Duffy- Feminist Propaganda? Essay
Propaganda is a message purposefully written to influence opinions, causing the viewer to agree with the message writer’s point of view. These are often written in a misleading manner with equivocations. However in ‘The World’s Wife’ many of the poems see women in a negative point of view and many of the women described in the poems are described as happy at the thought of children and child-birth. There is a lack of continuity in the themes of the poems, some are about lesbianism, some are about not conforming to society, but others are about accepting family life and other themes of conformity.
There are a few decisively feminist poems, for example ‘Queen Herod’. This poem is a different view of the bible story in which Herod sentences to death every male infant in his kingdom to kill the son of God. However instead of 3 kings to celebrate the birth of Jesus, 3 queens visit Herod to see their new baby daughter. They warn Queen Herod of a boy who will take her daughter away from her, thus Queen Herod orders the death of every male infant of the kingdom to, in her view, save her daughter from heartbreak.
This poem has powerful overtones of homosexuality- predominantly lesbianism, although these references can be described as ambiguous, for example, she claims that ‘everyone was fast asleep, save me… till bitter dawn’ this quote suggests that she and the queens were alone together until dawn. Dawn has the connotations of a new beginning, this could be referring to the new sexuality she has found.
Throughout the poem the word ‘Queen’ is capitalised, indicating the word to be a key theme in the poem, and giving it connotations of homosexuality as well as motherhood and royalty. ‘Queen’ is a powerful term, often associated with power and domination, this power suggests a detachment from men and the conformation of a man’s society. This unwillingness to conform again suggests lesbianism.
Queen Herod appears to hold the queens both in awe and perhaps regret or fear. Her references to them change constantly. Sometimes she refers to them as though she is above them ‘oh, and gifts for Herod, me… the best of meat and wine’ and sometimes that she is below them ‘they were wise, older than I’. She also holds them in awe ‘those vivid three’ and fear ‘the fierce eyes’. These are powerful emotions, and it appears as though Queen Herod is jealous of the freedom of the queens while she stays in the heterosexual relationship with Herod, this suggests that Queen Herod has a desire not to conform, which is a key feminist idea.
While Queen Herod could arguably be linked to the idea of feministic propaganda, there are many poems that can’t. One such example is ‘Salome’. Salome is taken from the story of Herod and Herodias’s marriage. They were related and therefore John the Baptist condemned the marriage. Out of revenge Herodias told her daughter Salome to seduce Herod until he would give her anything she wanted. She was to say she wanted John the Baptist’s head on a platter. This poem looks at women in a negative, modern respect. She could perhaps be arguing that there are some dangers to complete freedom from current society.
Salome appears to be emotionally detached ‘what did it matter… and doubtless I’ll do it again… Salome’s bed’ this suggests that she has lost her femininity; she appears to be unhappy with her current state of being ‘Never again! … cut out the booze and the fags and the sex’ by which Carol Ann Duffy is saying perhaps that women shouldn’t behave in such a manner. She appears to not feel responsibility for her actions. When she sees the head on the platter she remarks ‘and ain’t life a bitch’. There is no change in tone or any indication that she feels remorse for the man. This could be suggesting that the lack of responsibility for her actions is caused by her lack of femininity. It could also be a metaphor that when a woman behaves in such an irresponsible manner she harms herself and other people. To conclude, it could be argued that this poem is almost anti-feministic.
There are also many poems that are neither feministic nor non-feministic, of women who respect and love their husbands, or conform to male dominated society but achieve freedom in different ways, for example Mrs Faust. This poem is taken from the story of Faust who sold his soul to the devil for material success. Mrs Faust is described as successful although not necessarily feminine ‘flourished academically… no kids’ which suggests that Duffy understands that not every woman wants to grow up to be a house wife or such, however, she does not appear to be entirely happy with her life ‘I grew to love the lifestyle, not the life… I was as bad’ this suggests that now she has grown up she regrets the choices in her early life, her attachment to material goods as opposed to sentimental ideals. It can be argued that for a feminist argument Mrs Faust’s freedom from the normal rules of male dominated society allowed her to lead a successful and fulfilling life, however it also suggests that her freedom from this society has given her regrets in her later life.
In conclusion I believe the main message of Carol Ann Duffy’s poems is to be ones own self- individualism. There is no definite theme through out the poems, each is unique in its own manner, not all the women are good and not all the men are bad. Duffy has used these poems to explore a range of themes from lesbianism to greed and while all the poems are about women, and thus, to a degree, all feminine, Duffy does not appear to use feminist propaganda in her poems. Therefore I do not agree with the proposed statement.