‘Television’ by Roald Dahl is a ninety-three line poem that is contained within one long block of text. Dahl chose to give this poem an aabbccdd pattern of rhyme. The end sounds alternate as he saw fit throughout the text. Some of the end words are more perfectly rhymed than others, and some such as those in lines 17 and 18 are almost identical.
There are many images in this poem that are striking. This makes sense due to the fact that this particular poem is concerned with television and all the terrible and wonderful images a child can see on its screen. If the speaker is to keep the reader’s attention his words must be as powerful and entertaining as what is on TV.
Summary of Television
‘Television’ by Roald Dahl describes in outrageous detail the dangers of television and what a parent can do to save their child. Dahl’s speaker uses hyperbolic statements to reflect on the dangers of watching too much TV. They range from a child’s brain-melting to the child’s loss of the desire to understand the world.
The speaker pleads with the parents to do whatever they can to get their kids away from the televisions. He knows the kids will not react well to this change but it will be in their best interest. Eventually, they will have no choice but to turn to the books that should have always covered their walls. Once the change is made they’ll thank their parents and love them more than ever.
You can read the full poem here.
Poetic Devices in Television
One of the more prominent poetic devices used by Dahl is that of anaphora. This is a type of repetition that occurs at the beginning of lines. It can encompass the use of a phrase or just a single word at the start of multiple lines. The lines do not necessarily have to follow one another but are more impactful when they do. A prime example occurs in lines 25-28. Each of these start with “IT” in capitalized letters. The speaker is attempting to grab and hold the reader’s attention by listing off the terrible attributes of television.
These horrifying things a TV can do have been emphasized through the use of hyperbole. The speaker makes a number of claims about the television such as, “HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE,” that is not meant to be taken seriously. These moments are entertaining and humorous, but still, bring across the speaker’s point.
Analysis of Television
The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
One of the first things a reader will notice when beginning ‘Television’ is the narrative perspective. The speaker is addressing the reader from the third person, referring to himself and at least one unknown person as “we.
Of everything these people have seen the most “important thing” they’ve learned is that children should not be allowed to be “near your television set.” The speaker does not describe at this point why that is the case, but does state it would be better if everyone stopped buying them. They are “idiotic” and at least from this introductory statement, seem to do nothing but harm. The first negative thing the speaker lists out is their ability to make kids “gape at the screen.” They become entranced by the narrative playing out.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
In the next lines the speaker dives into all the many reasons everyone should either get rid of, or never buy, a TV. The children are drained of all their intelligence and end up in a “loll” in which they do nothing. They only want to sit or “lounge about” and watch TV till “their eyes pop out.” This is the first example of Dahl’s use of hyperbole. Of course, their eyes won’t pop out, but the impact on their everyday life will be the same. If all they want to do is watch TV they might as well not have eyes.
The hyperbolic statement continues into the next two lines. Here, within the parenthetical, Dahl breaks the rhyme scheme. It is a sidebar to the monologue but a detail he felt he needed to add. He goes on to state that when they do look at the TV for so long they become “hypnotised by it.” Eventually, it is like they are “absolutely drunk.” Rather than being intoxicated by alcohol though they are drunk on the “ghastly junk” of television shows and movies.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
In the next set of lines, the speaker turns to address the reason why parents are so drawn to allowing their kids to fall into this state. It is not that they want to harm their children but that it “keeps them still.” When they are watching TV the parents do not have to worry about the same kid climbing “out the window sill” or getting into a fight. If the child is distracted then the parent is able to get everything done they need to.
Within these lines, the speaker makes sure to acknowledge the reasoning behind the decisions parents make. This lends his argument even more credence. He concludes the section with a question aimed at parents. Dahl’s speaker asks if “you” as a parent, even considered what “exactly” the TV “does to your beloved tot?”
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!
The next stanza is in all-caps. Dahl chose to stick to the format of a monologue and have his speaker answer the question. He does so with characteristic zeal and outrage. A series of hyperbolic statements follow, many of which begin with either “IT” or “HIS.” This repetition makes the listing of negatives that much more impactful. They build off one another until the all-caps writing ends.
Of the many outrageous statements, the most interesting refers to a child’s brain and its transformation into “CHEESE.” He also brings up how a child addicted to television is unable to “THINK.” He is only able to “SEE” and absorb what he is given. The speaker is playing off what he believes are a parent’s worst fears for their kid. He knows parents want their children to succeed and especially don’t want to be at fault if the kid does not.
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
Once a reader gets to line 34 it appears that the speaker has calmed down. He is no longer speaking in all-caps. Instead, a reader is given (what the speaker assumes) are the thoughts of the parents listening to the monologue. The parents would likely cry out in frustration over the whole situation. Any listener will be able to understand the speaker’s argument but that doesn’t mean they know what the alternatives are. “What” the parents ask, “shall we do to entertain / Our darling children?”
The answer is a simple one. The children will now do whatever children used to do before there was television. It does not seem like the parents are able to remember what it was children did before TV. There is no answer interspersed within the speaker’s monologue. Instead, he talks down to the parents, asking them if they “Have…forgotten” what the world used to be like.
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
It is clear the speaker is getting annoyed with the intended listeners. They are just as out of touch with the dangers of television as he feared. In this stanza, Dahl returned to all-caps. This was done in order to emphasize the speaker’s frustration. A reader can more easily hear the speaker’s tone and interpret his irritation. The phrase “They used to read” is spaced out. The ellipses represent pauses in the speaker’s words as he attempts to talk about reading without getting too angry.
By the time he finishes the third and fourth lines, there is no doubt that reading was the main occupation of children in the past. It is easy to imagine the speaker raging in disappointment over the parents and their children. He says, “Gadzooks!” An exclamation meant to further depict his frustration and disbelief that the world has gotten to this point.
In the past, he states, kids spent half their lives reading. Every room in the house, even the child’s nursery should be filled with books everywhere. It is clear the speaker feels deeply nostalgic for this more educated period of time.
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
The next section of lines is devoted to describing what kind of stories, images, and characters a child reader was likely to find within books. It is interesting to consider Dahl’s purpose in writing this piece. One should take into consideration the fact that while the speaker is addressing parents, Dahl was addressing the kids. It is likely that he was hoping, through these fantastic descriptions of storybooks, to compel television addicted kids to seek out something new.
Perhaps they would be drawn in by the tales of “treasure isles, and distant shores” or, the wonderfully alliterative line, “pirates wearing purple pants.” The last image is of “cannibals…’round the pot” as they cook up a meal. He attempts to reach out to multiple genres and bring in something for everyone. This continues into the next section.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
The speaker projects himself into the story of the cannibals in the next lines. He is now a character looking into the pot and noting how good “Penelope” smells. In great contrast to cannibalism is Beatrix Potter. It was her stories of Peter Rabbit that were loved by the “younger ones.” These included tales featuring “Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland” and others. He also lists out other story titles. The first refers to the story “How the Camel Got His Hump” by Rudyard Kipling.
There is an infinite number of books children could and should seek out, but now they no longer want to.
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
The poem starts its conclusion at line seventy-two when the speaker repeats his initial plea. He asks the parental listeners to “please” throw their TV sets away. By this point, any parent, (or so the speaker believes) should be more than willing to get rid of their TVs.
In the following lines, he reiterates that it is time for children to go back to reading books. A parent should ignore all the screams and “bites and kicks” that are aimed at them. The speaker is sure that eventually, the children will be so bored they’ll stop complaining and start reading.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
The poem concludes with the speaker’s optimistic prediction that the children will come to love reading. They will finally feel the joy that comes from it. Books will enter into their hearts and fill them in a way they’ve never experienced before. The change will also bring about new feelings of nausea and revulsion whenever they think of the television screen they used to love. Eventually, once their fits of anger have subsided, the kids will love their parents more for what they did.