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Published: 17-12-2019

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How does Carol Anne Duffy present the theme of gender in Litany and Havisham?

Duffy presents gender in the poems Litany and Havisham by means of society’s views and expectations of ladies, and the effects it has on them show how getting female was dangerous to their wellbeing.

Litany creates an instance of the best, profitable lady. The reference to the brand ‘American Tan’ creates the image of all-American women – wholesome and patriotic, the ideal kind of housewife to have, dutiful to their husbands and conforming to societal expectations with ease. The women’s ‘red smiles’ allow the reader to infer that they handle to place work into their look for the benefit of their husbands, while seeking following the loved ones and home, and hold a optimistic outlook – once again, fulfilling the function of girls at the time. Alternatively, the red of their lips connotes discomfort (blood) and danger, showing that this might be all a fa?ade, and that underneath the make up, they’re struggling and unhappy with the unsatisfactory, monotonous lives they lead. The ‘Pyrex’ and ‘passing the catalogue’ repeats the notion of the women described as merely homemakers and nothing else – even when with buddies, they still talked about housework, rather than something else they could uncover more enjoyable these ladies literally dedicated their lives to being an unpaid maid. This is Duffy showing the background of the time she grew up in – in the 1950s and 60s, girls had no expectation to be something a lot more or significantly less than mothers and house makers, and the patriarchal society had standard values of nuclear families.

Havisham creates an instance of the unsuccessful lady of the time – the word ‘spinster’ and the bitter tone alongside it presents the idea of becoming past a particular age and unmarried as tragic and the epitome of what ladies didn’t want to be. Havisham’s ‘yellowing’ dress shows how unexemplary ladies didn’t take care of themselves, contrasting the very carefully produced-up girls in Litany. The dress no longer getting white mimics how Havisham wasn’t pure or wholesome like the excellent lady ought to be. The ‘lost body over me’ implies that she when had a body more than her. implying that Havisham had premarital sex, proving that she was impure even so, it was a taboo subject in the 1950s-60s, specifically for Havisham to speak about – Miss Havisham was a character from Dickens’ Fantastic Expectations, published in 1860, when societal expectations of ladies have been even more strict than in Duffy’s time – girls had an image of being innocent, prim and suitable, the opposite of the brass Havisham in Duffy’s poem.

Regardless of the way the ladies were presented in Litany, Duffy displays how they had been repressed underneath the figurative masks. The fact that ‘language embarrassed them’ shows how the girls had been so reserved and eager to be feminine, they were dumbing themselves down to sustain an appearance of becoming excellent. Moreover, the way they ‘balanced’ their smiles demonstrates that it was a forced action that the ladies struggled to do, again, only enduring it since they had been expected to by everyone they knew. The use of onomatopoeia with ‘crackled,’ as effectively as ‘cellophane’ and ‘polyester’ invoke the sense of the women and their lives being plastic, and for that reason man-made and induced, none of it authentic – it was all fake and for show, rather than for their actual happiness.

Unlike in Litany, Havisham is openly unhappy. The ‘Whole days’ she spent ‘in bed cawing Nooooo’ show that on the contrary to the females in Litany, Havisham is unreserved with her emotions, as she does not have any individual to put on a show for – her fianc? left her, and she doesn’t appear to have pals or family members about, so she does not feel the need to repress her feelings that could be deemed unladylike she is so hidden from society as a recluse, that she is unaffected by the expectations of her as a lady. In addition, the speaker in Havisham continues to go against societal norms when she says that she ‘wished him dead.’ She is countering stereotypes of females as meek and obedient by becoming so unfeminine and violent in her thoughts. In hindsight, the reader knows Havisham is lucky to be cost-free from the relationships in the 1950s and 60s, which have been sexist in their nature in the male-dominated world, but Havisham desperately wants her connection back – her life has been destroyed by her break up. The women in each Litany and Havisham had been as a complete, unhappy, which is possibly due to the part of ladies at the time becoming one particular that would be hard to find pleasure in.

In Litany. the structure shows the development of the speaker, but not the older generation. Firstly, the mother is proud, shown by her listing of objects such as the ‘display cabinet,’ utilised to show off enviable, beautiful things to guests. Then, Duffy shows a lack of expression when the ‘butterfly stammered itself in my curious hands.’ The slow death of the butterfly, often bright and colourful shows the constraints of individuality in the strict 1950s/60s. Lastly, then speaker’s mother is humiliated to the point of speechlessness – ‘mute shame.’ But, unlike her mother, the speaker is liberated by the words that embarrassed her mother – the ‘thrill’ she got from it encouraged the speaker to preserve fighting the expectations forced upon her. The speaker, as a member of the new generation, will see adjust and adapt with it as occasions move on, nevertheless, the mother is set in her techniques, and will never ever move on from how she has been raised to nearly enforce the expectations to be the ‘perfect’ housewife on herself.

The structure of Havisham shows the speaker’s emotions travelling in circles. Initially, she is angry, shown by her ‘dark green pebbles for eyes.’ The green has connotations of envy and jealousy and the pebbles recommend that she has hardened and is cold and inanimate. This, paired with the violent imagery, such as her wishes and prayers for his death, and the ‘ropes on the back of [her] hands [she] could strangle with.’ The use of ropes, rather than her bare hands is significantly less individual, indicating much less passion towards the victim themself, she just wants to get out her anger. Next, she’s upset – the ‘cawing’ and ‘trembling’ are pathetic and weak actions that highlight the misery of the speaker, as ‘cawing’ is reminiscent of a bird crying and ‘trembling’ tells the reader how the speaker is afraid to do menial tasks such as open her wardrobe. Then, the speaker is enraged again the ‘red balloon bursting’ is a clear instance of this as red connotes anger and danger (eg blood) and the plosive consonance of ‘balloon bursting’ creates the image of the speaker spitting as she rages on. Ultimately, she is back to misery as ‘don’t consider it is only the heart that b-b-b-breaks’ creates the image of the speaker blubbering as she sobs. The repetition of the two feelings show that the speaker is failing to move on, like the mothers in Litany. Miss Havisham from Wonderful Expectations was jilted by her fianc? at the altar, and spent the rest of her life in her wedding dress, and even projected her bitterness onto her adoptive daughter.

Duffy explores gender in the poems Litany and Havisham via the speakers’ improvement in the poems, and how they represent women at the time Duffy grew up and how she saw and was influenced by them.
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