“A Study Of Reading Habits” Essay, Research Paper
Explication of “A Study of Reading Habits”
“A Study of Reading Habits,” is Philip Larkin?s poetic warning that escapism and ignoring reality only makes real life less fulfilling. Larkin develops this idea via a narrator who prefers to escape from life rather than deal with it, as well as through changing use of language and subtle irony.
Larkin?s most direct expression of his warning comes through the narrator?s experience with escapism through books. The narrator reveals his changing attitudes toward books in three stanzas, representing three stages in his life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. As a child, reading as an escape enabled the narrator to feel better about “most things short of school” (line 2). As an adolescent, books continued to be a form of escape for him, this time for his unfulfilled sexual desires. However, as an adult “now,” the narrator embodies Larkin’s warning. He is bitter and resentful that life is less glamorous than books, now only able to relate to the secondary, less important characters. The method he once used to escape now makes reality painfully obvious.
The idealized reality that the narrator dreams of at each point in his life is reflected in the author?s language use. The description of childhood escape contains clich?s found in children?s adventure books, such as “keep cool,” “the old right hook,” and “dirty dogs.” As an adolescent, the descriptions are more mysterious and sexual, including references to Dracula and to rape. The descriptions as an adult are the most casual and slangy, suggesting a decline in the narrator?s intellect, the result of complete indifference. At this point he sees reality for all that it is, and finds this unfulfilling compared to his earlier idealizations.
The author drives this point home with a number of ironies throughout the poem. The title suggests a formal paper; quite the opposite of the colloquial language Larkin uses. This symbolizes the motif that what appears to be good (formal), may in fact be bad (casual). Also, the narrator?s values decline as he gains knowledge, going from good to evil to indifference. Finally, the great irony is that the narrator does not learn from his mistakes. His method of escapism made him unhappy and resentful, so he abandoned it for another, more destructive form of escape: booze.
What the narrator fails to realize here and throughout the poem is that it is not a specific method of escapism that causes unhappiness less fulfillment, but the practice of escapism itself. In practice, ignoring true reality will only make real life seem like “a load of crap.”
All references and quotes taken directly from the poem.