Havisham Essay

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Havisham Essay

“Havisham” by poet Carol Ann Duffy is a poem in which the final lines are especially significant. For the purposes of this essay I intend to show how Duffy achieves in making these last few lines so outstanding. Firstly by looking at the poem as a whole and then going on to explain how the last lines work as an effective conclusion and how they stand out from the previous stanzas.

Havisham tells the story of an old woman who has been emotionally impaired by a jilting at her wedding many moons ago. Throughout the poem, we read about this woman, who by the descriptions in the poem, comes across as less than human: “I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes” The use of the word “green” presents an animalistic quality to the reader. It helps Duffy convey Havishams animalistic personality as we associate “green” with a reptile. In addition, the reptile imagery also instils a sense of violence about her character. The word choice of “pebbles” in this extract gives the impression that she has very small eyes, almost like a mole. This again reinforces the sense of animalism that Duffy is trying to get across to the reader. Another example of this animalistic character is when Duffy describes Miss Havishams behaviour: “in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall” The word “cawing” again effectively reiterates the dehumanisation of Havisham. It shows how deeply affected she is by the jilting as it has become so painful to her that all she can resort to doing is screaming at inanimate objects. As well as showing her animalism, this exert also demonstrates her selfish personality because it shows her refusal to let go of what she desires. She sits about all day and screams “Nooooo” which gives the reader the impression she is spoiled and is not happy unless she gets what she wants.

Throughout the poem, her selfishness is revealed more and more. An example of this is when she is talking about her want for revenge: “Prayed for it so hard” At this point in the poem, we see that she is so desperate for revenge on her ex-fiancé that she is constantly praying for it. As a result of this, the reader sees how selfish and spoiled she really is. It gives us an idea of what kind of person she was before this as well, we get the impression that she has been spoiled all her life. We can see this due to the constant melodrama of her reaction to the jilting, even years and years after the event took place. It shows that she must have always got what she wanted and when she wanted it and was never denied what she yearned for. Her selfishness is again shown when we are told her initial reaction: “I stabbed at a wedding cake” This illustrates again her selfish personality because she reacts to the situation rather childishly. Rather than handling the situation like a mature woman and getting over it, she instead lashes out at something which reminds her of her wedding. As well as her selfishness, this extract also shows another side to her personality. She comes across to the reader as particularly violent and aggressive. She is not just simply angry at being stood up, she is very irate and violent.

Her violent nature can be seen on many occasions, one of the most notable would be in the opening line: “Beloved sweetheart bastard” The plosive alliteration here of “Beloved” and “Bastard” helps emphasise the aggressive atmosphere created as the “b” sound indicates violence and aggression as if Havisham is spitting the words out in anger. This shows that Miss Havisham is the total polar opposite of a stereotypical old lady. She completely contrasts the female stereotype of weakness and passivity with her sheer hatred and aggression. Her aggressive attitude is again iterated when she is describing what she sees when she looks at her hand: “ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with” This again repeats the image of violence in Havisham. The fact that she sees veins on her hands and instantly relates them to ropes to be used for strangulation clearly outlines her violent nature. It demonstrates how her violence has overcome her personality and corrupted her.

However, in the last line of the poem, something changes. She is no longer violent, no longer animalistic or selfish: “Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.” At last, we finally see the human side of Havisham. She shows for the first time she feels an emotion other than anger. At this stage of the poem, we see her true feelings revealed. She is no longer the violent basket case that we see in the previous stanzas. We see her vulnerability and humanity. “b-b-b” suggests that she may be breaking down into tears and unable to formulate proper words. Through this, Duffy achieves in making the last line an effective conclusion as it shows a completely different side to her, which, in turn, makes the reader more understanding and sympathetic towards Havisham. It could also reflect Miss Havishams mental state as “breaks” could be the narrators way of illustrating what Havisham is actually having to cope with, again reinforcing the way in which the reader now feels sympathy for her, in spite of how she is described previously.

To conclude, “Havisham” by Carol Ann Duffy is a poem in which the final lines in the poem significant and work well as a conclusion. Throughout the poem Duffy makes the reader perceive Havisham as some bitter old lady who is spoiled, selfish, overly aggressive and less than human. Despite this, at the end of the poem we see the reality that she is just immensely heart broken and is in so much pain is unable to deal with her suffering in a mature way. Thus making the reader feel sympathetic towards Havisham and become more understanding of her situation.

Sean McAleer


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