A literary analysis of the poem "Toads" by Phillip Larkin.
People often use and hear the expression, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” As humans mature from children to adolescents to adults, they quickly discover that life is truly a rat race that one must get caught up in if they expect to enjoy any of life’s pleasures. Phillip Larkin explores the relationship between work and play with an extended analogy in his poem “Toads”.
Throughout his poem, Larkin compares working to a toad in order to show that is boring and rather pointless, just like the animal. In the first stanza, he asks how he can “drive the brute off?” Then he goes on to describe the toad as sickening and poisonous and bemoans the fact that he works six days a week and reaps little reward. Then in his third, fourth, and fifth stanzas he describes the people who are lazier: “losels, loblolly-men, louts.” Though he admits that they are poor, with barefooted children and skinny wives, he sarcastically writes that, “No one actually starves.” These first five stanzas of the poem serve to show the reader precisely how Larkin feels about working. He wishes to remove himself from the rat race and is disgusted that he works so hard for so little, when people who barely work at all are doing alright. His tone is whiny, yet to any reader who can identify with his complaints, all of his points are valid and true. This allows Larkin’s readers to identify with his attitude and begin to compare their own jobs to the toad.
After setting up his initial analogy in the first few stanzas, the writer goes on to explain why he cannot be rid of the toad in his own life. He writes, “Ah, were I courageous enough/To shout Stuff your pension!/But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff/That dreams are made on;” This illustrates Larkin’s desire to throw off the pressure of work, which most readers are able to identify completely with because of the pressures in their own lives. However, Larkin ironically admits that dreams are built on one’s monthly salary and it is not just something you can throw away. In his next stanza, he writes, “For something sufficiently toad-like/Squats in me, too;” He then compares the toad-like being to “hard luck” and cold snow. Larkin recognizes that despite his complaints, he will never get out of the rat race because then all his hopes and dreams for the future would be dashed. Without work, no matter how hated it is, no one would get anywhere.
In his last two stanzas, Larkin admits even further that even his dreams will not be met, but realizes that you have to have work in order to have play. This wraps up the poem nicely for the reader, who will agree with the author in the end because of the realization that there can be no play without work, and that work is something no one truly wants to give up for that reason. Thanks to his extended toad analogy, Larkin effectively demonstrates to his readers that all play and no work would make Jack a dull boy, too. He proves that though few people enjoy their jobs all the time, an healthy balance between work and play is the best direction to take one’s life.
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