Analyzing Karen Press's 'Hope for Refugees' as Social Commentary

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About this sample


Words: 1234 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Feb 13, 2024

Words: 1234|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Feb 13, 2024

This essay will explore Karen Press’s poem “Hope for Refugees”. It will start by providing a brief definition to the refugee concept and highlight contemporary asylum-seeker issues. Then, concepts of place, space, land and landscape will be defined and used as tools. Then, the poem will be critically examined as a social commentary of the issue of refugees.

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The UN Refugee agency defines a refugee as ‘someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence.’[]. An example of international refuges are South Americans trying to enter the USA. More than 20,000 migrants or refugees are kidnapped in NTCA countries. These people are unable to return to their countries because of violence. Additionally, they are unable to find refuge in the US as they will be punished if they cross the border. America currently employs a policy of separating refugee children from their parents. ( Zimbabweans are forced to leave their homes due to the oppressive government and attempt to enter South Africa. Zimbabwean immigrants who have illegally entered are subject to xenophobia and hate. (Guadiana, 2016) []

In order to understand the poem in the light of social commentary, it is crucial to define what is meant by ‘place, space, land and landscape’. ‘Place is a meaningful site that combines location, locale and sense of place’. (book) Location refers to the physical whereabouts of the place. Locale refers to ‘the material setting for social relations’, or how the place looks. Sense of place refers to ‘the feelings and emotions a place evokes.’ (book) Space is simply understood to be an area where one feels alien. But, what begins as indistinguishable space becomes place as we begin to endow it with value”. (book) Land refers to an area within space. Land can translate from space to place. This happens when someone ascribes to it a specific location, emotion, or memory. Landscape is an area that has significance and identifiable characteristics. Land and landscape are tangible expressions of the abstract space and place. (book).

Using these tools, the poem can be analysed. We see an example of place and space in the poem with the words “you can go back” (poem). The poem repeats this theme of “you can go back” (poem). This line provides us with a place, the home of the refugee. This is where their lives began. This line is saying that the refugee can go back to revisit the past, to visit the atrocities that have befallen them. This line encapsulates place. In the first line it is a reference to space. However, as the poem builds, value is added to the space and makes it a place with meaning to the refugees. It thus becomes place, as it is referring to going back to your roots. The author gives us a glimpse, as the poem progresses, as to what that place was and how it existed. “in your heart” and “in the child’s heart” (poem) are two examples of the use of place within the poem because it is a familiar environment to the refugees. However, their homes are in a transition from space to place and vice versa. What was once comfortable to them is now foreign, and they must leave.

Continuing the discussion of space, we can look at the line saying, “remember the step down in the dark, avoid the dark” (poem). This is a clear reference to space. The dark is unfamiliar, it is scary, and it is foreign. These are all characteristics of space and show how the speaker feels strange in the ‘dark’. The speaker is explaining that the ‘dark’ is somewhere where one must not visit, it is a space outside our comfortable realm. A warning is provided in the word, “avoid”. When one avoids something, one stays away from it. The speaker provides this as a warning as it is an empty space void of emotion. Once a person enters that space, there is no hope. The speaker feels no connection between identity and this ‘dark’. The dark is the ‘other’, it is something not part of the speaker.

The word “yard” introduces the concept of land to the poem. However, this world alone is still a general description of a place in space. The yard is not identified with a specific place and is not dear to the speaker. A yard is not specific and can refer to a prison yard as well as a yard at the back of one’s house. However, the poem uses the words “front garden” (poem). This adds more detail to the place and removes it from the domain of space slightly. It provides the poem with the concept of landscape. Landscape is a specific area; a place that can be visualised with something personal and resonates with a sense of familiarity to a person.

From the beginning, the poem provides no punctuation. For example, the poem completely lacks commas and full stops. This is to show that the struggles are endless for refugees. It is an endless tussle that goes on without stopping. Just like the poem has no commas, which indicate breaks and a chance to catch one’s breath, so to the refuges have no time to stop and breath but rather are always on the run.

The lack of capital letters provides the reader with the imagery of untidiness and a dirty approach. This is to resonate with the struggle of the refugee. A refugee is not concerned with the idea of sticking to the rules. Often, a country’s boarder policies restrict the movement of refugees, forcing the asylum-seekers to enter the country illegally. The process of fleeing their home and entering the new space is well described as ‘messy’. Original plans hardly ever work as they were intended to. The refugee is merely concerned with survival and the lack of capitals gives the reader that feeling of scurrying.

The poem starts out with the idea of moving backwards. It is the idea of returning and revisiting the past. In stanza two, this idea of “going back” (poem), becomes more vivid and more raw. “wipe off the blood” (poem), and “scrub off the blood” (poem), encapsulates that idea of more vivid and more raw. It is poetic repetition that plants that raw, real idea in the reader’s head. It is more real now that the person is facing his/her issues.

The idea for the future, the idea for hope come in lateron in the poem “plant seeds” (poem), taking what was, understanding the atrocities that were faced, the horrors that you saw and accepting it. Let what happened to you, flow through you and not become you. “plant seeds” refers to the idea of growth. It means growing from your past to build a better future as well as have babies plant your seeds and let them live happy lives and multiply, making what refugese fought for worth if because their children get to reep the benafits. The idea is emphasized by saying “lock the door” (poem),. This means lock the door on the past, accept that it happened and leave it behind don’t look back but rather move on.

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“work hard and give thanks to god”. (poem), You, the refugee are still here. God has a plan for you. And that plan is not to dwell on the past but see this as an opportunity to grow, to become who you were meant to be.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Analyzing Karen Press’s ‘Hope for Refugees’ as Social Commentary. (2024, February 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
“Analyzing Karen Press’s ‘Hope for Refugees’ as Social Commentary.” GradesFixer, 13 Feb. 2024,
Analyzing Karen Press’s ‘Hope for Refugees’ as Social Commentary. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 18 Jul. 2024].
Analyzing Karen Press’s ‘Hope for Refugees’ as Social Commentary [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Feb 13 [cited 2024 Jul 18]. Available from:
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