Carol Ann Duffys collection of poems "The Worlds Wife". How does the female dominate over the patriarchy in poems such as Circe, Mrs Beast and Thetis?

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End of Term Assessment: The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

Name: Valerie Ng Suying (21)

Class: P1

Subject: Literature SL

Date of submission: 3rd May 2011

Question: How does the female dominate over the patriarchy in poems such as Circe, Mrs Beast and Thetis?

Carol Ann Duffy’s collection of poems in The World’s Wife is a “series of vignettes on famous men throughout history [and from various myths], told from the female perspective.” ( Themes such as sexuality, fidelity, domesticity, power relations, personal ambitions and love are explored, often surrounding the broader topic of feminism and female dominance. In poems such as Circe, Mrs Beast and Thetis, Duffy explores these concepts through language, imagery employed, and the reconstruction of gender roles and transformations of female figures.

Female dominance is shown through the usage of authoritative language by female figures. Majority of poems in The World’s Wife “maintains a binary structure where the objects of female poetic discourse are men.” (Peukert 4) Men are often described from the female perspective, as evil, villainous or “negative” figures. For example, the male figure is characterized as possessive in Thetis – “in the hand/ of a man”, “the grasp of his strangler’s clasp”; obedient and subservient in Mrs Beast – “pig in my bed” and victims of the female in Circe – “all pigs have been mine -/ under my thumb”, suggesting that the reference of the pigs can be taken as an allusion to men. The language employed by female figures to portray the characters of the male is often coarse, belittling and derogatory, reinforcing the idea that they are under scrutiny and the object of discussion of women. Duffy creates a female environment of which the female is the Other, seen as the powerful figure. The male, on the other hand, is seen as the object of talk, sometimes the irrational one. It is a “reverse of the traditional hierarchical gender constructions, where the female is now presented as a superior [and dominating figure].” (Peukert 4) Furthermore, Duffy’s use of the first person narrative emphasizes the idea of females in the subject position. For example, “I learned” in Thetis and “I was hard on the Beast” in Mrs Beast. In the first stanza of Circe, the continuous reference to herself – “I’m fond…mine…I’m familiar…I’ve stood…I want” establishes her as a figure of authority, one who has had much experience and is therefore wise enough to speak on the subject. Overall, the first person narrative allows Duffy to subtly put in her own voice and opinions into her poems, giving a more intimate and accurate perspective of the female character.

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Female dominance is also illustrated through the reassertion of gender attributes and roles, as well as the transformations of the female figures. In Thetis, the speaker continually changes her shape in order to escape the powerful and violent male figure. Each time, Thetis evolves into more powerful and dominant creatures, from a small bird: “size of a bird in the hand/ of a man”, to an albatross, a snake, a lion: “roar, claw, 50 lb paw”, a mermaid and other sea creatures, and finally to animals such as “raccoon, skunk, stoat, /…rat” that are well-known for their will-power and ...

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