This article attempts to make a critical analysis of the song The Happiest Days Of Our Lives by the famous rock band Pink Floyd. The song belonged to one of their most popular album ‘The Wall’ (Geddy). It was written by the bass guitarist Roger Waters. This song, along with all the others of this album depicts the physical and psychological hardships that Waters, and also the former member of the band Syd Barret went through during their childhood (Geddy). It is here that this song takes on a different dimension and offers the possibility of being studied from a sociological perspective. A number of sociological concepts can be used to critically assess the situation depicted in the song.
Interpreting Symbolic Elements
When we grew up and went to school
There were certain teachers who would
Hurt the children any way they could
By pouring their derision
Upon anything we did
Exposing every weakness
However carefully hidden by the kids
At the very outset, the title of the song appears to be ironic because it promises representations of joyful instances, whereas when on goes on into the song, one sees that it actually represents just the opposite. The irony exists on another level because the embryonic stage of a person’s life is his/her schooldays, which is filled with innocence and many happy memories. But unfortunately, it was not so for the author. The morbidity of the song is further enhanced by the very way it is sung as well as its musical arrangement. The visual representation of this song in the film that was made based on this album, with a protagonist named Pink, further concretize the very idea of a cycle of social hardships imposed on people associated with the institution of education, the students and teachers to be precise. The song takes on various symbolic overtones which can be studied from the sociological perspectives like that of functionalism, conflict and symbolic interactionism.
The lyrics declare that the school teachers would take every means to inflict emotional pain on the students, breaking their individuality and self-confidence. They would force the students to become faceless and voiceless concoctions of so-called productive citizens, who are passive to any sort of emotions, which in reality churns up emotional turmoil in those students, who represent the future generations (Leonhardsen). This brings up the aspect of ‘micro sociology’, a part of the symbolic interactionism which presents an analysis of the social psychological dynamics that is concerned with certain groups of the society (Carter and Fuller). In this case, it is that of the students and teachers of school. From a sociological perspective this can be viewed as a perfect example of conflict resulting from an innate sense of the existing power politics in the society, and a tendency to display authority by harming others (Auguste Briggs and Vreeland).
But in the town it was well known
When they got home at night, their fat and
Psychopathic wives would thrash them
Within inches of their lives
However, the second half of the song offers a different wider sociological concern. This section talks about the abuse which those teachers regularly face in their personal lives. Thus, the injustice inflicted by them on the unsuspecting children are apparently redeemed. This satisfaction is seen in the tone of the lyrics as it symbolizes the oppressed narrator to experience some sort of karmic bliss. This results from a realization that the power politics of the society for which he had to suffer in childhood, is does not spare the very medium of those impositions. However, this rebutting points to a greater hypocrisy of the society for which the teachers have to suffer. The means of abuse on the teachers are their wives in this case. It actually represents a wider social arena, to which both of them belong. It is here that the sociological perspective of conflict takes on a gendered connotation, whereby patriarchy is being mocked at (Roth, Silke, and Dashper). Thus, the very society, whose norms the teachers have been following in the school, also affects the lives of the teachers. And again those frustrated teachers continue to torture the children on the next day with renewed vigour and violence, unknowing of the fact that they are being used as mere puppets by the society, and their very identity being subject to a double suffering – one in the hands of their family on the personal front, and secondly through the hatred they receive from the children, thus affecting their public life as well. The teacher punishes the students because his personal life is unfulfilled, as he is punished by his own wife. The adjective ‘psychopathic’ reflects the psychologically malnourished nature of a society which puts up a wall on its own path to progress.
Small Group Discussion
There is another dimension to this disastrous cycle where the teacher redirects the pain and hollowness of his own life to that of the students. The physical and psychological torture imposed by the teacher, will surely influence one or more of the students who would grow up to do the same. Therefore, though he is held responsible for his own actions, the teacher alone cannot be accused of the entire guilt as he is just distributing the sufferings and burdens transferred upon him by the past and present generations. However, the teacher holds every power to destroy this monstrous cycle, yet he so much anchored behind his own wall and hypnotized by the dictums of the society, that he forces the students to box themselves up beyond their respective fictitious walls, thus each of the students forming the bricks of a larger social wall which disallows the society to seek newer avenues bond these set social barriers. The teacher inadvertently becomes the medium of this wall formation in their attempt to defend their position in society and redirect the pangs of life back to it, which may be seen as some kind of redemption. Thus, from a functionalistic approach, the very idea of establishment of harmony and equilibrium in the society through proper functioning of its different parts, are subverted from the very core of the society (Henslin et al.). The very parts of the society which could have turned out to be a medium of improvement, is channelized into a completely different direction.
The Happiest Days Of Our Lives has a trenchant note with a title that is equally ironic and recalls that the school days of the author was anything but happy. On a larger scale, the song depicts the dystopia of a post Second World War that had inflicted the society, where dementia looms at large. In an interview, Waters had said that the song refers to all those teachers who constantly demoralize the students by trying to strictly conform to the stereotypes of the existing society. The teachers would try to mould these children according to these stereotypes so that they grow up to become scholars and total citizens who would not attempt to think outside the box, even if it is for the benefit of the benefit of the society, as that would challenge the very bedrock on which the society stands.
Therefore, we may conclude by saying that this song, though small in size, takes on a universal dimension in that it represents the flaws of the society, which can be put against any cultural backdrop. These flaws have a direct bearing on the future of humanity. The author, with an autobiographical element in the song, craftily juxtaposes both a part of the society and the entire society as one big demented whole, where the previous is studied both individually as well as an important part of that whole, constantly interacting with each other, and open to critical sociological concepts.
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