived of quality education.

19. How is the world depicted on the classroom walls different from the world of slum children?


The walls of the classroom are decorated with the pictures of ‘Shakespeare’, ‘buildings with domes’, ‘World maps’ and beautiful valleys. How do these contrast with the world of these children? [NCERT]

Ans. The walls of the classroom depict pictures of Shakespeare, sky-high buildings, maps and valleys of flowers. The world of slum children is a real contrast to this. These children live in an environment of Poverty, hunger, scarcity and disease. Here the children live in a pathetic condition in contrast to the Prosperous and developing world as depicted on the classroom walls.

20. What does the poet want for children of the slums? How can their lives be made to change?

Ans. Stephen Spender wants a quality life with equal opportunities for slum children to learn and earn.

21. What does the world of the slum children consist of?

Ans. The world of the slum children consists of dark classrooms and narrow lanes. Their world is full of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and disease. It is confined to grey and black colours.

22. What, according to the poet, is the only hope for the slum children?

Ans. According to the poet, the only hope for these children lies in the hands of inspector, visitors and governors. They should take immediate action to provide them with equal opportunities for education so that they can move out of their slums and be part of the real world.

23. How is ‘Shakespeare wicked and the map a bad example’ for the children of the school in a slum?

Ans. The lives of slum children are far removed from what is displayed on the walls. Shakespeare represents literature and the map shows the foreign land with beautiful landscapes. This civilized world is meaningless for them and will tempt them to take the wrong path.

24. What does Stephen Spender want to do for the child of the school in a slum?

Ans. Stephen Spender wants their lot to improve. He wants education for the slum children which will broaden their horizons, liberate them truly and empower them to create their own history. He wants them to get rid of their dismal lives.

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