Themes

Fishing boat and nets on a shingle beach
The sea is one of the key themes of ‘Kamikaze’

A number of unifying ideas or themes run through the poem. Different readers may attach more or less significance to each of these themes, depending upon how they view the poem.

ThemeEvidenceAnalysis
The sea: the traditional way of life and its close links to the sea have a timeless quality.Mentions of fishing boats, different types of fish, the 'green-blue translucent sea', the shore, pebbles, 'the turbulent inrush of breakers', 'salt-sodden', 'awash'.The pilot remembers details of the games he played with his brothers, the colours and patterns of the fish and the taste of the sea salt. These vivid memories suggest what he is about to lose and conveys a powerful sense of home-sickness.
Family life: there are repeated references to family members as the poem unfolds.Mentions of father, brothers, grandfather, mother, children.The story of the pilot is at last told to a whole new generation of grandchildren, who perhaps never met him. These references establish the consequences of the pilot's decision - his entire family and community judge him. The reader is invited to question whether the pilot is being judged too harshly, and to reflect on the practice of suicide missions in war.
Question

What does the phrase '- yes, grandfather's boat' suggest about the way the daughter who tells the story has come to see her father?

  • The phrase interrupts the flow of the story. It is placed in italics and appears to be the actual words of the storyteller, rather than the third-person recount we have seen up to this point.
  • The line suggests this family story has been told before to the children and is familiar. Perhaps they are even joining in when the storyteller says, '- yes, grandfather's boat'.
  • Once, the pilot was never spoken of or spoken to. After many years have passed, there's a sense that ideas about the war have changed. The storyteller can at last speak openly about her father to her own children.
  • The effect on the reader is to see the daughter as finally sympathetic to her father. She appears to regret the way she once treated him and recognises how sad his life must have been. Her non-judgemental story is perhaps her way of putting right the past.
  • This suggestion of regret is confirmed by the last three lines of the poem where the speaker speculates that 'he must have wondered/ which had been the better way to die'. It is as if the speaker only now realises that the family had condemned her father to a kind of living death.