How has Duffy used classical myths in order to comment on the nature of relationships between men and women in The Worlds Wife(TM)?

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The Worlds Wife

How has Duffy used classical myths in order to comment on the nature of relationships between men and women in ‘The Worlds Wife’?

Carol-Ann Duffy wrote a collection of poems called ‘The Worlds Wife’ in which she mocks men and shows various Greek mythology and fairytales from a woman’s perspective. She uses various literary techniques such as enjambment and cynical reference to portray and comment on the use of classical myths, in order to illustrate the nature of relationships between men and women. This essay will focus on four of these Greek myths, Medusa, Eurydice, Mrs Tiresias and Mrs Midas.


The style of writing in which Duffy undertakes shows her to be very indiscreet in what she says and very orthodox, as she writes completely, almost the opposite of what many people think when it comes to characters in her poems. In the world’s wife, Duffy has focussed a great deal on mythical characters, but manipulates them to the extent that she interprets them to be the opposite of what they are truly known to be in Greek mythology. Duffy, also a radical feminist, focuses on the woman’s perspective, whereas Greek mythology is greatly depicted from a male’s perspective, whereas Duffy looks at what the women had to put up with.

Firstly, Mrs Midas, in Greek legend was the wife of Midas who wished that everything he touched be turned to gold, this wish was nonetheless granted. Consequently, Midas later found out that he could neither eat nor drink. He was, however released from the wish by bathing in the river Pactolus. In another legend, Midas was asked to judge a musical competition between Pan and Apollo. When he chose Pan, Apollo punished him by changing his ears into asses’ ears. Duffy plays on both of these legends, creating a poem about human greed and stupidity whilst cunningly creating a ruthless and unlikeable female protagonist.

Further more, the poem is written in dramatic monologue, from the perspective of the wife of the famous legend. Human greed, stupidity and selfishness play a major role throughout the poem. The poem however begins with a simple statement which sets the scene, and creates a relaxed atmosphere;’ begun to unwind’ portrays this. To begin with, it’s all very idyllic. As the woman is in the kitchen also portrays the traditional household, of women doing the domestics whilst men do not, ‘he was under the pear tree snapping a twig’, this is of no real significance, as what would he need with a twig? But right away in the first stanza Duffy implies the relationship between men and women in the household to be traditional. The use of simile in the second stanza ‘the way the ground seems to drink the light of the sky’ suggests how dark in actual fact it is, and contrasts with the ‘golden twig’ and ‘pear’, in the hand of her husband. The fact that the simile ‘like a light bulb’ runs to the end of the line, and allows the one worded sentence ‘On’ to be in place also gives further emphasis and importance to it. The fact that the line is also significantly shorter draws attention to it, as it develops her understanding of the situation. The use of rhetorical question at the end of the stanza, almost adds a sense of humour to it as she depicts various rational explanations for the lights in the garden. Unto this stage everything seems normal as the man ‘drew the blinds’ which implies nothing unusual. Then the sense of callousness, when she says ‘he sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne’, this is the first sense that this ‘normal’ household has ‘defaults’. The words ‘burnished throne’ implies that it has turned to gold. His laughter in the face of her bewildered question is presumably intended to demonstrate his callousness and stupidity, unto this point he has not yet discovered the dismay yet to come.

In contrast, the household is back to normal as she ‘served up the meal’ yet again implying the traditional life of a woman’s role in the household. Up to this point there is no real implication that there is anything wrong with the relationship between the two, but as she realises the extent of damage that he has done, and the selfishness behind it, portrays her to be in a less than respectful light. She’s fearful, exasperated, ‘separate beds, Infact, I put a chair against my door’ only no do we start to realise the real relationship between the two and how this develops as the story evolves. She refers to him coincidently as a fool. We are given this image of a very shallow and selfish man, in portraying him to be like this however, she in return is giving us an image of herself, and her own nature. She has a perversed pleasure of him, leaves him to it, ‘he was below, turning the spare bedroom into the tomb of Tutankhamen’. He then becomes this pathetic figure, and she then becomes angry, as she has been denied her rights of a wife and mother ‘that night I dreamt I bore his child’, showing us this time the maternal side to her and how she loves him, but still despises what he has done. He has changed her life negatively, all because he wanted instant gratification.

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Duffy then emphasises the loneliness of the husband by portraying him against the background of the natural world. At this point, the reader feels sympathetic towards him, as she has clearly gone off, and left him to his own devices. She judges his conduct as ‘pure selfishness’, not recognising her own selfishness as she has deserted him in his time of need. She states that she misses him, but Duffy is careful to emphasize that she misses the man not for his own positive qualities, but for the way he made her feel sexually: ‘ I miss most…his ...

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This is a very good analytical essay that explores a variety of links between texts. Always ensure once a technique has been identified its effects are explained and carefully check expression before submitting work. 5 Stars