GCSE English Literature - Overview of Havisham by Carol Ann Duffy

Meaning, Language and Structure points for AQA English Literature poem, 'Havisham'

  • Created by: Megan
  • Created on: 20-05-11 11:55

Havisham - Carol Ann Duffy. (Meaning)


Carol Ann Duffy writes in the voice of Miss Havisham in her poem - which she simply titles 'Havisham', dropping the 'Miss' that served in Dickens' novel as a constant reminder of her status as a spinster, and allowing her to speak for herself. The poem reflects Havisham's descent into depression and insanity after her husband-to-be left her at the altar. The main emotions portrayed here are those of anger and hate, which from time to time slip back into love, illustrating the fine line between the two.

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Language 1


 The very first line of the poem begins with an oxymoron - 'beloved sweetheart *******' - getting across and summarising straight away the confusion and mental conflict the poet wants to show. Miss Havisham still loves him - she must, or she wouldn't have dragged her grief on throughout her life - but in this prolonged self-torture, some of her love has turned to hate.

  A lot of language in the poem is used to portray this hate, and the emotion becomes stronger and more dramatic stanza-by-stanza, mirroring her downwards spiral into madness. She begins with simply 'wishing him dead', and ends with 'stabbing a wedding cake'.

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Language 2

Symbolism is used in terms of colours to portray emotion. For example, 'dark green pebbles for eyes'. The colour green has connotations with jealousy and greed, suggesting that Havisham was always jealous of those with husbands, and built herself up to her wedding day, only to be let down. She is now jealous again, only in the extreme. The idea of having pebbles for eyes fits with this. Pebles are cold and hard, giving the idea firstly that she has become cold-hearted and hardened to the world as a result of what she's been through mentally, and secondly that she now sees the world in a pessimistic light (sort of a twist on the idea of 'rose-tinted spectacles').

Another colour assosciation used is the idea that shades of red are related to anger and hate as well as romance and love. 'Puce curses' are implicit of angry words (think of the phrase 'red-hot', or 'seeing red'). In the final stanza, 'a red balloon bursting in my face' describes how her feelings of love and affection were built up (or 'inflated') before the wedding day, only to 'burst', letting out all of her anger.

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Language 3

The colour white is also referred to in 'a white veil' - a reminder of her purity and virginity - as she was never married. She is bitter over this and dreams (either in a literal sense, or in the sense that she 'longs for') about sexual encounters with her lost husband: 'Some nights better, the lost body over me'.

 A lot of language is also used to depict her instability and compromised mental state. Phrases such as 'cawing noooo at the wall' are the more obvious clues, but there are reasons to believe that her madness is her own fault. Personification is used when, in the second stanza, Havisham opens the wardrobe and the dress is 'trembling' - as if even inanimate objects are afraid of her, implying that she may have driven her fiance away in the same way by her jealousy or controlling nature.

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Language 4

The poem is full of images of marriage as constant reminders that she was jilted. There are references to a dress, a veil, a wedding cake, and a honeymoon - it gives the impresssion that she has surrounded herself in these objects to walow in self-pity, and has, in essence, driven herself mad in doing so.

 I think that her hate is no longer directed at the man himself, but rather at him as an object she has built in her mind - an object of evil that everything in her life revolves around. She talks about dreaming of him as the only time when she feels ok - 'some nights better', and she clearly yearns for him, but she still refers to him as 'it' and 'the lost body', rather than a real person. It is as if he is either considered not worthy of any better, or he has become so far away from her dream-world thay he no longer seems like a real person.

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The poem's syntax is very muddled, and has no particular rhyme scheme, reflecting Havisham's inability to express herself coherently. However, there is some assonance, as if there was a rhyme intended, but it has become confused. For example, in the first stanza 'then' and 'dead', as well as 'hard' and 'dark' give the feel of a half-rhyme.

In the second stanza the use of enjambement cuts the last phrase off mid-way, and continues in the next stanza, giving an impression of irrationality. However, another reason behinds this seems to be that when Havisham looks in the mirror and sees herself, the words are 'her, myself, who did this', giving the reader an apparent secret signal that she has brought this fate upon herself. Then, when it goes on to say 'to me?', the reader realises that Miss Havisham does not realise it is her own fault, or otherwise will not accept any part of the blame. We know that she seeks to blame the whole of the opposite sex for her suffering.

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Structure 2

As I said before, the poem becomes gradually angrier as it progresses - all except the very last line, the tone of which is much softer. It is almost sinister. It gives the impression by saying 'don't think it's only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.' that her mind and sense of morals has 'broken' too. It seems to be a threat to all men that she will come and take her revenge.

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Detailed 7 pages of excellence, worth every page.

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