Carol Ann Duffy’s Havisham: a Critical 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.
Analysis of the Theme of Gender in “Litany and Havisham”
Duffy presents gender in the poems Litany and Havisham through society’s views and expectations of women, and the effects it has on them show how being female was harmful to their wellbeing.
Litany creates an example of the ideal, successful woman. The reference to the brand ‘American Tan’ creates the image of all-American women – wholesome and patriotic, the perfect type 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 manage to put effort into their appearance for the benefit of their husbands, while looking after the family and home, and keep a positive outlook – again, fulfilling the role of women at the time. Alternatively, the red of their lips connotes pain (blood) and danger, showing that this may 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 mentioned as merely homemakers and nothing else – even when with friends, they still talked about housework, rather than anything else they could find more enjoyable; these women 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, women had no expectation to be anything more or less than mothers and home makers, and the patriarchal society had traditional values of nuclear families.
Havisham creates an example of the unsuccessful woman of the time – the word ‘spinster’ and the bitter tone alongside it presents the idea of being past a certain age and unmarried as tragic and the epitome of what women didn’t want to be. Havisham’s ‘yellowing’ dress shows how unexemplary women didn’t take care of themselves, contrasting the carefully made-up women in Litany. The dress no longer being white mimics how Havisham wasn’t pure or wholesome like the ideal woman should be. The ‘lost body over me’ implies that she once had a body over her. implying that Havisham had premarital sex, proving that she was impure; however, it was a taboo subject in the 1950s-60s, especially for Havisham to talk about – Miss Havisham was a character from Dickens’ Great Expectations, published in 1860, when societal expectations of women were even more strict than in Duffy’s time – women had an image of being innocent, prim and proper, the opposite of the brass Havisham in Duffy’s poem.
Despite the way the women were presented in Litany, Duffy displays how they were repressed underneath the figurative masks. The fact that ‘language embarrassed them’ shows how the women were so reserved and eager to be feminine, they were dumbing themselves down to maintain an appearance of being perfect. Additionally, the way they ‘balanced’ their smiles demonstrates that it was a forced action that the women struggled to do, again, only enduring it because they were expected to by everyone they knew. The use of onomatopoeia with ‘crackled,’ as well as ‘cellophane’ and ‘polyester’ invoke the sense of the women and their lives being plastic, and therefore 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 women in Litany, Havisham is unreserved with her emotions, as she doesn’t have anyone to put on a show for – her fianc? left her, and she doesn’t appear to have friends or family around, so she doesn’t feel the need to repress her feelings that may be deemed unladylike; she is so hidden from society as a recluse, that she is unaffected by the expectations of her as a woman. Furthermore, the speaker in Havisham continues to go against societal norms when she says that she ‘wished him dead.’ She is countering stereotypes of women as meek and obedient by being so unfeminine and violent in her thoughts. In hindsight, the reader knows Havisham is lucky to be free from the relationships in the 1950s and 60s, which were sexist in their nature in the male-dominated world, but Havisham desperately wants her relationship back – her life has been destroyed by her break up. The women in both Litany and Havisham were as a whole, unhappy, which is possibly due to the role of women at the time being one 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,’ used to show off enviable, beautiful items to visitors. 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. Finally, 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 keep fighting the expectations forced upon her. The speaker, as a member of the new generation, will see change and adapt with it as times move on, however, the mother is set in her ways, and will never move on from how she has been raised to almost 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 suggest 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 less personal, indicating 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 example 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. Finally, she is back to misery as ‘don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks’ creates the image of the speaker blubbering as she sobs. The repetition of the two emotions show that the speaker is failing to move on, like the mothers in Litany. Miss Havisham from Great 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 through the speakers’ development in the poems, and how they represent women at the time Duffy grew up and how she saw and was influenced by them.
Comparing Presentations of Love in “Havisham” and “Valentine”
Carol Ann Duffy’s love poems are often riddled with oxymoronic statements, which affirm the changing nature of love and how it is perceived in different relationships and in different periods of time and life. “Valentine” and “Havisham” are two poems which share similar proposals of love, albeit through very different presentations. Overall, in these two poems love is shown to have negative effects, with Duffy using enjambment and structure, powerful imagery, and oxymorons to demonstrate this stance.
The most notable similarity is perhaps the titles of the two poems. Both ensure the reader begin the poems with preconceptions, “Valentine” alluding immediately to love, expressions of love and commercialism, while “Havisham” highlights the famous Charles Dickens’ character Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. Thus the reader begins “Valentine” with conventions in mind, the expectations of sweet love and couples aiding Duffy in the juxtaposing nature of the poem. The first line, “Not a red rose or a satin heart,” is a declarative, short and sharp to emphasise the absence implied in “Not” and to completely juxtapose itself against the title. “Valentine” by its topic implies presents, a “red rose, as well as love and here is where the opening line serves even more heavily to juxtapose against the title. After all, Valentine’s Day is famous for its consumerist tone, everything exaggerated and overused to provide expectations that couples need to fulfill. “A satin heart” is a common gift, something purchased, in fitting with “Valentine”; by declaring “Not,” Duffy steps away from the negative side of “Valentine” without delivering a message of love instead; rather she successfully uses the title to create ideas and then discards all of them, arriving not at love instead of consumerism or at consumerism instead of love but at somewhere outside both of these boundaries. Hence, the reader is left with a sense of unfulfillment and with no notion as to what the narrative voice’s view on love really is.
On the other hand, in “Havisham,” Duffy uses the title to create ideas which she then extends through the opening lines. However, the singular word title still achieves the same effect as Valentine with the reader. Miss Havisham, the eponymous character from Great Expectations is abandoned at the altar and for the rest of her life voluntarily stays in her wedding dress, never leaves her residence and keeps the breakfast on the table, leaving herself and the food to decay throughout the book. Hence the reader has an understanding that in this poem, love is a negative thing, still craved by Havisham, yet a concept misunderstood and hated because she came so close to having it but never fully grasped it. Readers consider Miss Havisham to be a “Spinster” and the absence of requited love in her life is clarified in the opening line with the oxymoronic accusation of “Beloved sweetheart bastard.” and, again, use of the word “Not.” “Havisham” also creates a sense of identity. By removing the pronoun, Miss Havisham is reduced to her last name. This leaves the “Miss” implied, also implying Havisham’s relationship status of unmarried and single. Furthermore though it is a reminder, to the reader and Miss Havisham herself, that she was abandoned. It is her maiden name and she will never take someone else’s surname, as she would have if she hadn’t been conned. Duffy uses “Havisham” to reinforce the idea of abandonment and show the reader that Miss Havisham is consumed by this event and the feelings she felt before and after it, reduced from the respectability of ‘Miss’ to merely a maiden surname. The titles of both “Valentine” and “Havisham” create preconceptions of love, the former as positive and the latter as negative, Duffy then utilizing these conceptions to give her poems more impact.
In both poems, Duffy presents love as destructive. While this stance is more recognisable in “Havisham,” the narrative voice of “Valentine” also impresses upon the reader that love can be detrimental to health, both physically and mentally. The narrative voice in “Valentine” can “blind”, the “onion” representing their love causing “tears.” Sight being taken away by the pain of love is parallel to Miss Havisham’s “dark green pebbles for eyes,” the difference being that in “Valentine” love takes away all sight but in “Havisham” she merely sees the world with cynicism, through jealousy, the latter implied through Duffy’s use of the colour “green” rather than being completely blinded. Still, love destroys a fundamental part of her, reinforced in the closing line of the poem. The use of the adverb “only” emphasising that love is destructive and that “it’s not only the heart that b-b-b-breaks”, hinting at the idea that the mind is affected as well. Thus Duffy presents love as destructive to both parties involved; in “Valentine” it is the recipient of the love, while in “Havisham” it is the ‘giver’ of love.
Within these ironic depictions of love, Duffy exaggerates the idea of weddings and the imagery of weddings within both poems to demonstrate a specific kind of love desired. In “Havisham” a “long slow honeymoon,” is wanted the time of the “honeymoon” extended by the assonance of “long slow”. Miss Havisham wants permanence, suggested by the repetition of time frames in the poem, beginning with “Not a day since” and the decaying, “yellowing” of her wedding dress. The “wedding-cake” in the final stanza is representative of everything she couldn’t have, the “white veil” contrasting to the image of “the dress / yellowing” and portraying both how long it has been since the ‘wedding’ and how Miss Havisham now has lost everything. Her wedding was the pivotal moment in her life, which then defined the rest of her time alive and the repetitive nature of the imagery, starting with “the dress” in the second stanza and ending with the “honeymoon,” exemplifies this, Miss Havisham unable to not “remember.”
However, in Valentine, marriage is not all consuming and is actually a suggestion, “Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring”, but only “if you like”. The permanence of this relationship is unsure and doesn’t necessarily need to be justified, whereas in Havisham it is necessary for living with fulfillment. Love in both poems has negative effects and can be perceived as harmful rather than fulfilling, but in Havisham it is needed whilst in Valentine it is layered and not required.
Charles Dickens’ Great Expextations and the Shift in Miss Havisham’s Personality
Great Expectations Essay
Some people are willing to do just about anything for love and on the account of it. This is evident in everyday life, as one may watch a friend change for a loved one. However, it does not make a difference whether the change occurs consciously or unconsciously. The important thing is that it occurs. Remarkably, love has a way of transforming people. It may turn a common boy into a gentlemen, a hardened convict into a compassionate man or a beautiful bride into miserable figure in faded and yellow dress. In the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, love alters the lives and personalities of Miss Havisham, Pip and Magwitch three characters who have had the fortune or misfortune to encounter it.
The most memorable metamorphosis transpired in Miss Havisham. Once young and frivolous, she fell in love with a handsome man named Compeyson who played with her emotions and, since she was fairly well off, used her for her money as well. He broke her heart with a letter he sent to her the day of their wedding. She received it while she was dressing for her marriage at twenty minutes to nine the hour and the minute at which she afterwards stopped all clocks. (Great Expectations Pg. 168. Many years later, she was still exactly as she had been the day of her wedding only much, much older. The bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. (Great Expectations Pg. 53.) Her love for Compeyson had been so strong that her broken heart never healed. She renounced the world and shut herself up in her house never to see daylight again. There is no doubt that it was her blind devotion, unquestioning self humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief (Great Expectations Pg. 224) which caused her to act with such means. Consequently, over the years she transformed herself into a bitter and somewhat cruel, old eccentric woman in a faded and yellow bridal dress.
Miss Havisham was not the only character who underwent a drastic change as a result of falling in love. When Pip fell in love with Estella a beautiful girl with no heart who was adopted by Miss Havisham in order to wreak revenge on all of the male sex(Great Expectations Pg. 164), he too changed. Estella wounded him with her pride by calling him common, she insulted him and looked down upon him, but Pip loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness and all discouragement that could be (Great Expectations Pg. 216). When Pip First Met her, he decided that he wanted to be a gentleman on her account (Great Expectations Pg. 216) and so began the process of his transformation. With ambition to spare and a lot of luck, Pip went to London to pursue his goal. Estella was of course the inspiration of it, and the heart of it. (Great Expectations Pg. 216) Pip completely recreated himself as a gentleman all because, in his mind, he thought that if he could only be less coarse and common, he could win Estellas heart.
Conveniently enough for Pip, Magwitch a convict whom Pip helped when he was a little boy, financially supported Pips dream of becoming a gentleman. When Pip first encountered Magwitch, he described him as a fearful man, all in coarse gray.” (Great Expectations Pg. 2) However, after Pips noble act in assisting Magwitch, Magwitch swore that every penny he earned from that moment on, would go to benefit Pip. He grew to love Pip as his son. This was evident when Magwitch said Lookee here Pip. Im your second father. Youre my son more to me than any son. Ive put away money, only for you to spend (Great Expectations Pg. 298). Magwitch risked his life to go see him in London. Even when he was apprehended, he did not demand much of Pip despite what Pip owed him. It best a gentleman should not be knowed to belong to me now. Only come to see me as if you come by chance alonger Wemmick. Sit where I can see you when I am swore to, for the last o many times, and I dont ask no more.(Great Expectations Pg. 416) That was Magwitchs only wish for Pip to fulfill. Since Magwitch loved Pip so dearly, he became a better person. Instead of always worrying about his own well-being, he sacrificed his life in order for Pip to have the opportunity he never had. Love brought out qualities such as generosity and kindness in Magwitch that were not evident in his personality when his character was first introduced.
Magwitch, Pip and Miss Havisham all changed as a result of love. Their personalities changed, their values changed some for the better, some for the worse. Pip became a gentleman due to his love for Estella, Miss Havisham wasted away, nursing her broken heart becoming bitter and old, while, Magwitch spent many years making a gentleman so he could one day go and see him. It is evident that love changed all their lives and most would agree that love has a habit of doing that to people. Some changes that take place are drastic while others arent, some conscious and some not, but all are undeniable. Whether or not these change are gladly received does not stop them from occurring again and again. This is the way it has been in the past, this is the way it is in the present, and this is the way it will continue being in the future.
Character Analysis of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations
In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham is shown to be a broken woman. When Compeyson abandoned her on their wedding day for her money she became grief stricken, trapped in the moment of her lover’s betrayal. Through the use of fire as symbolism, Miss Havisham is able to display her withering away of life, her intent of revenge, and eventual return to understanding.
Traumatized by Compeyson’s actions, Miss Havisham wears her wedding dress and one shoe everyday with her clock set to 8:40 as remembrance to the moment of her unfortunate discovery. In her house her candles are blown out symbolizing how she is withering away though time even though life has moved on past that fateful moment. Since fire creates light, burnt out candles leave a room in darkness. As such she is in a dark stage of her life unable to see that time has moved on.
Driven by rage she raises Estella to seek revenge on men by fooling them to the last moment before marriage. The idea of false appearances become a motif for Miss Havisham. When her family comes to visit for her birthday, her candles are lit. Although normally never lit she uses this fire to mask her true intentions because she believes emotions shared between people are fake and that there are ulterior motives. This is transferred onto how she wants Estella to put on a fake love show for Pip before ditching him at the altar and completing her revenge against men.
Despite this, Miss Havisham comes around realizing what she did was wrong. In an act of self-repentance she lights her wedding dress on fire. This use of fire as a destructive tool represents the removal of her previous vengeful thoughts through the burning of her wedding dress. Although the injuries suffered lead to her death, this use of fire symbolizes a release of the pain that burdened her through all these years. The idea of a fire being alive in a place that normally had its candles burnt out additionally signifies a moving on towards a new life. Just as fire burns upwards, Miss Havisham’s spirit is likewise lifted.
Fire serves a critical role in Great Expectations because it is an emotion carrier. A lack of fire reflects Miss Havisham’s darkness in thought while a bright flame masks her deceit. At the same time fire proves to be a source of retribution as she sees to end her life with fire as a way to release the grief and burn away traces of her haunting past.