This essay analyses and evaluates the underlying theme of alienation in these three poems. It compares and contrasts the ways in which the different poems present alienation to the reader and how effectively this has been portrayed. Alienation is when a person is socially withdrawn or isolated from others, causing aggression or loss of friendliness. Duffy attempts to interpret and reveal the thoughts and feelings of those who are alienated.
Each poem presents a different interpretation of people in various situations, some more affected by alienation than others.
This essay also describes how the language, structure and imagery help to convey the theme of alienation successfully to the reader.
Finally this essay suggests other interpretations of the poem and discusses to what extent the speakers in the poems are really alienated.
Stealing is written in five stanzas with use of half and internal rhymes and there is a regularity in the line lengths. The internal rhyme makes phrases such as, “I wanted him, a mate with a mind as cold as the slice of ice within my own brain,” stand out to the reader. This extended metaphor creates a repulsive image of open flesh and blood in the reader’s mind, making the reader push the thought away perhaps, referring to the way in which people pushed the narrator away.
The neatness of the presentation of the poem could represent how neatly the thief is organizing his thoughts on the other hand it contrasts with the thoughts of the reader, as we are confused, as we do not understand the idea of stealing a snowman whereas the narrator does.
Duffy uses the technique enjambment often, for example, “I joy-ride cars/ to nowhere,” this makes the poem sound more like a speech as it is more fluent, this results in making the situation and the speaker in the poem more realistic and therefore more sinister and disconcerting.
Similarly, Education for Leisure is written in five stanzas, also with use of internal rhymes. The fact that the poem is written in five equal stanzas, with the exception of the one word line could symbolise that the speaker in the poem has planned his life and he wants to do something to feel recognised and noticed for example, “I walk the two miles into ton for signing on. ” As both poems are dramatic monologues, enjambment is also used here, as it gives the poem energy and pace making it sound like a conversation.
However in Education for Leisure there is a full stop at the end of every stanza, upon reflection this could relate to the full stop of life when someone dies or it could symbolise the full stop at the end of every friendship the speaker has had in the past and lost eventually. Alternatively, Originally is written in four stanzas, although there is still a regular use of enjambment: sometimes the enjambment is used between verses as well as between lines.
An example of enjambment in this poem is, “my voice/in the classroom… The word voice fills the gap and bridges the space until it is reduced to “in the classroom,” emphasising the beginning of alienation when a person is forced to recoil into himself or herself. The word “voice,” could be linked to the one word line in Education for Leisure, “language”, as they are both forms of communication. It is interesting to see that one-word lines are prevalent in the three poems. The reader’s eyes are drawn to them. It happens five times, thrice in Originally and once in both Stealing and Education for Leisure.
In Education for Leisure the one-word line is ‘language’ this is a form of communication and is the way for human to reveal their thoughts and feelings illuminating the fact that people who are alienated cannot reveal their feeling to anybody. In Stealing Duffy chooses to put “camera” on its own line. A camera usually captures images of happy moments or contains family pictures also a camera never lies illustrating to the reader that the narrator wants to be in a happy moment or in a family picture.
Finally the three one-word lines in Originally are “understand”, “think” and “boys. ” “Understand” and “think” are both imperatives suggesting that they could be directed slightly toward the reader. “Girls” is a one-word line in The captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team and serves to suggest what the young narrator might be pre-occupied by: or annoyed by! In Stealing the speaker repeats “I” several times, possibly illustrating the character’s egotism.
The speaker could be self-centred as a result of his alienation as he does not have any friends to be fond of and talk to, so he has withdrawn from society. The speaker also seem to glamorise himself, thinking he is a film star for example, “observing his actions dispassionately watching his gloved hand,” sometimes he even seems to be speaking lines from a script, for example, “I sigh like this – Aah” portraying to the reader that the speaker does not understand the reason why nobody wants to be his friend and assumes it is because they are jealous of him, this also explains his egotism.
The line, “I joy-ride cars/to nowhere,” is eye catching as the two words “joy-ride” and “nowhere” contrast and they are almost an oxymoron, this clever technique creates tension as the reader’s brain does not understand how the two words go together, supporting the overall theme of alienation. Some of the language in the poem is very aggressive and destructive, for example, “I’m so bored I could eat myself,” and “The slice of ice within my own brain,” exposing how the speaker’s feeling about his situation of being alienated.
It almost makes us sympathise with the speaker as we realize the amount of suffering he/she undergoing (interestingly the reader is not given any strong evidence to reinforce whether the narrator is male or female however, in my own opinion I consider the speaker to be a male as he manages to carry the snowman and strength is usually associated with men, additionally the character steals the snowman and finds it thrilling to think that children would cry when they realise the snowman has gone, one would not expect a woman to think like this as woman are associated with loving and caring for their children).
Another interpretation of the aggressive language could be that the speaker is a slightly aggressive person naturally and this could be the reason people have isolated him because they feel threatened by him. Furthermore, the way in which the poem seems to be answering a question, “The most unusual thing I have ever stolen? ” implying the entire poem is a response to a question we have asked and likewise the poem ends as if the character is directly addressing the reader, for example, “You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you? makes the reader jump and realise that he does not know what the speaker is talking about, as the reader cannot comprehend the idea of stealing a snowman. This explains why the speaker in the poem has been alienated, as people cannot understand him and his ways. In the same way, Education for Leisure repeats “I” several times throughout the poem to show the character’s self-obsession revealing how alienated the speakers are as they focus the conversation with the reader on themself.
Colloquialisms, such as “bog,” make the speaker even more realistic and prosaic, this is eye-catching as Dufy really tries to make the poem as realistic as possible consequently the reader really understands the situation and almost sympathises with the narrator which is unnerving. The word “kill,” is also repeated a lot, the speaker feels under appreciated because of the treatment he is receiving from others.
He does not want to be isolated anymore and therefore feels he needs to ‘play the role of god’ to achieve some sort of status so that he is recognised. This reveals the speaker’s frustration. His frustration gives him the compulsion to express himself through violence; “Today, I am going to kill something. ” Therefore he murders the goldfish, the fly and potentially the reader. Another interpretation of why the speaker wants to play the role of God is that he may want to be in control of his life and be able to change the life of someone else.
This is almost the same as Stealing though more extreme: the speaker in Stealing steals the snowman in order to be friends with it but this does not happens so he destroys it by contrast in Education for Leisure the speaker has given up trying to make friends and instead results to destructive tendencies. Unlike the other two speakers, the character in Originally is not alienated throughout the whole poem.
He is less self-centred and self-assured as she talks about other subjects other than himself, such as her family and her home country, for example, “My brothers cried, one of them bawling Home. ” Contrasting with the other two poems there is no aggressive or destructive language. However, similar to the other two poems Duffy tries to make the poem very realistic, she uses quotes of the character talking to his/her’s parents, “I want our country,” this is successful in making the reader have empathy for the speaker.
The use of alliteration on stanza three, “seeing”, “swallow”, “slug”, skelf” and “shame” could symbolise a snake hissing representing evil on the other hand it could represent the sound of the air coming out of a balloon demonstrating that the narrator’s energy I running out or it could represent a big change to a small change. Interestingly all three poems are written in the first person however, when we read it to ourselves it does not sound like our voice which is usual as anything written in the first person usually sounds like our own voice making us feel slightly alienated.
The imagery in Stealing is very inventive and successful when conveying the theme of alienation. The general image of the whole poem is a dark, empty street with a snowman in the centre of it. The coldness and loneliness of the snowman is frequently related to the body of a human. For example, “the ice within my own brain,” and “chill piercing my gut. ” This is thought provoking as it could be symbolising the coldness and seclusion of the speaker hence revealing feelings and thoughts.
Duffy also uses an interesting contrast with the destruction of the snowman, “Then I was standing amongst lumps of now,'” and “I nicked the bust of Shakespeare,” she makes the contrast between creative and destructive: illustrating the harmful nature of the speaker even more to the reader, perhaps, explaining the reason why other people have isolated him. In the phrase, ” I wanted him, a mate,” illuminates how desperate the speaker is for companionship. The term mate could be interpreted as a buddy, companion or a soul mate.
This vague term suggests that the speaker does not mind who are his friends, comrade or soul mate and he just wants somebody to be with and talk to. In both Stealing and Education or Leisure both speakers come across as very self-centered. Alienation or the root of alienation could either cause this, as they do not have many people to talk to and think about. Similarly in Stealing there is an interesting reference to Shakespeare in the poem. It displays a link with one of Shakespeare’s tragedies called King Lear.
A character in King Lear named Gloucester uses flies as a metaphor for the misery and suffering of men, “As flies to want on boys are we to the gods, they kill us for they sport… ” Gloucester’s speech commended humanity and discourages cruelty and brutality. The speaker in the poem seems to have not understood the meaning of the speech, as the good values Gloucester encourages seem to be alien to him. When the speaker in Education for Leisure is compared to the character in Stealing it is hard to establish which person is more alienated than the other.
The speaker in Stealing seems slightly saner and poses less of a risk to the lives of humans and animals. The character in Education for Leisure is in less control of his/her life and could even be insane. Another interpretation is that the speaker in both of the poems could be the same person in different stages of their life. In Originally there is a slight hint of Duffy’s childhood, as she had to once move to a different place away from her home country Ireland.
This poem could be an expression of her feelings and thoughts at that time. She uses a lot of imagery that refers back to a mother. For example, “our mother singing,” and “We came from our own country in a red room,” the red room could be referring to a mother’s womb from which all humans originate. The main reason I chose these three poems is that the speakers are all very similar to each other. It is almost as if they are the same person growing up and getting more and more affected by being isolated by other people.
All the three speakers in these poems have been alienated in some way, mainly because they do not seem ‘normal’ compared to the other people in their surroundings, so they have a sense of being outsiders. However, if the speakers are really alienated, it is a powerful and shocking technique that Duffy uses by ending her poems with a direct suggestion to the reader, for example, “I touch your arm,” and “You don’t understand a word I’m saying, do you. ” The fact that they are talking to us could be said to make us complicit in their possible crimes and this is what makes these poems extremely disturbing and thought-provoking.