Carol Ann Duffy utilizes the transition of tone and diction to underscore the naive, innocent nature of adolescence. In the first stanza, Duffy first uses second person to connect to the readers, evoking nostalgia and memories from the reader’s own childhood. By including the word “laugh”, Duffy introduces the concept of naïve happiness that children possess before and during the early stages of adolescence. This stanza brings out the nativity, innocence, and sense of comfort during youth. This signifies the early stages of adolescence where the students are still in an innocent, joyful, and more importantly, inexperienced state. The second stanza then mentions “sugar paper” and “sweetshop” which are commonly associated with childhood pleasure. This creates a fantastical, dream-like atmosphere for the readers, sustaining the playful and joyful mood from the previous stanza. However, by including: “uneasy smudge of a mistake”, Duffy foreshadows the loss of innocence in the next stanza while at the same time brings a sense of uneasiness to the reader. Duffy chooses to include a drastic change in tone throughout the stanza. In lines 17 to 21, Duffy uses words such as “hop”, “jump”, “croak” and “free”. These words connect to the joyful nature of the tadpoles mentioned in line 17. Thus, establishing a maintained, cheerful tone to this poem. In lines 21-23, Duffy included the word “kicked” which brings out a negative connotation to this poem while also signifying a shift in tone. This shift in tone indicates a change to the reader both literally and analytically. In the final stanza, there is a clear change in diction as well as tone as Duffy includes the word “sexy” to describe the sky. This suggested the becoming of age of a child and the loss of innocence throughout this process. By including words such as “feverish”, “electricity”, “hot” and “impatient”, Duffy highlights the child’s anticipation of leaving school and the process of moving on to adulthood. This questions whether this loss of innocence would still occur if the child was kept from certain pieces of information such as knowing how she was born.
Duffy’s utilization of sensory related imagery also helps establish the concept of adolescence. In the first stanza, Duffy includes words such as “chanted” and “laugh” to portray Mrs.Tilscher as a glorified figure, thus evoking positive impressions from the audience. The word “chanted” is also commonly associated with music, which brings a soothing feeling to the reader. In the second stanza, the sound of the xylophone highlights the soothing sound of music in music class, creating a somewhat surreal, dream-like mood of childhood. This forms contrast with the third stanza where Duffy included: “tasted of electricity”. The nasty shocks of electricity seem to be brought to life, emphasizing the contrast of imaging. This contrast suggests a loss of innocence. These sensory imaging also acts as a way that a child perceives knowledge and perhaps without these, a child can be kept from losing his/her innocence
Duffy also uses allusions in order to highlight the importance of educational protection during adolescence. In the second stanza, the allusion of Brady and Hindley who were serial killers that hunted children suggests that the children’s exposure to information due to lack of protection that were not meant for their age, the next line: “like the faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake” underscores the long-term psychological impact that it had brought upon the child while at the same time acting as a potential threat to the psychological means of a child throughout adolescence.
In conclusion, Duffy utilizes tone and diction, sensory imagery, and allusions to shed light on the impact of a mentor figure’s protection of innocence during education to the psychological safety of children.