Critical Analysis Of England Half English English Literature Essay

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Like the Union Jack, which is composed of three flags intertwined together, the fabric of England's society is much the same. A mixture of different cultures weaved neatly with the colourful British values; freedom, rule of law, fairness, tolerance and respect. [1] This multicultural society is not one which has suddenly arisen, according to Billy Bragg, in his song 'England, Half English' but rather, he believes, one in which has been embroidered many times and has created the rich and vibrant cohesive society that we see today. [2] In his song, Bragg refers to all things regarded as British, including himself and he explains how they have been influenced or have originated from another country. Bragg concludes that he believes it is this multiculturalism that makes England beautiful. In order to critically analyse this song, it is necessary to summarise the author's implied values and the reasoning behind this. Furthermore, then highlight the positive and negative aspects and suggest areas of improvements.


Billy Bragg's intention of writing this song it seems was to stir up an interest and pride in the England that we see today, as this ethnic diversity is the foundation of England and one which we personally base much of our own identity and culture upon. Bragg uses humour in this song in order to illustrate this point.

'My breakfast was half English and so am I you know. I had a plate of marmite soldiers washed down with a cappuccino.'

Throughout the song Bragg repeats aspects of British culture, including himself, that one might construe as typically English; from our culinary culture to St. George and Britannia, and how they originated (in some part) from out with England's borders. Bragg starts off the song with,

'My mother was half English, and I'm half English too.'

Bragg suggests that England has never been purely British, but rather, this is something that has gone on for generations and that has been woven into our society. With this in mind, Bragg expands further by saying,

'I'm a great big bundle of culture, tied up in the red, white and blue.'

This suggests that England is a rich variety of cultures uniting under a common discipline. 'Bundle of culture' and 'Tied up' suggest that he is not the only one in this position and attached to the English flag, which is a generalised shared identity for a set of people with differing nationalities but which seek similar values and beliefs and live in the same area.

The structure of the song also creates an impact; from the beginning Bragg gives a personal example of how England is indeed Half English, as he mentions that members of his family are not fully English. Bragg then follows this with something simplistic such as our daily culinary culture and how it is also influenced by different nationalities in our society. Bragg then builds up to the next verse which states how important, iconic features such as the English flag and also our personification of the Island, is somewhat multicultural,

'Britannia she's half English, she speaks Latin at home. St George was born in Lebanon, how he got here I don't know.'

When something as important as the flag is half English too, it is clear from what Bragg is saying that England certainly is a society of different cultures but also one in which all of these differing identities are widely acknowledged and accepted. Bragg then ends the song on a positive note,

'Oh my country, oh my country, oh my country, what a beautiful country you are'

This leads the listener to feel a sense of pride and appreciation for having a country seeped in a collection of diverse cultures, of which have came together to create the present day England. The main point that Billy Bragg is trying to make in this song is that it is impossible to define something as typically 'English' as there is very little in England that has not either originated, migrated or been influenced from abroad. In this song Bragg gives plenty of examples and conjures up a sense of pride in the listener, whilst also taking a positive stance on the issue, claiming that is this rich variety of people and traditions that makes England what it is today.

Good Points:

Identity is not a thing but a process- an experiential process which is most vividly grasped as music, hence Billy Braggs song 'England, Half English' which is an effective way for the author to live and express his ideas to a receptive audience that share the same feeling, truth or even identity as Bragg himself. [3] Bragg's main aim is to create social cohesion and this song is one which he attempts to articulate ethical codes and social ideologies. [4] 

'Art recreates individual things in the form of their universal essences, and in doing so makes them inimitably themselves.' [5] 

A modern song may help young people's understanding of what it means to be English and possibly increase interest if not in their homeland in general then in participation in the political sphere. [6] Bragg effectively perpetuates and challenges dominant ideology on what it means to be 'English'. For example, Englishness typically invokes an image of class, patriotism, tea, cricket etc. However, Bragg disputes this classic model and introduces the truth that Englishness is no longer a singular 'culture' but rather, a diverse mix of people from different backgrounds but with shared values, beliefs and a common desire to preserve and be part of the English way of life.

An important aspect of 'England, Half English' is Bragg emphasizing the multicultural England by naming important iconic aspects of the English identity, for example, Britannia and St. George, both of which fully embody patriotism and explaining in a humorous way that they themselves are half English. This makes the reader realise how little of England is actually purely 'English' and also makes you question whether there is such a thing, as globalisation has created a border-less and denationalizing country. [7] If this is correct, then the same could be said for other countries, for example, are all nation states conglomerating into one global ethnically and culturally diverse state? Is this multicultural country which we, including Bragg are so proud of, actually undermining our attempts at defining who we are? It is plausible to say that it is so. However, it can also be said by many, most notably Stevenson (1977) that cultural citizenship involving the right of all social groups should involve full cultural participation within their society, and referring to Billy Braggs song and the influence the many diverse people have exerted on the English culture, it is possible to say that they have participated at every level. [8] 

Bad Points:

Patriotism is a quality the English have been noted for and Billy Bragg is no exception to that rule. [9] It is clear at the end of the song that Bragg feels strongly about Englishness being a culture where there is a diverse ethnic mix. However, although Bragg is clear about what is typically English, he does not press upon his other cultural roots,

'From Morris dancing to Morrissey, all that stuff from across the sea.'

Considering he is proud to be a mix of cultures he vaguely touches upon his other dual nationality, by languidly referring to it as 'stuff'. It is this problem which causes most of us to fail to recognise our true identity or possibly what spurs us on to question or find it.

Bragg bases his identity as a 'thing' (i.e. English) but Frith argues that identity is mobile, a process not a thing and music is an experience of this self-in-process, and hence why the song is a tad ironic. [10] Furthermore, Bragg emphasises Englishness as multicultural, however, this idea is false, as culture, by definition, cannot be 'multi' cultural. [11] Additionally, the irony at the end of the song is apparent as Bragg says,

'Oh my country, oh my country, oh my country, what a beautiful country you are'

This sounds very patriotic considering this 'country' and events within it, made people unsure and shifty enough to write a song about their identity and other people's: this itself challenges notions of patriotism. [12] Moreover, Bragg identifies with being 'half English' throughout the song, but identity is exclusive, simply because all identities are. You cannot identify yourself with one thing and be something else. [13] How can a country have multiple identities? This leads you to question, what Englishness should mean and possibly rework the definition. This could be done by firstly, creating a sense of belonging and commitment to a place (i.e. by being in England you become English). Secondly, you need a desire to be here, to belong. Thirdly, these beliefs need to be attached to anti-racial politics in order to be successful. [14] It would be useful if Bragg focused on not trying to define present day Englishness, but to define what citizenship is in England as this would give people a better sense of their English identity in a globalised world. [15] This is explained further by a survey carried out by the British Government in relation to identity.

'A clearer understanding of the common core of rights and responsibilities that go with British [or indeed, English] citizenship will help build our sense of shared identity and social cohesion.' [16] 

In order for England to be multi-cultural, it is clear that its definition needs to be revised so as to include the many various cultures that are woven into our society and which have helped shaped the way that we live today.


'England, Half English' is a humorous, satirical and harmless song, with its main aim being too lightly educate you on the many diverse cultures that make up the England that we see today. Although Bragg brings up some important points in a friendly manner, there is much irony throughout, which as far as it seems was not intentional. In order for this song to have more effect the definition of English culture would need to be reworked and instead of Bragg focussing on what Englishness is, it would be more beneficial to readers if he stated what citizenship actually was as then people would have something to aim towards, whereas people are left at the end of the song, still questioning their true identity. Like the Union Jack, if we pull away at the thread and unravel the original flags that make up this national emblem we can start from scratch. It is necessary to put down aims in order to weave the new flag together, one in which everyone knows the design and how to get to the final picture and create the multicultural England that Bragg implies in his song 'England, Half English.'