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Norman McCaig’s Brooklyn Cop is a poem that explores the theme of violence which is a theme that has the potential to affect us all. This theme is explored by McCaig, by writing about a cop in Brooklyn and the daily dangers that he faces.
The poem is about a cop who works in Brooklyn, New York, which is renowned for being a rather violent society, thus making the job of being a cop there even tougher than being a cop anywhere else. The fact that every working day is a life threatening situation for him is affluent throughout the poem, as is the fierce, tough and unyielding characteristics of this Brooklyn Cop, all of which are necessities in order for him to be able to fulfil his duties.
The physical description of the cop leaves the reader in no doubt as to his aggressive appearance. McCaig uses the simile in the first line of the cop being “built like gorilla.” This immediately allows the reader to have the image of the cop being huge and very intimidating, which is again, a necessary feature for a man with such a job. The images of him having the necessary qualities for his dangerous job, are continued when his skin is described as being “thick fleshes, steak coloured”. This gives the reader the image of him being a stereotypical red faced person, someone who is angered easily and has a short temper. Again the features of being unforgiving and volatile are included in those that would be required for his job, when dealing with the kind of criminals he has to on a daily basis.
The cop’s eyes are cleverly described as being “two hieroglyphs….that mean trouble”. This metaphor implies that the cop is very difficult to understand and is someone who cannot be read easily. Again this is a key feature for the cop as it gives him a distinct advantage over his criminal opponents when facing them in one to one situations. The fact they “mean trouble” also shows him to be intimidating and imply that the very glare of his eyes would be enough to strike fear into the hardest of criminals.
In keeping with the cop’s appearance, his job, by its very nature, is a potentially violent one. He risks his life on a daily basis and this is apparent from his words to his wife. Before leaving for work he tells her “see you babe” it is then said that “he hoped it, he truly hoped it.” This repetition of ‘hoped it’ places emphasis on the fact that he really did hope it because he was more than well aware that he could be killed at work and such a scenario was not unlikely. He really did hope that he would make it through another day in the violent society he policed, and once again get to see his wife.
The phrase “hiya honey” is something that many American men would say on such a regular basis to their wives and girlfriends that it had become a clich and was said out of habit. However with the Brooklyn Cop in question, this was not the case as when he said it to his wife, he was truly delighted that he had managed to do so, as it meant that he had survived another extremely dangerous day whilst trying to stamp out some of the violence within his patrol.
We are told that the cop “walks the sidewalk and the thin tissue over violence.” The metaphor of describing the civilised society as being a thin tissue over violence implies that there is violent society ‘underneath’ or within all civilised societies and this violence is so close to us that the civilisation and violence are merely separated by a “thin tissue”. Thus the reader is being made aware of the violence that co-exists with all civilisations. This metaphor is particularly effective as the word “tissue” has connotations of something that is easily broken and as the violence is described as being ‘underneath’ this ’tissue’ the implication is that anyone can fall through into this violent society, whether they are victims or perpetrators of violence, it has the potential to affect us all.
The use of extended metaphor in verse two serves to emphasise the fragility of keeping this peace. The potential of becoming affected by the violence is brought in again when McCaig talks of the “tissue tear” which relates to the cop breaking through this thin fragile tissue, when a violent situation erupts and he is suddenly called into a potentially very dangerous situation in order to be the peace keeper. His fall through this tissue is described as a “plunge” which has the connotations of no hesitance from the cop into the new and unknown dangers that lie beneath this tissue between civilisation and a violent society. The fact that he has no hesitations shows that he knows what he has to do in order to carry out his job of eliminating violence from society, which is though an endless task.
Various places on the cop’s beat are mentioned and these include “Phoebe’s, Whamburger and Louie’s Place.” All of these places are used by McCaig to establish setting as they are all very typically American names, which is of course where this violent underworld is being portrayed. The use of wham in Whamburger is an example of onomatopoeia being used to add effect as it gives the effect of violence being committed as it is the sound that may be made when someone or something is struck by someone in a violently motivated way. This is keeping in line with the theme of the poem and is another way for McCaig to emphasise that violence is surrounding civilised society. The repetition of “what” before both “clubbing” and “gunshots” helps emphasise the strength and vastness of both of these violent acts thus once again relating to the theme of violence being so prominent within society.
The first two verses have described the cop himself, his attitude, his beat and the daily dangers he faces. In the third verse McCaig shows that he feels pity for the cop as he has such a dangerous job, but one that is so dearly valued by modern day society. McCaig evokes sympathy for the cop as he asks “who would be him” as it is a job, in the eyes of McCaig, that very few people would want to do but is necessary for the functioning of society as it is known. It is clear that his pity is not sentimental as he maintains the metaphor of the cop being like a gorilla, thus making him still the same intimidating and ruthless human being.
McCaig tells of how the cops job is daily a life threatening situation when he says is home is somewhere “he might, this time, never get back to.” The fact that he says ‘this time’ and he puts it in parenthesis, makes the reader pause and dwell on the significance of ‘this time’. It does of course relate to the fact that every day there is a chance he may not return and as each day comes there is always this grim possibility for him and his loved ones, to have to be aware of. McCaig is implying that the fact he has made it home every other times means nothing towards the hope that he will return home safely this time, or any other time in the future.
In the final verse, though, McCaig invites the reader to consider the problems face by the cops “victims”. The word “victim” implies that the person in question is someone who has felt the wrath of someone else to an extent that they have been unfairly treated and it is surprising that McCaig describes these criminals, wrong doers, as people who have been unfairly treated. McCaig sees these people as “victims” because the cop is so strong and gorilla like that he has such an advantage over the criminals that have literally no chance when facing him. He will get his way.
McCaig describes the “victims” as “those who have to be” thus implying that there always will be criminals in society and no matter what someone has to fill this role in the never ending circle of violence. I saw this as McCaig having a cynical view of the society he knew, as his implication is that no matter what any cops do, no matter how good a cop, there will be violence, possibly in his views, due to the way that society as we know it functions.
In conclusion McCaig’s poem Brooklyn Cop paints a picture of a violent man doing a violent job in a violent area. While it may not be possible to like or approve of the cop , I feel that the poet shows that he understands the circumstances that the cop faces, and seems to suggest that there is no escape from the self perpetuating problem of violence.
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