Modes of Identification and Delimitation in Philip Larkin`s Poems "Mr. Bleaney" and "Dockery and Son"

Seminar Paper, 2000

11 Pages, Grade: 1- (A-)



1. Introduction

2. A short analysis of the two respective poems
2.1. Modes of Identification in Mr. Bleaney
2.2. Modes of Identification in Dockery and Son

3. Comparison
3.1. Solitude and Sociability
3.2. Choice and Fate

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Like many of Philip Larkin`s poems, Mr. Bleaney and Dockery and Son present a rather depressing view of life and its meaning. By means of comparing themselves to other characters, the poems` respective speakers willingly or unwillingly tell us something about their own lives. Both poems deal with such opposing themes as solitude and sociability, choice and fate.

The paper at hand will try to present similarities and differences between the two poems. Special emphasis will be put on the reasons for the speakers` identification with Mr. Bleaney and Dockery. Accordingly, the first step will be to give a sketch of the poems` content and communicative situation. After an introduction to the two poems, the way different essential themes are presented in the poems will be compared.

2. A short analysis of the two respective poems

2.1. Modes of Identification in Mr. Bleaney

As already suggested by its title, Mr. Bleaney at first glance seems to deal with the confrontation with another person` s life. The poem`s speaker describes the appearance of his newly rented room and what he knows about its former tenant, Mr. Bleaney. However, the first thing we learn about Mr. Bleaney is not uttered through the speaker`s voice but through the voice of the landlady, who presents him Bleaney`s room. Consequently, “competing presences”1 in the poem come to quite different conclusions about how to judge Bleaney and his way of life.

The speaker`s attention rests on the room`s barrenness, on its “miserable and inadequate” surroundings.2 Thus, the room is portrayed through its “flowered curtains, thin and frayed” and its “fusty bed” and the only things that can be seen through the room` s window are “a strip of building land” and “tussocky, littered”.3 This view sketches a place that seems to be far from hope and an atmosphere of decay and death is created. Actually, the description of the room as a “hired box” (Bleaney) evokes the idea of a coffin and emphasises Bleaney`s imagined “death-in-life”.4

Although the speaker sees all these disadvantages, he nevertheless rents the room. Unconsciously he starts to identify with Mr. Bleaney and thus there seems to be no choice left. This identification with Mr. Bleaney can be called unconscious, as the speaker establishes his “contemptuous tone of voice” throughout the poem in order to “draw[ing] a distinction between himself “ and the former tenant.5 But in the last two stanzas the two characters actually start to blend as it becomes obvious that he attributes his own feelings to Bleaney.6 The watching of the “frigid wind/tousling the clouds” (Bleaney) surely must be an immediate experience of the speaker. And as we cannot necessarily assume that Bleaney had the same thoughts as the poem`s speaker, it is suggested that he uses Bleaney`s voice in order to be able to say something about his own self.

This idea is supported by the things the landlady tells about Mr. Bleaney. Her description offers a view of Bleaney which is quite different from the one her new tenant imagines.7 While the speaker might criticize the “yearly frame” (Bleaney) of Bleaney`s schemed, regulated life, the landlady seems to be quite fond of the way Bleaney “took/[her] bit of garden properly in hand” (Bleaney). It is possible to say that Bleaney was not only favoured by the landlady but in general had a functioning social life, indicated by his “four aways” (Bleaney), although this might as well be interpreted as a hint to his being “degradingly dependent upon the hospitality of others”.8 Some critics have argued that the speaker is actually “less equipped to cope with life than Bleaney is”, because he is “thinking too hard on his surroundings”.9 At least Bleaney seems to have been able to take stock of what he wanted (e.g. telling the landlady his preference for sauce to gravy, getting her to buy a television set), whereas the speaker remains completely passive. The greatest contrast between the two of them seems to be the fact that the poem`s speaker is an intellectual, who is instantly remarking the lack of “room for books” (Bleaney) in Bleaney`s apartment. He thinks a lot about what is important in our lives – and one might argue that he comes to the conclusion that a person`s value is measured by his materialistic powers10 – yet is not able to change is unhappiness with his life by acting differently.

In contrast to this, Mr. Bleaney does not seem to have doubted his life but rather to have accepted it the way it was. One might come to the pessimistic conclusion that “happiness consists in being dull”11 but one might just as well say that Bleaney was wise enough to make most of his life or at least to accept life`s injustices in a fatalistic, humble kind of way.

What makes it hard to decide how to judge Bleaney is the fact that the reader gets only second-hand information about him. The speaker just uses him as a foil to transport the dissatisfaction with his own life and so his statements about Bleaney are strongly biased. The speaker`s exhausted “I don`t know” (Bleaney) at the end of the poem illustrates this dilemma. He will never know for sure whether Bleaney hated his life as much as he does. That is why complete identification between Bleaney and the speaker has to fail at the end of the poem. The speaker`s last utterance “is both an admission of failure and a triumph of self- preservation”, as it becomes obvious that in a certain sense he sees himself as a failure yet cannot be sure that Mr. Bleaney thought of himself in the same way.12


1 Andrew Swarbrick, Out of Reach, The Poetry of Philip Larkin (Basingstoke, 1995), p. 98.

2 David Timms, Philip Larkin (Edinburgh, 1973), p. 97.

3 Philip Larkin, “Mr. Bleaney”, in: The Whitsun Weddings (London, 1964), p. 10. Abbreviation: Bleaney.

4 Timms, p. 98.

5 Lolette Kuby, An Uncommon Poet for the Common Man, A Study of Philip Larkin`s Poetry (The Hague, 1974), p. 98.

6 Ibid., p. 98.

7 Ibid. , p. 98.

8 Ibid. , p. 98.

9 Timms, p. 97.

10 Kuby, p. 99.

11 Timms, p. 98.

12 Swarbrick, p. 98.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Modes of Identification and Delimitation in Philip Larkin`s Poems "Mr. Bleaney" and "Dockery and Son"
Ruhr-University of Bochum
1- (A-)
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ISBN (eBook)
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Modes, Identification, Delimitation, Philip, Larkin`s, Poems, Bleaney, Dockery
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Florian Pottmeyer (Author), 2000, Modes of Identification and Delimitation in Philip Larkin`s Poems "Mr. Bleaney" and "Dockery and Son", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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