The Cold Within – Important Questions

The Cold Within was written by the American poet James Patrick Kinney. The poem has achieved great popularity, appearing in countless church bulletins, websites and teaching seminars, as well as magazines and newspapers.

Important Question and Answers

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

1. What does this stanza suggest about the source of the poem?

Ans. As the last line indicates, the poem is based on a story that the poet has heard from someone. Thus, it is obvious that the poem is not a first-hand account of something he has seen or experienced himself. However, the exact source from which the poet might have received the first-hand information is not stated anywhere. The poet’s main objective, as it appears, has been to express the content of the story in a poetic form for the readers who may not have been familiar with the story or the moral it conveys. Thus, irrespective of the source from which its theme may have been imported, the poet can be credited with having re-created the story as a poetic piece while retaining its moral spirit and the message it conveys.

2. Give some examples of assonance from this stanza, explaining why this poetic device is used.

Ans. As we know, assonance is a poetic device that involves the use of the identical vowel sounds in two non-rhyming words in a sentence or line. Assonance is one of the most important poetic devices employed in verses. It is used for internal rhyming in a poetic piece. In this stanza, the first line has words such as ‘trapped’ and ‘happenstance’ which share the same ‘a’ sound. Similarly, ‘so’, ‘story’ and ‘told’ in the last line have the same ‘o’ sound.

3. What does the use of words like “bleak and bitter cold,” “dying” and “forlorn” suggest?

Ans. Their use suggests a depressing and desperate mood that the poet wants to set up for the entire poem. This essentially indicates that the poem deals with an uncomfortable situation in the life of people it talks about. Symbolically, it refers to a deep social crisis reflecting the decay of certain moral values due to which the peaceful co-existence of people with different mindsets and identities becomes endangered.

4. How does this stanza suggest that destiny occasionally plays a significant role in determining the conditions of a person’s existence?

Ans. In this stanza, the poet says that six men are together experiencing extremely unfavorable climatic conditions. These conditions, characterized by ‘bleak and bitter cold’, are not suitable for their survival. As we know, nobody would ever like to experience such conditions. This essentially implies that they are compelled to be there by some invisible force of nature that is beyond their own control. It’s this force that we usually call ‘destiny’. The phrase ‘trapped by happenstance’ in the first line only reinforces this point.

5. Each of the six men possesses ‘a stick of wood’. In your opinion, what does this suggest here?

Ans. This phrase is relevant here both in its literal and symbolic meanings. Literally, it means something that is capable of producing fire in the extremely cold conditions, in which the six men find themselves. Thus, it is an object that can save their lives. Symbolically, it means some attribute or trait that is deeply rooted in their character or individuality. This is suggested by the use of the word ‘possessed’, implying ownership with a deep sense of attachment.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

Their dying fire in need of logs,
But the first one held hers back,
For, of the faces round the fire,
She noticed one was black.

1. What kind of prejudice does this stanza refer to?

Ans. As the stanza reveals, ‘the first one’ holds back her log just because she doesn’t want to share the fire and its warmth with one of them who is black. Thus, the kind of prejudice that the behavior of ‘the first person’ speaks of is racial in nature.

2. What is the symbolic significance of the phrase ‘dying fire’?

Ans. The word ‘fire’ basically symbolises the basic spirit of humanity and harmony underlying the social-cultural milieus of existence. The adjective ‘dying’ may be interpreted as the poor state of social relationships, due to the prevalence of negative values and feelings.

3. What does the word ‘logs’ imply here?

Ans. The word ‘logs’ here implies the ‘prejudices’ that the six men referred to in the poem have against one another. Each of them knows that if he throws his log into the fire, he will give himself as well as others a chance to stay alive. However, their minds are so much preoccupied with a deep sense of hatred that they fail to understand this.

4. The attitude of people to one another speaks of the social system to which they belong. How does this stanza imply this?

Ans. This stanza depicts an extremely pathetic state of existence where the survival of everyone exposed to it depends on his inner strength to offer what he possesses, i.e. the stick of wood that he holds. The person referred to as ‘the first one’ is too narrow and biased in his perception to share her ‘possession’ with others for the common good of all. Her attitude clearly reflects that negativity prevails in the behavior pattern of everyone and positive values are on a decline. In a social system also, predominance of counterproductive values and feelings such as mutual hatred, opportunism and bias suggests the declining state of existence for everyone.

5. Do you think it is natural for a person to hate some other person if they have differences in their physical features or appearance?

Ans. No. Hating someone for being different in physical features or appearance cannot be accepted as a sign of natural or normal behaviour. It only indicates a mindset dominated by negative and regressive values that go against humanity and hamper the growth of positive values and feelings such as mutual harmony and brotherhood among people in a social system, irrespective of their difference. A social system progresses in the right direction only by overlooking such difference and motivating all its members to cooperate for their collective growth.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church,
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

1. Mention the kind of prejudice that this stanza talks about. How is it implied?

Ans. The kind of prejudice that this stanza speaks of is religious. This is evident from the use of the word ‘church’. Usually, religion serves as a binding force that brings people together. However, as this stanza indicates, there may be inherent differences in a faith that comes in critical situations when a sense of selfless cooperation is required. Here, the difference is so pronounced that it prevents a man from offering his stick to fire, as he thinks this will benefit another man who is of a different church.

2. What does the attitude of the ‘next man’ suggest here?

Ans. His attitude suggests that prejudices are sometimes so narrow that even the followers of the same religion become hostile to each other. They may be insensitive to each other’s needs just because their churches are different. What is even more shocking is the fact that people who have such prejudices are insensitive to their own needs as well.

3. What is it that makes prejudice so deep-rooted?

Ans. In case of religious prejudice that this stanza talks about, it’s the wrong or half-baked understanding of the basic ideas propagated by a faith that makes it so effective in determining people’s behavior and developing negative attitudes that last for years.

4. Do you think prejudice comes naturally from following a particular religion?

Ans. Each religion is based on the highest principles and ideals that govern our lives. It never teaches its followers to hate others. However, the way in which common people understand, interpret and practice these principles and practices usually involves a certain role for those who teach or preach those principles and ideals. A religious prejudice takes root in the mind, when the sources from which one receives the understanding of those principles and ideals have some problem.

5. Based on your reading, briefly describe the character of the man referred to as ‘the next man’ in this stanza.

Ans. The ‘next man’ in this stanza is bigoted and biased despite being religious. As his attitude suggests, he is not the one who follows his faith with a broad mind and big heart. Instead his attitude is that of a selfish and opportunistic character who hates his neighbour for following a different faith. Thus, he is least concerned about practically adopting one of the greatest of all ideals that every faith instructs its followers to cherish, i.e. love for one’s neighbour. Moreover, his obsession with his own ‘church’ also suggests that he is too dogmatic and orthodox in his belief.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

1. What does the ‘tattered clothes’ of the man referred to suggest about his prejudice?

Ans. It tells us that he is a poor man and as such, the target of his prejudice is the rich man. He feels that it is unjust to give what little he had to help him (the rich man) who had more than he. It is because of this prejudice that he is not willing to offer his log.

2. Based on this stanza, explain why economic prejudices form in people’s minds.

Ans. The word ‘idle’ used in the last line indicates that the poor man here has formed a rather rigid opinion about the rich one, regarding the latter as an inactive man with a lot of money. Many people, who work hard but earn very little, may have this opinion even about their employers or masters, apparently sitting inside their huge chambers and delivering orders to them. However, when such opinions take the form of hatred, they become prejudices.

3. How do people suffering from economic prejudices usually react to those whom they hate? Can you find an analogue here?

Ans. Economic prejudices are mostly articulated by people through their conduct in day-to-day life. Very often, they can be noticed in people’s gestures and speech, when they interact with one another. However, if they turn into a feeling of deep hatred, they can provoke people into directing it against one another with a clearly revengeful motive and intent. In this stanza, the poor man expresses this motive and intent, when he refuses to offer his log as he feels this would make the rich man feel comfortable.

4. Intolerance is like a blinding force that works against human values. How do you think this assumption stands true in the context of this stanza?

Ans. The poor man referred to in this stanza does not like the rich man sitting beside him. But his hatred is so rigid that it becomes a form of intolerance. Dominated by it, the poor man stops seeing the simple fact that if he offers his log, it will not only save the rich man but himself as well. Thus, just because he hates the rich man, he avoids saving many lives including the life of his neighbour and also his own. His intolerance therefore works against human values.

5. How do you think the poor man should have behaved instead of showing negativity in his attitude and behaviour as suggested in this stanza?

Ans. The poor man should have reasonably understood his own state and accepted it as a reality without blaming the rich man. He must have been able to appraise and appreciate his economic condition with fairness and without impartiality or bias. This would have enabled him to think of the crisis with a positive frame of mind and contribute towards it for making the situation better for all.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

1. What kind of prejudice is at the core of this stanza? Who is at the receiving end here?

Ans. Economic prejudice forms the core of this stanza, but the person who is at the receiving end is the poor man. The rich man is greedy and has his own stereotyped perception of the poor man that prevents him from taking initiative to make the situation better.

2. Based on this stanza, how will you define the attitude of the rich man?

Ans. The rich man has been described here as a mean-minded, self-seeking paranoid who is scared of the presence of the poor man. His perception of the poor man as ‘lazy’ and ‘shiftless’, captured in the last line, shows that he is conceited and deceitful as well.

3. What, according to this stanza, prompts the rich man to sit back without offering his log?

Ans. While the rich man is over-possessive about his wealth, he is also biased in his opinion about the poor man. He feels that if the poor man survives, he may make off with all he owns. It’s his desire not to let the poor man survive that prompts him to sit back and make no effort to offer the log he holds.

4. What according to the poet are the limitations of the rich man?

Ans. According to the poet, material richness comes from the accumulation of wealth. As the character of the rich man suggests here, the rich man’s practice of wealth accumulation has made him too possessive, self-centred, opportunistic and insensitive to his surroundings. He doubts others, fearing that they may steal or take away his wealth. This makes it extremely difficult for him to mix and cooperate with others. The way he perceives his less wealthy or materially poor neighbour thus isolates him and tends to make him unsociable.

5. Material wealth is useless unless it gives one the strength to survive in a crisis situation. Can you justify this in the context of this stanza?

Ans. In this stanza, the man referred to as ‘the rich man’ is wealthy, but prejudiced and hateful to the poor man. Due to his narrow-mindedness, he fails to perceive the significance of making a little sacrifice for his own sake, just because he thought this might also benefit someone he regards as his foe. This failure exposes his lack of foresight besides his fatal insensitivity which would eventually cost him his own life.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

1. According to this stanza, what is the motive behind the black man’s refusal to offer his stick of wood? Who is the target of his prejudice?

Ans. The stanza reveals that the motive behind the black man’s refusal to offer his stick of wood is retaliation or revenge. The black man thinks it as a chance to take revenge and harm the white man who is the target of his prejudice, by keeping the log to himself.

2. Can you justify the behavior of the black man?

Ans. The black man here represents the victims of racial prejudice that have made them suffer for centuries. To a certain degree, the anger of the black man seems to be natural. However, when this anger becomes a deep-seated sense of revenge, it goes against the great values of humanity such as mutual harmony and love. Thus, it cannot be justified.

3. What does the ‘stick of wood’ held by the black man symbolise in his own context?

Ans. ‘The stick of wood’ that the black man holds is apparently a kind of life-line on which his survival depends. It’s going to produce fire that will save him from falling a prey to the lethal cold. However, the fire thus produced will be shared by all, including a white man whom the black man hates. As the black man is obsessed with the idea of not letting the white man have his share in the fire, he refuses to offer his stick of wood. Thus, to the black man, his stick of wood symbolises an opportunity to take revenge on the white man.

4. Lack of cooperation may be suicidal in a situation of crisis. How does this stanza suggest this?

Ans. In this stanza, we find that the black man is not interested to offer his stick that will keep the fire burning and thus, keep alive the chance of survival for everyone present there. The lack of cooperation on his part comes from his deep-seated prejudice against one of them who is white. This prejudice desensitises the black man completely due to which he forgets that by giving his stick into fire, he will not only save others but also himself. Obviously, his passivity caused by prejudiced perception is suicidal.

5. What according to you is the best way to handle a crisis that concerns two people who represent different and mutually hostile communities?

Ans. In such a critical situation, their survival basically depends on how much they cooperate with each other and together chalk out an effective strategy to deal with it. So, the best way is to forget their past animosity and focus on the present. It is only by shedding their prejudices and joining hands that they can find a way to emerge unscathed.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

1. What type of mindset aptly defines the behavior of the ‘last man’?

Ans. It can be regarded as a grossly materialistic mindset devoid of generosity for fellow humans or philanthropy. A greedy fellow who would give help only if there is something beneficial in return i.e., he doesn’t want to lose his possession without being in a profitable state.

2. Do you think the behavior of the person referred to as the ‘last man’ can positively contribute to the welfare of any society? Why?

Ans. As stated here, this man always expects others to do something for him before doing anything for them. Only those people who are selfish and obsessed with their own betterment can behave in this manner. Besides, it also shows a blatant lack of the tendency to take initiative and show a high degree of commitment to anything that concerns the entire society.

3. What does the word ‘game’ imply here?

Ans. The word has been used here to suggest the opportunistic behavior of some prejudiced minds incapable of seeing anything beyond themselves. The man referred to here is a prime example of a person who is not ready to ‘give’ anything, because he does not sense the prospect of any immediate gain for himself. Thus, the connotation of this word is negative.

4. Why does the poet calls them a forlorn group?

Ans. The group of six men that the poet talks about are completely cut-off from the outside world and are forced to put up with an extremely inclement weather conditions. The chances of their survival are minimum. They know this showing sadness in their gestures. However, they are not ready to give up their prejudiced views and cooperate for survival. Thus, they are not making any attempt to avoid death, which seems to be almost certain. That is why the poet refers to them as a forlorn group.

5. Even in a relation purely based on ‘giving and taking’, one has to take initiative. Do you think ‘the last man’ referred to in this stanza, has the ability to take initiative?

Ans. It seems that this man can never take initiative in any relationship. He is the kind of person who will reciprocate only when he receives something. Even then, he will remain selective in his approach and will give anything only to the person, from whom he receives something. Thus, he embodies a hard-headed opportunism incapable of taking initiative.

Q. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.

1. What is the outcome of their prejudices?

Ans. Due to their prejudices, as it is stated here, all the six men refuse to offer the logs. They agreed to froze in the cold and kept sitting with hatred and revenge but not overcome their prejudices. As a result, they all died in the end, not because of the cold weather but because of the coldness within them.

2. What is the phrase ‘human sin’ used here for?

Ans. This phrase basically suggests their gross insensitivity and hostility towards one another. What is inhuman about their tragic death is their refusal to sacrifice their egos and prejudices, ignoring the fact they might have survived if they had agreed to cooperate. It speaks about their inner weakness, which is tantamount to impiety and wickedness.

3. What do the phrases ‘cold without’ and ‘cold within’ suggest here?

Ans. The first phrase, ‘cold without’ has a plain meaning, signifying the inclement climatic condition in which the six men are trapped. The second phrase, ‘cold within’ has a deep, connotative meaning, implying their insensitive prejudices and inhuman behavior which cost their lives.

4. What does the first line imply here?

Ans. This line suggests their end without any remorse or repentance. It clearly indicates that they died primarily because they were unable to make a little sacrifice that was so much required in situation of deep crisis facing them. Had they given their logs into fire, they would have survived. But none of them was able to do this, as they failed to free themselves from their narrowness and biased perceptions. Unfortunately for them, they died with ‘their logs held tight’, suggesting that they did not realize the basic flaw in their characters till the end.

5. What does the way they meet their end tell you about the flaws in their character and nature?

Ans. In this stanza, it is stated that they died without throwing their logs. It indicates their obstinacy and insensitivity to the demand of the situation. If we go deeper into it, we can see that their unwillingness to throw their logs was caused by negative feelings such as hatred, prejudice and animosity defying the ethical-moral fabric of human existence. It clearly appears that they are not only rigidly bigoted, egotistical and opportunistic in their understanding of others, but also absolutely impractical and without any foresight. In some way, therefore, ‘death’ seems to be already inherent in their behaviour, attitude and thinking.

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