Read the extracts given below and answer the questions that follow.
Question 1 : Who are the people referred to in the above extract? Why do they need logs?
Answer : The poet has referred here not a group but six humans who are caught by chance in bitter cold, facing unfavourable climatic conditions. The people need logs to keep the fire burning and keep them warm but unfortunately none of them uses his log and saves himself from death.
Question 2 : Explain the expression ‘bleak and bitter’ cold.
Answer : The adjectives bleak and bitter perhaps set the dangerous outcome of their actions in the end. Bleak itself suggests a state of helplessness. It was acute cold and fire was badly needed to fight with the extreme cold. These words also suggest to the decaying moral values due to which people are unwilling to act unselfishly.
Question 3 : ‘Each of them possesses a stick of wood’. What does this expression suggest here?
Answer : This phrase is both literary and symbolic. Literally, it means that the object i.e. peace of wood held by each one of them is helpful in keeping the fire burning. It can save their lives. Symbolically, it means some traits which are deep rooted in an individual. As they possess them, it is difficult to change them on the spur of moment.
Question 4 : ‘So the story is told’. Do you think the poem is based on a story or is it poet’s own creation?
Answer : As indicated by the last line, the poem may be based on a story that the poet might have heard. The poet’s intention may be to express the main context of the story in the poetic form and express his pain through this poem.
Question 5 : Do you think we can relate this poem in the present context also?
Answer : Yes, this poem is for all times. Human nature remains the same whether it is 18th century or 21st century . In today’s scenario people are lacking human feelings and warmth of relations is missing. Indifference, cold attitude, prejudices all are destroying the fabric of compassion and caring for one another.
Question 1 : Explain the significance of phrase ‘Their dying Fire’.
Answer : The dying fire literally means the fire which is burning to reduce the effect of bitter cold. The fire need more fuel or wood to keep it burning. The symbolical meaning of dying fire implies the reducing of basic spirit of compassion and warmth in the hearts of people.
The word ‘dying’ suggests the sorry state of social relationship in present world where it is decreasing rapidly.
Question 2 : What does the first one hold black and why?
Answer : The first-one perhaps is a white lady who holds back her log because she is guided by her racist attitude towards the black skinned person. She prefers not to use her log of wood as she never wants the black man to get the warmth in burning her log of wood. She herself prefers to suffer from cold.
Question 3 : What does the word ‘Logs’ imply here?
Answer : The word ‘Logs’ here refers to the negative attitudes or prejudices of people who are present there. They are so obsessed with their prejudices that they forget that their basic survival is at risk if they do not use their log. Still due to malice , jealousy and prejudices, they refrain themselves from using the logs to save their own life.
Question 4 : What kind of discrimination is referred to here in this stanza?
Answer : Here, the white woman refuses to use her log of wood so that its warmth does not benefit the black person who is there in this gathering of six people. This kind of attitude is called racial discrimination in which the people maltreat others on the basis of their colour or caste. It is a foolish attitude and people should rise above such petty attitudes.
Question 5 : Is this discriminatory attitude good for humanity at large?
Answer : Not at all, it is high time we all must absorb the basic spirit of humanity, rise above petty racial attitude and help each other in the time of crisis. If this set of six people had helped each other instead of being driven by their prejudices, they would have survived the bitter cold and death. The influence, hatred and discrimination brought their doom.
Question 1 : What character traits would you associate with this second character?
Answer : The person mentioned in this stanza duffers from religious prejudice. Usually no religion teaches a man to differentiate people on the basis of religious practice they follow. But, here we see a man intolerant of the other who is not from the same church. It prevents him from offering his log of wood to fire so that it may not benefit the man who belongs to other church, than his.
Question 2 : What feeling prevents this next man to offer his log of wood?
Answer : The next man sees a man who does not belong to his church. Inspite of severe cold, his religious beliefs prevents him from sharing the log of wood. Each religion is based on highest principles and ideals but the way it has been absorbed by people leads to such an action. Here, the role of people who teach or preach religion should be such as not to inculcate the feeling of hatred for the people of other place or caste.
Question 3 : Explain ‘Could not bring himself to give.’
Answer : Through these words the poet wants to clear before us that inspite of the need of the time, this man is insensitive to others due to his religious practices. It is really shocking as no religion preaches intolerance, still people behave the way this man does. As a result he brings his own doom as well as doom for others.
Question 4 : What type of people are needed in today’s world?
Answer : As the world has shrunk globally and no country or individual can survive in insolation, we need tolerant people who do not get carried away by prejudices and ill-feeling for people belonging to other religions or creed.
Question 5 : Do you think religious differences lead to intolerance?
Answer : I don’t think any religion teaches intolerance for others who are from other religions or from other church. It is basic meanness or insensitive nature of man which prompts not to help others who are not following his religion. This problem has prevailed due to lack of understanding , the basic teachings of any religion.
Question 1 : What is meant by tattered clothes? Why does this third man give his coat a hitch?
Answer : The word ‘tattered’ means torn clothes as the man is too poor to buy new clothes for himself. This shows that the man who is wearing such clothes is really poor and does not have enough money to afford new warm clothes. This man gives a hitch or jerk (sudden movement) to his coat to protect himself from biting cold and feel warm.
Question 2 : The poor man does not want to use his piece of log of wood to warm the rich. Why?
Answer : The third man is a poor man. He might be jealous of this rich man or he is prejudiced against all rich man feeling that due to these rich people there is no equal distribution of money. We may call it economic prejudice which fills a poor man with hatred and jealousy for the rich man.
Question 3 : Why does the poet use the expression ‘idle rich’?
Answer : The poor generally think that rich people become richer as their money multiplies even when they do not work hard. For them the poor man uses the term ‘idle’. This is a wrong attitude as people do not become rich over night. They must have worked hard to acquire that wealth.
Question 4 : What is the attitude of the rich man here? What makes him to sit back and not offer his wood of log?
Answer : The rich man here has his own set of prejudices or thinking. As soon as he observes a poor man among the six people, he thinks of keeping his wealth safe from poor man. He decides not to offer his wood so that poor man may also not get the benefit of warming himself.
Question 5 : Is being materially wealthy is of any use if it can not help the rich to survive in a critical situation?
Answer : In the context of this poem, the rich man is quite prosperous but he is biased towards the poor. Due to his biased opinion, he fails to act and use his wood to save himself from the biting cold. The feeling that others may not be benefitted, rules the rich man, bringing his downfall also. What a petty thinking!
Question 1 : What prejudice does the black man have and for whom?
Answer : The black man has the prejudice for the whites because the whites have been discriminating them for centuries denying their existence as human beings and have made the most of their pitiable condition to prosper themselves.
Question 2 : What must be the motive behind black man’s idea of not using his stick of wood? Who is the real target of his hatred?
Answer : The stanza reveals the hidden feeling of revenge in the mind of the black against the white. It is true that the whites have dominated and tortured the blacks. They have always been insensitive to the respect a human wants whatever colour of skin may be. In this context on that bitter cold night, he gets an opportunity to take revenge and harm the white man by keeping the log to himself.
Question 3 : What does the black man see in his piece of wood? Give an instance from the poem to show that his feelings were some what justified.
Answer : The black man sees a chance to take revenge from the white man by not sharing his log to the fire. Though he knows that by not offering his log he too may die. He cannot get rid of the feelings of revenge. Unlike the other people, he steps back from offering his log on the ground of maltreatment and atrocities done against them by the whites that may justify his feelings of revenge to some extent because with the death of the white man his vices too die which is a positive sign for mankind.
Question 4 : What would have been the best way for the white and black men in this situation presented by the poet in this poem?
Answer : The best way for both would have been to forget their hatred and co-operate with each other. If both had forgotten the past and had focussed on the present crisis, they would have been saved. But perhaps prejudices against each other overruled and both lost their lives.
Question 5 : Could you say that deeprooted prejudice block our sense of good or bad. How is it true in the context of the present poem?
Answer : Yes, deep rooted prejudices block any person’s sense of right or wrong. One looses the balance of mind while inflicted with prejudices and all negative thoughts surrounding his thinking.
In the context of the poem each of the six members suffers from deeprooted prejudices which does not allow them to think even about their welfare. They are obsessed with the idea of harming the other person against whom they are prejudices. As a result, no one survives, a clear example of non-cooperation, feeling of brotherhood is totally missing and revenge overrules all good judgement.
Question 1 : Explain the expression ‘forlorn group’.
Answer : The group of six people that the poet mentions here are caught in a bad weather and get cut off from the rest of the world. The chances of their survival depend on their action of keeping the fire alive by using their piece of wood. But these people are not ready to be rid of their prejudices and help each other leaving behind their feeling of hatred and revenge. So, the poet mentions this group as ‘forlorn’ as they never think about others. They are self-centred, prejudiced people unwilling to let go their ill-feelings.
Question 2 : What type of man is the last man? Why doe she not offer his piece of wood to keep alive the dying fire?
Answer : The poet refers to the sixth man as an opportunistic person who will offer any help only when he is going to gain from the situation. Though he does not belong to any ethnic group , he decides to act only when he gets any benefit out of this situation. Since no one else offers his log to renew the fire, he also steps back.
Question 3 : What proof of human sin do we see here?
Answer : All the six people die clutching their log of wood tightly in their hands. They meet their death due to their prejudices , feelings of revenge, insensitive nature and discrimination. They are all insensible people who never think of compassion and welfare of others. It is a proof of human sin that even when their cooperation with each other would help them to survive, they preferred to die, keeping alive their feelings of hatred and differences.
Question 4 : What does the word ‘game’ imply here?
Answer : The word has been used here to suggest the opportunistic behaviour of some prejudiced minds incapable of seeing anything beyond themselves. The man referred to here is a prime example of a person who is not ready of ‘give’ anything, because he does not sense the prospect of any immediate gain for himself. Thus, the connotation of this word is negative.
Question 5 : The poet has tried to give a message through this poem. How does he succeed in carrying out his mission?
Answer : The poem gives us a clear message. We should rise above petty indifferences, racial bias, apathy and religious intolerance. If we keep following these narrow feelings, they can be self-destructive, so it is futile to be so selfish, to be revengeful, to be intolerant. There is need to accept everyone with open arms and warm heart so that life becomes easy for all of us and we can try for a better tomorrow. The poem is a simple yet powerful reminder that if we selfishly hold on to the world’s resources, and the wealth that it has to offer, if we persist in discriminating on grounds of race, religion, caste, gender and ethnicity, we are all lost. We will not get a change to gain to rise and shine.