Charles Dickens’ character in Havisham by Carol Ann Duffy
Miss Havisham one of the main characters of the novel “Great Expectations” written by Charles Dickens in 1860. Miss Havisham is a wealthy woman who was left at the altar by a man named Compeyson who defrauded her. Humiliated and heartbroken, she remained alone in her mansion, Satin House, never removing her wedding dress, leaving the wedding breakfast and wedding cake uneaten on the table, wearing only one shoe, and only letting very few people see her. Furthermore, she also had all her clocks stopped at twenty past nine as it was the exact time in which she received Compeyson’s letter leaving her. Duffy then took this main character of the novel and wrote the poem “Havisham”. Duffy named the poem “Havisham” instead of “Miss Havisham” to create some distance between the poem and the novel as well as to remove any reference to the characters gender as she may be jilted between male and female to show with a deeper meaning how she is not either and therefore has lost her role in life. The poem is made of four stanzas that do not rhyme which helps create a more defined and realistic voice.
Stanza one starts with “Beloved sweetheart bastard” which reveals in a clear way that the poem is going to focus on the confused hatred she feels with an oxymoron. The alliteration of the b’s, one with a positive connotation and one with a negative connotation, emphasize the irony. This line also makes it seem like she’s just spitting words out, which shows furthermore how she is expressing the hatred and anger she’s feeling and this bitter tone is continued throughout thi2 whole poem. For the duration of the whole stanza we see how she is paralyzed in time and in the rejection she went through, and therefore curses her former lover lengthening the hatred. By saying that she hasn’t wished, but prayed for his death it further explains the depth of her hatred and anger. She’s done so so hard that her eyes have become “dark green pebbles”. She exposes the darkness of the poem and in a way of herself. Green is portrayed as the color of envy while the imagery of the pebble shows how her soul is now cold, dead and hard. “ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.” this line shows how much she would want him dead, and personally strangle him with the “ropes” which are actually the veins on the back of her hand which also shows how her temper and anger continue to raise.
Stanza two starts off with a one-word sentence, “Spinster.” which is a word used to describe an unmarried woman who is typically over the usual age for marriage which shows how Miss Havisham is feeling isolated by a society which often defines women by their marital status and to emphasize this more, Duffy isolates the word. She then goes on to describe her new role in society which is to “stink and remember” giving us the impression that she has completely given up on herself and life. The “yellowing” dress is used for negative associations like decay and her emotional atrophy. “The slewed mirror” suggests that the mirror is not facing her which represents her inability to face reality as her reflection would be evidence of her aging as well as seeing the reality of things meaning that what she once knew has now become unfamiliar.
By starting the third stanza with a sentence from the previous one, it emphasizes the tension and anger of the poem as it gives it a sputtering feeling which is used to reinforce the persistence of her suffering. She uses the color “puce” as it gives negative associations of disease. “sounds not words” is used to accentuate her loathing as her hatred has left her quiet and speechless and incapable to speak her emotions. In the next two lines we notice a change of tone, and we get a hint of her more forgiving side, where she also shows how things have drastically change by contrasting what she said before as her tongue is now “fluent”. The use of the indefinite article “the” instead of the possessive pronouns “his” or “its” shows how she is trying to distance herself from him and denying him of his humanity making it easier for her to keep on hating him. She then brutally returns to the present, where by using the word “bite” she reminds us of how regardless of the passing of the years, her anger has remained as it was when she was first abandoned. It also may infer that she bites her tongue in her sleep expanding on her inability to pronounce what she is feeling to him and that she may be fantasizing about causing pain on her ex-lover.
Again in stanza four, Carol Anna Duffy links to the previous stanza with two opposing words “Love’s, Hate” to create an oxymoronic expression. This exposes how the two contrasting words are actually indistinguishably linked between each other and how there is something unique and controlling about this unambiguous and permanent type of hate which is triggered by this betrayal of love. The “white veil” is associated with the purity and innocence that she now hides behind, which she soon contrasts with “red balloon bursting” representing her heart and hatred that is destroying her which she cannot continue with. The alliteration of the “b” highlights how her dreams were violently and permanently crushed by the shock of her experience which is shown by the isolation of “Bang”. She continues throughout the stanza with another violent image as she is “stabbed at the wedding cake” which contrasts the usual positive associations to it. She does this again in the next line with disturbing feelings as she says “Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon” where she, yet again, disrupts our usual joyful associations to the honeymoon and transforms it in a much darker image. The final line of the poem “Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.” Is more poignant, where the last word is broken up to imitate the sound of the speaker breaking down in agony at last and to highlight the extent of her emotional and mental collapse.
In conclusion, we see how hate is the only emotion she is able to feel and that although this may be a negative thing, it’s what prevents her from being entirely numb and therefore is preserving her loathing so she has a purpose in life. The tone throughout the poem is bitter and acidic, and shows how fast love can be exchanged with hate and vicious thoughts, which is supported by the brutal imagery she exchanges. It gives an insight into “Miss Havisham” mind giving clear thoughts on how it feels to get jilted.
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