Hotel Room 12th Floor - Wikispaces

Norman MacCaig
hotel room on the 12th floor of a hotel in
New York. The poet describes what he sees
from this room in both day and night time.
 The
persona/speaker is visiting New York
. Instead of enjoying the experience and
being impressed by the sites of the city, he
feels trapped in his hotel room by the
violence on the streets below. During the
day ,he comments on some of the famous
buildings of the New York skyline that he can
see from his window. These represent man’s
economic and technological achievements.
At night he concentrates on the sounds of
the city below him. These represent the
violence that it always close to the surface in
human nature.
 Establishes
immediately that the persona is
in an alien environment.
 Suggests somewhere anonymous and
 Also establishes that he is observing the city
from a height.
 Factual title highlights the importance of the
setting to the poem’s central concerns.
This morning I watched from here
a helicopter skirting like a damaged insect
the Empire State building, that
jumbo size dentist’s drill, and landing
on the roof of the PanAm skyscraper.
But now Midnight has come in
from foreign places. Its uncivilised darkness
is shot at by a million lit windows, all
ups and acrosses.
 This
morning I watched from here:
 Word choice of ‘watched’ suggests that the
speaker is a passive observer of civilisation
(rather than a participant). This links with
the sense of isolation established in the title.
 Creates a sense of distance, both through
time and space
 Use of first person singular suggests he is
 The first stanza concentrates on the visual
Simile comparing a helicopter to a
wounded insect. The comparison is
effective as at a distance the size, sound
and movement of the helicopter resemble
an insect. The helicopter may be moving
about erratically / buzzing around like a
flying insect. ‘damaged’ hints at the
speaker’s pessimistic view of the world: it
is broken and imperfect. Furthermore,
insects also are often found around
decaying remains so the image reminds us
of death and dying.
 Symbolism:
the PanAm skyscraper and the
Empire State building are symbols of
American success / monuments to the
‘progress’ of civilisation. During this stanza,
though not described in flattering terms,
they are at least something recognisable.
They give the speaker a sense of place
(geographically), though not a sense of
 In
addition the metaphor he uses to describe the Empire
State Building emphasises this idea. The shape of the
building resembles ‘that jumbo-sized dentist drill’
because it narrows towards the top and has a long thin
radio mast. The image of the drill suggests pain and
suffering. It also reinforces connotations of decay. Again
MacCaig seems disturbed by what he sees. His tone is
dismissive, as the word ‘jumbo’ suggests something
oversized, almost comically so. He is unimpressed by
these symbols of wealth and human achievement. For
the poet these modern wonders are a veneer of
civilisation over the true nature of the city.
Shift from day to night. Use of present tense
creates sense of danger, immediacy.
Midnight (with a capital M) becomes a person /
entity (personification). ‘foreign places’ suggest
it is something unknown: alien and
unpredictable. Any sense of ease brought by the
recognisable landmarks is erased as night arrives.
 Personification:
the darkness is not a
welcome visitor but rather something
unknown, uncouth and unwelcome. The
speaker’s fear of the darkness is apparent.
Metaphor / Word Choice: ‘shot at’ suggests a war.
The futility of the battle is obvious: the darkness of
night is inevitable. ‘all / ups and acrosses’ might
represent a crossword puzzle (the lit and unlit
windows beings the contrasting squares). This is an
enigmatic (mysterious/unknowable) idea as there
are no clues, and fits nicely with the notion of
darkness representing the unknown.
 The
Empire State building is not viewed as a
symbol of mankind’s status and success, but
rather as something that is painful /
frightening. The dentist’s drill is not
something that many people think of fondly!
This reveals the speaker’s pessimistic tone as
well as his fear.
 The darkness is viewed as alive and
malignant – it is the opposite of civilisation.
 The whole stanza sets up how the persona is
feeling – afraid and hopeless.
How is a sense of distance established in the
poem’s opening lines?
Explain fully how MacCaig uses imagery to make
the helicopter seem insignificant?
What impression of the Empire State Building is
What kind of change occurs in line six?
What impression of midnight is created? Explain
fully how MacCaig does this.
How is a contrast between light and dark
But midnight is not
so easily defeated. I lie in bed, between
a radio and a television set, and hear
the wildest of warwhoops continually ululating through
the glittering canyons and gulches –
police cars and ambulances racing
to broken bones, the harsh screaming
from coldwater flats, the blood
glazed on the sidewalks.
Entering physical darkness and the mental
darkness of despair.
Metaphor: midnight (and darkness) become a foe.
The speaker sees night as the unknown, a
formidable enemy. The sense of helplessness is
revealed through this recognition of the situation.
Suggests that the city’s symbols of wealth and
progress are not enough to wipe away the
propensity to violence that exists in all societies.
Structure: As the poem progresses, the speaker’s
interaction with the world recedes. He is no longer
standing at the window (as he was in the first
stanza) but has withdrawn to his bed.
He is in between symbols of modern technological
advance. He is attempting to use them to drown
out the violent noises from the streets. He is
unable to do so. At this point the speaker appears
isolated, passive and enclosed by the trappings of
modern life.
Word choice: ‘wildest’ ‘warwhoops’ and ‘ululating’
suggest a cacophony of unknown, aggressive noises.
The city becomes a wilderness, an alien
environment that frightens the speaker as each
unknown noise is interpreted in a negative way.
Onomatopoeia of ‘ululating’ emphasises how
meaningless, loud and frightening the noise is.
Alliteration of ‘wildest’ and ‘warwhoops‘ draws
attention to the noise
The ‘glittering canyons and gulches’ refer to the streets
between the brightly lit modern skyscrapers and remind us of
the landscape of the wild west where ambushes and violent
battles took place. Again McCaig is juxtaposing symbols of
wealth with violence and poverty.
‘canyons’ and ‘gulches’ both suggest a wilderness / they are
words we might associate with the wild west. This helps us to
understand the theme of civilisation versus savagery: the
‘civilisation’ of the modern word is not so civilised as one
might believe.
MacCaig creates a contrast between civilised and uncivilised
society by comparing the noise outside and the
layout/appearance of the streets to the Wild West, with its
associations of violence, ambushes and battles. This similarity
between America ’s past and present suggests that although
mankind has advanced economically and technologically we are
no more civilised in relation to how we behave and interact
than we were in our barbaric past.
A figure of speech where a part stands in for
the whole:
 The
pen is mightier than the sword.
 You must learn your ABCs.
 He is a safe pair of hands.
Police cars and ambulances are symbols of
authority and can only arrive after the violence;
are are powerless to stop it.
Synecdoche of ‘broken bones’ depersonalises the
suffering and so highlights that anyone can fall
victim to violence. It also refers to the aspects of
society that are broken.
The sounds of pain are emphasised by the word choice
of ‘harsh’. His words emphasise the pain and suffering
that poverty brings. This contrasts with the superficial
wealth of the first stanza.
The word choice of ‘screaming’ emphasises the
impression of fear and violence.
The word choice of ‘coldwater’ effectively conveys the
living conditions of the poor; living in primitive and
comfortless conditions in run-down buildings without
hot water. This is where the screams are coming from.
The broken bones beneath the surface of America are
poverty and need.
Imagery: The comparison of blood to a sheen that
covers the sidewalk is an unpleasant one. It
symbolises the aggression and savagery of
‘civilised’ society.
This suggests that violence and the pain and suffering
it causes are always among us. Evil therefore is not
just our violence but also the way society neglects
the poor. The quantity of blood envelops
everything, mirrors darkness.
What impression of midnight is created at the start of
this stanza?
Make a list of all the sounds described in this stanza.
Most of this stanza consists of one long, complex
sentence. What effect does this have?
List all the examples of Wild West imagery. Why do you
think MacCaig included these?
Why do you think that MacCaig included the reference
to ‘coldwater flats’?
‘Broken bones’ is an example of synecdoche. Explain
what this is and why MacCaig has used it here.
What is the effect of the stanza’s final metaphor?
Structure: shorter, simpler sentences.
Helps to create a tone of total despair.
Two emphatic statements.
Frontier is an area near or beyond a boundary.
It is a term associated with the ‘Wild West’.
It would be the fringe of areas taken by the
Theme: Civilisation versus savagery. The
pessimistic speaker feels that we do not exist
in a civilised society. He appears to live in
fear of ‘the unknown’: savagery seems to
seep into society unabated. ‘frontier’
suggests a barrier between civilisation and
savagery: to the speaker, there is no such
 Stockades
were high fences built to protect those who
live inside them. They are associated with the Wild West.
What MacCaig is suggesting is that no matter how high we
build our buildings, develop our technology or increase
our prosperity, evil will always exist within us. The idea
of midnight (and the unknown) attacking the speaker (and
civilisation) continues to the end of the poem. ‘stockades’
are defences, but the speaker’s pessimistic admission
underlines his sense of isolation and helplessness. He does
not appear comfortable in the modern world. Modern
civilisation is savagery.
What is MacCaig’s message in the final
How is structure used to convey this?
How is imagery used to convey this?
How would you describe the tone of the
final stanza? Does this reinforce or
contrast with the tone of the previous
Do you find the final stanza to be an
effective conclusion to the poem? You
should refer closely to both the poet’s
ideas and techniques in your answer.
Write about a poem which
creates a strong sense of
Consider how the poet creates
this sense of place and how
this enhances our
understanding of modern

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