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Feminist Visions In The Poems Of Carol Ann Duffy

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Carol Ann Duffy’s “The World’s Wife” is a set of dramatic monologues mostly devoted to representing the undervalued, neglected and silenced feminine perspectives from original historical and mythical stories. “Circe” and “Little Red-Cap” are poems from the above-mentioned collection. The female speakers in the poems allow the readers to acknowledge their possible perceptions, emotions, and positions related to the stories. Simultaneously Duffy turns traditionally recognized dominant male figures into playful, weak, and henpecked ones through the extensive use of metaphors, symbolism, puns, irony, etc. The outcome is that the poems appear to the reader as juxtaposed intelligent and vivid female-centered stories.

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The first work is written in the viewpoint of Circe and throughout the whole story, she describes the procedure of cooking various types of pigs, in reference to philandering men. Cooking symbolizes a method of punishment. Hence, she is having cannibalistic and revengeful intentions all over the poem and that makes the atmosphere of the story sadistic. Circe suggests that cooking, stereotyped as a feminine skill, can additionally be a form of power that a woman can use over men. ‘One way or another, all pigs have been mine – under my thumb’, the quoted extract is used to demonstrate that women are capable of weakening and emasculating men. Circe lists various types of pigs such as “hogs”, “runts”, “tusker” and “snout” to show that she has been familiar to different men’s natures and behaviors from weak ones to strong ones but all of them have been dominated in the same way. The speaker goes further to imply that even though some of the men, she has met, had different faces and each was “uniquely itself”, “as many handsome as plain, – cruel, kind”, they all had “piggy eyes”. This is an obvious allusion that despite all differences all the men something in common and that is their desire to enter into casual sexual relationships and eventually Duffy finishes the stanza with a pun “Season with mace”. The word mace is a polysemy and according to Collins dictionary alongside many definitions, it is the substance that causes tears and is usually used in sprays as a defense against attackers but it also means a heavy stick, used as a weapon once. It is likely that Duffy uses this allusion to warn the internal and external female audience to keep mace to be ready and defend themselves from philandering males, those who have “piggy eyes”. Although, Duffy might also have used the pun to actually mean a spice that can be used to flavour the cooked “pigs”.

Likewise, in the poem “Little Red-Cap” Duffy challenges classic portrayal of male and female characters, notably shows misrepresented Little Red-Cap within the original story, reproducing her as a dominant and impressive figure. More specifically, using the phrase “made quite sure he spotted me” the speaker (Little Red-Cap) shows that she was aware of the possible threat by the wolf, a dangerous animal. The cited action conveys a message related to dominance since she absolutely realizes the worst possible consequences but still, she intends to be noticed by a typically aggressive predator. The audience perceives a sense of bravery, as the story-teller fully controls herself with emphasized intelligence, this is supported by the sentence “I knew he would lead me deep into woods”, completely confronting the original, innocent, and naïve fairy tale character. This move destroys the popular stereotype that a little girl needs a stronger man to lead and defend her from possible risks and offers a revolutionary feminist approach to the reader. However, one may consider that mentioned extract is just an expression related to curiosity rather than courage and, being a girl who has just entered adolescence, Red-Cap is making decisions without deeply understanding what they can lead to.

At the end the first poem, Duffy uses a technique termed flashback “I, too, knelt on this shining shore – Of course, I was younger then” to recount the main reasons for Circe’s ongoing actions, emotions, and perception. The narrator indicates in the last stanza that even though now she the woman who is familiar with every kind of men and is aware how to deal with them, she also, as almost every woman, used to be “younger” and “hoping for men”. This is a quick return to Circe’s story, where she was still inexperienced, armature girl who was “waving” and “calling” for “black ships’’. Possibly the author uses the word black to hint the little girl to make predictions about coming dark future since black usually indicates misfortune. Though, the reader can notice that Circe did not take into account that hints and was hostile towards men approaching the shore. It is very likely that Circe’s hostility and kindness have been ungratefully used and at the end, she was left alone on the island missing these men. This is supported by the last sentence “Now, let us baste that sizzling pig on the spit once again”, showing how she has changed her perception toward men and how vengeful, sadistic and cruel she has become.

In the “Little Red-Cap”, the stereotype about men being more powerful is being destroyed further at the end. The speaker returns and ends the story with the sentence “Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing all alone” indicating that a woman is happier alone and without a man partner who may try to oppress her. Through this triumphant ending, Duffy makes other characters in the poem relatively unimportant and starts the collection with the celebration of independence. Therefore, the reader may conclude that men are unnecessary for women to succeed. Finally, Duffy goes back and hits again to the point that female can experience power over male, with the phrase “one chop”.

To conclude, Duffy provides enough obvious feminist visions that challenge the traditional opinions about men and women. Through the use of dramatic monologues, the writer focuses on and represents marginalized female characters as the keynotes of the events. Nevertheless, instead of trying to achieve it by idealizing and glorifying the female figures, Duffy relates the same negative human traits to both genders.

10 December 2020

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