Explain and discuss the themes of the poem.
That the television is called the ‘idiot box’ might have something to do with the kinds of effect Dahl imagines it has in children. This phrase is actually a transferred epithet, in the sense that it is not the television set that is idiotic, but that idiocy is produced in the watchers of television. When we watch television, it is a passive process on our parts. We do not actively engage with the material as we do while reading and imagining the words on the page coming to life. This passivity ultimately makes the work of our brain slower and more strained.
Death of imagination:
Amidst all the people of his time, Dahl was perhaps singularly ahead of his time when he predicted that television would spell the death of imagination in children’s minds. As a children’s author, he must have known more than others how children’s faces light up when they read or listen to a story, and how they often lose „ themselves in the details of a book as their imagination constructs entire worlds for them in their minds. However, television hands them ready images. As a result, their imagination suffers and they later become sceptical in thinking that what they cannot see is not real. If all children thought that way, an author like Dahl would actually go out of business.
Reading as a habit to be inculcated:
Even though Dahl was writing primarily for children, the message of this particular poem seems more intended for their parents than for them. Dahl believes that it is a parent’s duty to inculcate the habit of reading in his or her children. Children might not know any better than watching television for hours, but parents do. In their hurry to get all their work finished, they ignore their children’s long hours of television-watching. However, by putting their own convenience aside, they should introduce their children to the wonderful world of books.