Carol Ann Duffy presents to the reader through her poetry many views she has on society. Her recent poetry portrays her views on the treatment of females and how in the past they have not been given true status in society. Duffy is a strong feminist and I think that the fact that she was not chosen poet laureate for both her sex and her sexuality has further strengthened her views on the rights females should have and the power they should have relative to men.
Her feminist views are provoked even further when she is second choice in the running to be laureate and not until Seamus Heaney drops out of the race it is only then that she is the favourite to become the new poet laureate. It can be seen that again because Heaney was male and she was female the automatic choice would have been Heaney because of the stereotypical views in society regarding men being better then women.
These could be some of the reasons why Duffy writes many poems from a female’s point of view regarding the male gender.
Carol Ann Duffy’s ability to give voices to previously silenced figures helps her tell the reader her views on society. By using characters’ voices rather than her own, Duffy identifies with the speaker and confers authority onto a voice which might otherwise be silent. In the poems I have looked at she uses the characters that are portrayed as having lives without purpose but in reality their lives are without purpose the status society has given them.
Psychopath’, ‘Recognition’, and ‘Stealing’ are three of the poems I will be analysing to look at the way Carol Ann Duffy presents her point of view on society. The characters in the three poems are described as having lives ‘without purpose’. They lead lives with no meaning and these characters lives are ‘without purpose’ due to society giving power to men, such power that they are shown to be dominant gender in all three poems, and this dominance effects these characters lives.
Much of Carol Ann Duffy’s work is written in the form of dramatic monologue and by using the voices of both male and female in the three poems, she portrays the views of both male and female in society and through both the male and female narrator she still manages to get her outlook on society and her feelings on why society is failing because of the status both men and women have been appointed with. This Idea of female identity is a recurring theme in Duffy’s poetry.
She stereotypes many of her characters in order to foreground the female characters incompatible place within a modern society. Although her poem ‘Stealing’ is not one of the poems which look at her feminist views the other two ‘Psychopath’ and ‘Recognition’ are based around looking at Females place in society. In ‘Psychopath’, Duffy uses the dramatic monologue to present, and weaken, the sexual power of men over women “One thump did it, then I was on her”.
Duffy shows the reader that although at first you think that Duffy is trying to show the woman as the weaker character it is in fact the man who is the weaker character. He has to physically abuse her to achieve his sexual status as ‘Jack the Lad, Ladies’ Man’. Duffy’s views on male dominance and male status are enhanced even further when he has killed her, but it is more important to him that he lives up to the constructed image of a ‘real man’. He feels he too, is trapped within the identity which has been appointed to him by society.
This kind of dominance which Duffy is suggesting all men had in society is also shown in ‘Recognition’, where Duffy uses a dramatic monologue to show us the view of a housewife on her husband and how their relationship has changed her life. The woman here explains through the poem how her life has become ‘without purpose’. She also indirectly lets onto the reader the reason as to why her life has become the way it has. She feels it is her husband and their relationship that has made her life how it is. “I love him, through habit” She recognises that her love for her husband is merely based on ‘habit’.
However, her power is diminished by her sense of responsibility and the fact that she has a role to fulfil, the role of a wife. The poem has references to a shopping list “Cheese”, “Kleenex”. This reflects the way her life has become. It has become structured and meaningless. She just gets on with the domestics of the house without thinking or having concern about her husband and children. Looking at the structure of the poem we can also see that the stanzas are all regimented four line stanzas and that this set structure is also tight and suffocating like her life.
The use of repetition in the form of an apology in the closing line “I’m sorry sorry sorry” underlines the woman’s inferior position and the lack of punctuation highlights her lack of concern towards anything. The ‘Psychopath’ like the other two characters in the two poems may have a life without purpose because he is a man who has no worries as to the consequences his actions may well bring. He does not show little guilt or sympathy when talking about his violent actions “one thump did it” but feels he was right to be aggressive in order to get what he wanted.
Again like with the housewife in ‘recognition’ society rules have made him how he is. He does not care about his actions or the consequences his actions could bring but instead is boasting about how just” one thump” was enough to get her on the floor. The violence he uses is to show he is the dominant sex which Duffy feels society has given him the role of being the dominant sex. Nevertheless I also feel that others can be interpret that his life does have purpose and can argue this because he looks to the future in the poem: “a gypsy read my palm. She saw fame. ”
We see that he is interested in the fame he could get in the future. “I could be anything with my looks, my brains. ” This view is also backed up by the way he looks after his appearance. This is because if he did not care about his life, or his life did not have a purpose then he would not take so much care over how he looks. And finally I think that he does have a purpose which is to use and abuse women to show off his masculinity. This shows that although the character may have a life with purpose Duffy still shows her displeasure at society through the poem.
I also believe that ‘Psychopath’ contrasts ‘Recognition’ in terms of the structure. Unlike ‘recognition’ it has a free flowing structure with lots of enjambement and no set stanzas which could suggest that Duffy is trying to back up the image of the character as being arrogant and over confident by him speaking very freely and openly and gloating about his actions which the reader would see as very appalling. This also goes on to show again her views on male dominance and the arrogance and confidence it brings.
The enjambement in ‘recognition’ could be there because it shows the reader feels that it is her way of showing her lack of freedom and that inside this meaningless and structured life she is trying to be freed. She is trying to escape her relationship with her husband but knows it is not possible. And I think that Duffy is trying to show this by using enjambement inside the tight regimented four line stanzas. The woman does not recognise herself. She has no sense of her own identity because it has been removed from her because of the way society has constructed a female’s identity.
Duffy, perhaps, suggests that men are similarly constrained by the fact that they to have to abide by the rules of society and fulfil their role as the dominant sex. Where the woman in ‘Recognition’ is symbolised by the shopping list, the man in ‘Psychopath’ is labelled by the very title of the poem and the images of late 50s/early 60s popular culture that run through it: for example, ‘Jimmy Dean’ and the song ‘Johnny, Remember Me’. ‘Psychopath’ like ‘Recognition’ shows women to be the weaker sex.
Although we see in ‘Recognition’ that we as the reader are informed of this through a female voice in ‘Psychopath’ it is the voice of a man, who indirectly informs the reader of the power men and women were supposed to have. The lack of respect shown to women is shown when the ‘Psychopath’ talks about his mother. “Mama, straight up, I hope you rot in hell” Here we are shown that even to his mother he shows such disrespect which again is because of the power he has been given by society. I also feel that the use of italics “No, don’t” to refer to women in the poem highlights again the lack of power they have in comparison to males.
The italics make the words look slightly smaller which could indicate Duffy’s views on how men try to make women look small just like the psychopath has tried to make the girl he has killed look small and helpless. In contrast from ‘Recognition’ and ‘Psychopath’, ‘stealing’ is a poem which does not tackle the problem of how society gives more power to the male sex then the female sex. It still shows the character to have a life without purpose and Duffy again indirectly shows the reader that society has forced the character to carry out the actions that he has done.
Duffy explores the attitude of men and the reasons behind the attitudes they have. “Better off dead than giving in. ” Here we see that the arrogance and the complacency these men have in life is because they feel that they are the dominant sex, and so they do not fear the consequences because men according to society are supposed to be the stronger the less fearful in comparison to female. And Duffy feels that because of these views that society holds or held are affecting everyone in a negative manner. She feels that he steals because of what society has made him, an egotistic man.
Like in ‘Psychopath’ where the character illustrates his power and the fact he is a man through violence and by not showing any concern towards the consequences of his actions here we see that this character demonstrates his dominance as a man also by not caring about the consequences. “Children would cry in the morning. Life’s tough. ” We are also shown that due to this dominance men have over women they tend to become very lonely like in ‘Psychopath’ he is unable to socialise with anyone so gets rid of his boredom by abusing girls.
And in this poem the character is alone and we are shown the speaker’s loneliness right from the beginning when he steals a snowman. We can assume that Duffy is showing her character stealing a snowman because they are lonely and in need of a ‘mate’ to get rid of their loneliness even though Duffy does not have the character tell the reader that it is lonely. Using Duffy’s criticism on society one can say that this loneliness is also created by society and that if the power which was divided between men and women was quite equal then these types of people would be looked after and protected from doing what they do.
I also feel that the use of starting with a question “most unusual thing I ever stole? ” and finishing with a question “you don’t understand a words I’m saying, do you? ” tells the reader that the character is not just talking to us but is in an actual conversation with someone about his stealing. Again like the ‘Psychopath’ he is boasting about his actions and feels or tries to show that he does not care about what may happen later because of what he has done. On the other hand it can also be viewed that like ‘Psychopath’, ‘Stealing’ also is a poem whose character has a purpose in life.
This is because if you look at the housewife in ‘Recognition’ she has no purpose in life and literally does nothing and if you look at this character he steals to get rid of his boredom which is his purpose in life, to get rid of the boredom. And I think that it can be seen that again it is similar to ‘Psychopath’ because Duffy still manages to show how society has made this character how he is and that society is responsible for his actions whether his life has a purpose or not.
Overall through the arguments that I have presented I think that Duffy in all three of the poems expresses the dissatisfaction she has with society and its division of power between men and women and why men are given the dominance in relationships. I also feel that apart from ‘recognition’ it can be argued as to whether or not the character in ‘Psychopath’ and ‘Stealing’ have lives with or without purpose. I also feel that it does not affect the message Duffy tries to get across to the reader regarding society.
Looking back I feel that Duffy almost certainly in all three poems tries to get her point across on society and the criticism, she has of society and the extreme amount of power it has given to men for decades, and therefore I agree with the statement that Duffy does try and ‘express her social criticism by giving voices to characters who reveal their lives as being without purpose’ although it can be argued as to whether or not the characters in the poems have a purpose in life.