No matter how simple the title ‘The Kid’ sounds to readers in the very first encounter, it is filled with disturbing details of a kid. He shows instincts like a sociopath and kills his entire family as an act of good riddance. While reading the poem, it may seem that the speaker is too calm. It does not feel like the kid is not mentally disturbed at all. All he does in cold blood, from killing his grandfather with an iron rod or shooting his innocent sister to death.
‘The Kid’ by Ai is a haunting tale of a fourteen-year-old child named Jack who murders his family and runs away.
The first stanza of the poem begins with a description of the speaker’s daughter. She rubs her doll in mud and enters into a truck standing near their house. The speaker, in a wayward manner, hits the flattened tires with a rod. At this point, it is not clear what is running in his mind. His mother calls him in and so does his grandfather for helping them in their work.
In the second stanza, the speaker acts like a sociopath. He hits his grandfather with the rod and finally kills him and his mother with a rifle. Then he hunts for his sister. Finally, he picks up his grandfather’s belongings and leaves his home, heading nowhere.
You can read the full poem here.
My sister rubs the doll’s face in mud,
then climbs through the truck window.
The old man’s voice bounces off the air like a ball
I can’t lift my leg over.
‘The Kid’ begins with a disturbing image of a child rubbing her doll in mud. From this reference, it seems she is having some sort of mental stress. Possibly, she does it for fun. Then she climbs through a truck’s window. She is totally ignorant of the speaker of his whereabouts.
While his sister is busy playing, the speaker picks up an iron rod, walks around the truck, and hits its flat tires casually. In the meantime, his grandfather shouts for him to help hitch the team. He ignores the order and keeps himself busy in this meaningless activity of hitting the tires.
But, this time, after hearing his grandfather’s order, he becomes angry and hits harder. From this section, readers can anticipate that there is some kind of discord between the speaker and his grandfather. At the same time, his mother calls him probably to assist his grandfather. It makes him angrier.
Picking up a rock, he throws it aiming at the kitchen window. But, he misses his target. Ai uses a simile to compare the “old man’s voice” to a ball in the next line. It seems like his voice bounces in the air. The speaker somehow wants to kick it.
After reading these lines, it does not seem that the same speaker is going to kill all of them calmly. Shockingly, the poem takes this unfortunate turn in the next stanza.
I stand beside him, waiting, but he doesn’t look up
and I squeeze the rod, raise it, his skull splits open.
I’m fourteen. I’m a wind from nowhere.
I can break your heart.
The second is a bit longer than the previous one as here Ai presents the main action of the poem. In the first few lines, the speaker describes how he kills his grandfather and mother. He has no shame or fear in saying how he has killed them. Firstly, he splits his grandfather’s skull open by hitting him with the rod. Then, he finishes both of them with a rifle: “one bullet for the black horse, two for the brown.”
The use of a line from a nursery rhyme, “Roses are red, violets are blue,” hints at the mindset of the speaker. Killing them is as simple as the children’s rhymes. While doing so, he has accidentally bitten his tongue. So, he spits out the blood (showing a bloodthirsty instinct) casually points at the other one from his checklist.
He quickly finishes off the other one (his sister) and picks her doll to rock it to sleep. Finally, in the next lines, he reveals his identity and nature. He is Hogarth’s son, Jack. Jack is agile and quick. Readers have already taken note of his skills in the previous lines.
After his job is done, he puts on his grandfather’s best suit, his leather shoes, his mother’s satin nightgown, and his sister’s doll in a suitcase (probably for selling them for a good price or as remembrances of his family). Then he leaves his home. Like the wind, he is heading to nowhere. Where can he really go after what he has done?
Ai’s ‘The Kid’ consists of two stanzas. The first stanza introduces the speaker and his sister. It is shorter than the following stanza where Ai presents the main action. The overall text is written in free-verse. It neither has a regular rhyme nor a meter. Besides, the poem is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker. He is a fourteen-year-old named Jack, son of Hogarth. The usage of the first-person pronoun “I” incorporates lyrical quality to the poem.
Ai makes use of the following literary devices in ‘The Kid’.
- Enjambment: This device is used in a number of instances. For example, it occurs in the first two lines. Ai uses this technique to connect the lines internally.
- Irony: It occurs in the lines “The old man’s voice bounces off the air like a ball/ I can’t lift my leg over.”
- Repetition: In the second stanza, after the murder is done, the speaker utters the pronoun “I” a fair number of times. This repetition reflects his mental state.
- Anaphora: It occurs in a few instances in the second stanza. For example, the lines 9 and 10 contain this device.
Ai’s poem ‘The Kid’ is about a fourteen-year-old boy, Jack, who murders his family and runs away by packing their belongings in a suitcase. The reason for this chilling act is not clear. All readers can find is that the child kills them in utter calmness.
The poem was first published in 1999. It appears in Ai’s best-known poetry collection Vice: New and Selected Poems. She won the National Book Award for Poetry for this collection.
The main theme of this poem revolves around murder and hatred. Besides, this piece also taps on some other themes, including mental disturbance, sociopathic mindset, and cruelty.
Readers can find a few poems that are similar to Ai’s ‘The Kind’ in the following list.
- ‘At Last We Killed The Roaches’ by Lucille Clifton — This thoughtful poem captures an experience in a speaker’s childhood with roaches.
- ‘The Mock Wife’ by Thomas Hardy — This poem is about the life and death of John Channing and his wife, executed for his murder.
- ‘Sweeney Among The Nightingales’ by T.S. Eliot — In this poem, Eliot describes a similar character who shows sociopathic instincts.