A Minor Role – Revision Notes


UA Fanthorpe – A Minor Role

Since this poem came up in our mock, I thought it would be fitting to complete an entry on it. Hope you find it useful! – Hadiyah Dellal

Fanthorpe illustrates how often in life, one will have to deal with a difficult situation – the way in which the person affected reacts to this situation and the people around them is what the poet explores in this poem. The speaker is evidently suffering from an illness as he/she describes having to make ‘sense/Of consultant’s monologues’, although it is never made clear what illness the speaker is suffering from. However, through the development of the poem, it is hinted by the poet that the illness is terminal. Instead of looking at the dire and pessimistic side of this illness, the speaker attempts to be more optimistic – the poet aims to emphasise how precious life is. The speaker attempts to speak truthfully about the most difficult and complicated situations that one may experience in their life.


  • 6 stanzas in total, which is then followed by a single line. Each stanza focuses on a specific theme, whilst the final line provides the reader with a resolved ending and a positive one.
  • 2nd stanza – Fanthorpe uses litany to demonstrate the many ‘endless’ tasks that the speaker must do, but they don’t really matter anymore for the speaker. The use of listing makes the speaker’s situation overwhelming and almost suffocating – one can relate to why he/she finds their situation difficult. The use of listing, highlights the speaker’s isolation from reality
  • Stanza 3 – in this stanza, Fanthorpe explores social expectations of society. The use of direct speech: ‘O, getting on, getting  better’ provides a confirmation for the reader, the narrator is ill.
  • Framed narrative – we return back to the stage which was initially described at the beginning of the poem, except this time the narrator does not accept their ‘minor role’ or the ‘star part’ – Fanthorpe, highlights the change in mindset for the narrator – they are less dismissive and a sense of optimism is created. 


    • Social Expectations – throughout the poem, the poet highlights how society often expects someone suffering from a severe illness to display emotion about the anxiousness that they may feel. However, in this case the speaker does no such thing in public.
    • Pretence – the ‘stage’, which is referred to at the beginning and the end of the poem functions as a metaphor and highlights the speaker’s ‘minor role’ within a play, which is used to explore ideas of social pretence. The narrator describes themselves pretending that ‘all is well, admit it’s not’. Fanthorpe portrays how often pretending or holding up a facade is better than facing reality.


  • Avoidance ‘O, getting on, getting better my formula/For well-meant intrusiveness.’ – it is easy for one to forget that sometime ‘well-meant intrusiveness’ is not needed, because often all that one needs is space and time to reflect. In the 4th stanza, the poet illustrates how we often try and avoid confronting difficult and delicate situations and it is something that as a society we do.
  • Isolation/Separation ‘bed solves a lot’,
  • Truth – ‘pretend all’s well, Admit it’s not’ – this is the last line of the 4th stanza and it introduces the reader to a familiar notion of not wanting to ‘admit’ that you are not happy, that you are not okay.
  • Acceptance/Stoicism – ‘I am here to make you believe in life’ – this is the final line of the poem and can be interpreted in many different ways. Personally, I think it is almost humorous or even satirical as it the narrator expresses how often we are not content with our lives and forget to appreciate the fact that we are alive and healthy.

Language techniques:

  • ‘I’m best observed on stage’ – the poetic, first person voice is significant as it makes the account more personal and perhaps the reader is more likely to relate to the speaker’s experience if so. The use of first person voice also highlights how often it is easy to be mislead about the emotional experience that sufferers of illness, in particular terminal illnesses – by having a personal account from a patient, the reader will be able to obtain a more accurate and perhaps meaningful account of such experiences. The ‘stage’ is used as a metaphor to demonstrate the ‘minor role’ that the speaker plays in their own life – they’re constantly listen to others and pleasing others, when really they are illustrated as being on the verge of breaking.
  • making endless/exits and entrances – the use of enjambment and alliteration highlights how some of the tasks that the speaker must complete are mundane and monotonous. Here, the poet displays how easy it can be to become absorbed in such things and therefore forget about the enjoyable things in life. The verbs exit and entrances emphasises the how one’s life will be full of people who are fleeting because people come and go as they please.
  • Yes sir. O no, sir – The dialogue is scribed in italics which produces a realistic effect and also demonstrates how one can easily be complacent and agree or disagree with something, which is portrayed through these monosyllabic responses. It is also an example of social niceties in our society, such as the way one would address or respond to someone of a higher authority.
  • midget moments  wrong, the monstrous fabric– the use of alliteration and plosive consonants like ‘g’, ‘t’ and ‘d’ create a harsh and abrupt sound and perhaps this reflects how the speaker has become tired of this pretence. We often refer to the ‘fabric of society’, but here the poet has manipulated language and the fabric is described as ‘monstrous’. This could represent how the speaker finds the social structure in our society unpleasant and too rigid.
  • Present participles – ‘driving, parking, holding, checking, getting, sustaining, walking, thinking, yearnings, enduring’ – these gerunds highlight how these tasks that the speaker endures, are continuous and ongoing, which again suggests that the narrator is suffering from a long-term illness.


  • sustaining the background music of civility’ – this image portrays how the speaker is constantly trying to please others and be civil because they do not seem to want to hurt any of the people who play a role in their life. Through this, Fanthorpe creates empathy for the speaker. The noun ‘background’ again highlights how the speaker themselves blends into the background and perhaps feels sidelined. The ‘background music’ is the continuation of the lives of others around the speaker.


  • midget’ – the adjective midget creates a tone of hopelessness in the poem that the speaker appears to be feeling.
  • Erratic – the speaker is constantly changing from one task to the next, not wanting to stop, pause and reflect upon their situation – this is relatable for the reader because for a given period of time, it is simply easier.

Context for greater understanding:

  • The poet was once a teacher but left her career, in order to become a receptionist at a psychiatric hospital. Here, she observed the patient; clearly they had a profound influence on her as she produced this poem.

Ao4 – Exploring literary connections across texts:

  • Effects – Alan Jenkins
  • On Her Blindness – Adam Thorpe

To conclude, Fanthorpe highlights how our society is flawed because we always tell the same lie: ‘I’m fine’.

By Hadiyah.


12 thoughts on “A Minor Role – Revision Notes

  1. laura says:

    Hi, I need these 4 poems;

    You, Shiva and my mum
    On her Blindness
    Look we have coming to dover
    The fox in the national museum of Wales

    is there any chance you could do these and if so when for?

    thank you so much… your analysis of the poems help so much


    • year12englishblog says:

      Look we have coming to Dover! and The fox in the National Museum of Wales are nearly finished so me and Beth should have those up in the next few days. The others will be up within the next couple of weeks. Hope this is ok 🙂
      -Ella x


  2. Olivia says:

    is the poem about someone suffering from an illness or about the speaker helping people with illnesses? I read context about Fanthorpe working in a hospital and helping patients and how this inspired her poems. I’ve seen people suggest different things so I was wondering which is right?


    • year12englishblog says:

      There’s never really a ‘right’ interpretation of a poem, but the implication is that the speaker (who presumably isn’t the poet) is suffering from cancer or a similar illness and has been told by their doctors that there are no more treatment options available, and them subsequently coming to terms with being terminally ill.


  3. Ibukun Oke says:

    I really like your annotations and they are very helpful. However, I personally think this poem is about the person taking care of the patient as they have the ‘minor role’ and and not the focus of attention. The people taking care of the terminally ill person are the ones that have the several “exits and entrances with my servant’s patter”. Also I’m not entirely sure the ending of the poem is optimistic. I think it’s much more depressing as the carer( who I believe is the speaker) may be thinking it’s better for the sufferer to die, but then has to change their thinking and “make you believe in life”. I think the last line is almost forceful, as if the speaker is trying to reassure themselves and we the reader to believe in life.

    On this particular poem I believe that viewing the speaker as the person taking care of the terminally ill person is more convincing.


    • year12englishblog says:

      I definitely think that’s a valid interpretation – it seems that the poem was made deliberately ambiguous as to whether the speaker is a carer or a patient (as I don’t think the illness itself was what the poet intended to be the focus of the poem, but rather our attitudes as a society towards ill health and death). I find both interpretations to be equally convincing – the speaker’s descriptions of the practicalities of everyday life seem to suggest that they are taking on a caring role (particularly the second stanza), although their emotional response to the situation, as well as the hints of their isolation from human contact, suggest that this is a disease which they are dealing with themselves. I agree that the way you interpret the speaker’s role will definitely have a bearing on how you perceive the tone of the ending.


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