Monday, June 27, 2016

Analysis of “The Dining Table” by Gbanabom Hallowell

The Dining Table by Gbanabom Hallowell

Considering the poet’s background, his home country being Sierra Leone and the mention of “guerrillas” and “table” both of which suggest a kind of plateau, which is found in the country, we can deduce that the poem is talking about the Sierra Leonean civil war of 1991-2002.

"The Dining Table" is a revelation of the horror and terror of war, the Sierra Leonean civil war that lasted 11 years and in which brothers massacred brothers in cold blood. Indeed, the poem “The Dining Table” may be looked at as Africa, a place in which “vegetable blood” flows endlessly like the river Nile. Of course, talk about the civil war, as far as the African continent is concerned, is not restricted to Sierra Leone. Also caught up in this “vegetable blood” this “dinner” are Nigeria, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, to mention a few. In fact, the poem, “The Dining Table” is about Africa’s image of carnage, of self-destruction as brought upon herself. The poem is thus fittingly regarded as a reflection on the untold hardships and anti-earth aftermath of war – any kind of war.

Suggested: Read the Analysis of the Poem "Ambush" 

Furthermore, the poem is a situation of war, oppression, destruction and abandonment. In Africa, every civil war fought is a mere attempt to massage the ego of the leaders who are power-drunk, in which case the masses are often oppressed. Because of the stupidity, wickedness and insensitivity of their leaders, the helpless masses thus become one with “desert/tongues”, so dry they feed on leaves – “vegetable” soiled with the blood of their own brothers. 

Here, we also get an idea of cannibalism: “…desert/tongues lick the vegetable blood.” Also, a sense of helplessness, of abandonment is portrayed in the poem where the poet-persona cries that the war zone is “an island where guerrillas/walk the land while crocodiles/surf.” Probably the “crocodiles” is the enemy who is having a field day killing and maiming while the guerrillas who are supposed to fight for the people are themselves helpless. Then the sense of destruction and emptiness would not be complete without referring to the outbreak of dangerous disease – cholera. The poem reads; “cholera breaks its spell on cracked lips.” This is a horrific picture in that it does not only merely talks about the outbreak but it also lets us know that the people are already dying of thirst and hunger before the cholera outbreak worsens the situation. Image of desolation is also presented with the rhetorical question thus: “When the playground/is emptied of children’s toys/who needs roadblocks?”

In this poem, Hallowell details the horrible picture of senseless killing that is the norm in most civil wars fought in Africa, particularly Sierra Leone.


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