Carol Ann Duffy’s Havisham. Poem Analysis
Close analysis of Havisham
The poem ‘Havisham’ is a dramatic monologue based on the character from the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations. She has been left at the altar but still remains in her wedding dress and hates men because of the act. She talks about her feelings for the man who left her and how it affects her now.
In the poem ‘Havisham’ there is no distinctive rhyme scheme. However there is a small amount of slant rhyme, in line 9 the two words “Puce” and “Curses” sound similar but do not rhyme. Some internal rhyme is used as the poem moves towards its ending “awake”, “hate”, “face”, “cake”, “breaks”. This highlights Havisham chaotic mind-set and leads us to believe she is mad, as her head struggles to make sense of what is happening in her life.
The poem is titled just “Havisham” without a Miss. This lowers Miss Havisham’s social status, making her unimportant and unworthy. It also draws attention to the fact that Havisham is her maiden name. She hasn’t taken on her husband’s name because she never actually married him. It’s a constant reminder of her sad, sad life. The repetition of the word ‘I’ implies that Miss Havisham is self-centred, however in the second stanza Miss Havisham refers to herself as “her” and then “myself” immediately after, which creates the impression that actually she does not her own identity and is unsure where she stands in society, she is also calls herself a “Spinster” which in Victorian times was a derogatory term for an unmarried women, so is frowned upon in society. Miss Havisham perhaps takes on Carol Anne Duffy’s own voice as Miss Duffy herself is in a lesbian relationship perhaps also does not quite know where she stands in society either.
From the outset the poem the structure of the poem looks simple. Four stanzas each with four lines long that are all similar length which implies that the speaker is in control of her words. However once we start to read the poem we see that all is not well. The poem is full of enjambment “Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then” as well as “ Miss Havisham keeps stopping and starting her speech, making her sound as if she’s not quite in control of her words again highlighting the inner madness boiling up inside of Miss Havisham.
The sound of the enjambment makes the poem seem unnatural. The last line has a long stuttering breaks “b-b-b-breaks” it sounds like the words are being forced out of Havisham’s mouth which again creates the impression that Havisham is not in control of her mind. The alliteration of the harsh B sounds in line 1 “beloved” and “bastard” and again in line 13 and 14 “balloon bursting” and “Bang.” These similar sounds make it seem as if she’s repeating sounds that she can’t quite get out of her muddled brain. The alliteration as well as the enjambments pop up in unexpected places. It’s as if we never know what’s coming. At any moment, Miss Havisham could really lose her grip on reality, but somehow she just manages to cling on.
Throughout the poem there are large amounts of imagery of death and suffering as this explains the thoughts and feelings of Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham uses a metaphor, imagining that her eyes have become green pebbles and her veins have turned into ropes for strangling. Green is often considered the colour of jealousy and greed. The veins and ropes have a deathly meaning: these body parts are about pain and imprisonment. In Line 16 we’re told that it’s not only the heart that’s capable of breaking. “Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks”. Love doesn’t just affect us emotionally; we feel it in our organs as well and with Havisham it seems her mind has also broken. More colour imagery is shown “white veil; a red balloon” the white of the veil seems to symbolise innocence that Miss Havisham once had, but the red of the balloon shows the anger inside of her that lies now. Imagery of violence is shown throughout as Miss Havisham “stabbed at a wedding cake” taking her anger out on anything that reminds her of what she could have had. The oxymoron of “sweetheart bastard” again reinforces the image of hatred towards her should be husband.
The constant themes of violence and death in the poem symbolise the madness that now resides in Miss Havisham. “Give me a male corpse” and “wished him dead” are examples of this. The poem also shows the idea that love and hate are close together – the two words are separated at the end of the third stanza and the beginning of the fourth. Havisham both desires and hates the man in the poem.
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