Havisham: Stylistic Devices Used In A Poem

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 ‘Havisham’ portrays a hateful, rejected, and isolated woman who life has become a misery. The persona of Miss Havisham (note that Duffy calls her ‘Havisham’), the disregarded woman from Dickens’s novel, is used to bring in different aspects of being a spinster in the Victorian era. The poem pursues an extreme sense of anger, violence, and a pitiful nature throughout the poem to show the distorted nature of being disappointed on such an important day of your life. Throughout the poem, Duffy explores the portrayal of madness and dissatisfaction and the need for humans to overcome a horrific incident in life and move on forward to get a more productive and active life.

Duffy use of an oxymoron ‘Beloved sweetheart bastard’, explores the bitter-anger and violence at the start of the poem. The oxymoron insinuates the cursing nature of ‘Havisham’ towards his rejected lover who has betrayed her, and this shows a deep sense of disappointment in her life. Furthermore, this can also express the extreme emotions that are torturing the speaker within. The plosive ‘B’ suggests her bitter and conjugated anger towards her betrayed lover, who feels like her sense of purpose has been lost in life and feels the need to show her aggression. The next sentence emphasises her deep agony and pain of her dissatisfaction in life by the verb, ‘Not a day since then/ I haven’t wished him dead’. The verb ‘wished’ implies something happy and delightful, however, in contrast, ‘Havisham’ wants him ‘dead’ showing her deep distorted and heartbroken emotion towards her betrayed lover. The motif of disappointment and the actual reality of love is also explored in ‘Valentine’ where the conceit conveys that love is bittersweet and shows that relationships can be disappointing in life. On the other hand, however, the symbolism of onion rings suggests eternity as circles are infinite and show that love can also be eternal and ‘promise light’ in the future.

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Duffy’s continuing use of dramatic monologue brings a long-lasting effect of jealousy and self-hatred of ‘Havisham’ in her miserable twisted life. For example, ‘dark green pebbles for eyes’. The metaphor suggests envy and jealousy towards her betrayed lover. Furthermore, the ‘pebble’ imagery suggests her heart and soul have become cold, hard, and resentful. The resentful nature of ‘Havisham’ indicates she has lost all hope and has no desire to proceed with her twisted life. As a result of this, Duffy’s exploration of disappointment shows us that love is a disillusionment; a way to escape from this fantasy of a world, however in reality the harshness can never disappear but can fade away with certain relationships. This can be seen in the poem ‘The Good Teachers’ where it explores how ironically only one of the teachers are ‘Good…Miss Pirie’, which suggests the deep passionate drive in learning with her; however, similarly this demonstrates the disappointing relationship between a bright but although somewhat cheeky student and ironically other so-called ‘Good teachers’ in her primary school. The frustrating relationships in both poems show that some relationship does not look like what they seem and show that relationships will have their ups and downs.

The use of free verse within the poem shows ‘Havisham’s’ body parts are incoherent with her emotions, emphasising even more that such a huge burden of disappointment had led to her loss of insanity. The short-fragmented sentences with lack of punctuation insinuate that she cannot even make simple sentences, suggesting her sanity and that the responsibility of disappointment is too much for ‘Havisham’. For instance, ‘spinster…her, myself, who did this/ to me?’. The short, rapid, and incoherent sentences show the expression of self-hatred and shame as it would show her social failure in the Victorian era. She also foregrounds the noun ‘spinster’ to suggest that she never wanted this to happen to her and shows her isolation in life. As a result of this, Duffy maybe wants the audience to sympathise with ‘Havisham’s’ situation and want them to feel that maybe marriage isn’t the best possible action in life, as it could be ruined with one person backing out just like how ‘Havisham’s’ fiancé did to her and leaving a huge void to fill in her life. Furthermore, the use of the third-person narrative ‘her, myself, who’ shows her loss of identity and Duffy maybe connoting that ‘Havisham’ has no hope left in life. In contrast, the poem ‘Before you were Mine’ has a more friendly, warm-hearted, and joyful tone to it, showing the deep connection between a daughter and a mother. This poem shows a complete contrast in disappointment but rather a huge ongoing admiration and respect that has been built throughout the poem for the mother in the poem, ‘Before you were mine’. This is reinforced by the conversational and talkative nature of the poem.

Throughout the poem, Duffy explores the contradicting emotions of ‘Havisham’ and her twisted, depressing, and disappointing life. For example, ‘love’s/ hate behind a white veil’. The use of the oxymoron not only conveys that the contradicting emotions are destroying ‘Havisham’ within but also connotes that love is a false hope given to people. The blunt reality of love is reinforced by the disappointing events in ‘Havisham’ life. The further use of the enjambment in that sentence also reinforces that the contradicting emotions are maybe the reason for the loss of her insanity and mind. The ‘white veil’ suggests she is hidden behind something happy, but on the other hand, she rather left with her tortured and distorted mind. The ‘white veil’ can also suggest purity and innocence that can only be suggested by the clothing not her state of mind and emotions. Moreover, the colour white can symbolise coldness and anger that is hidden behind the ‘white veil’. As a result of this, Duffy wants to show the consequences and reality of love and how it can destroy a person. A similar poem about disappointment and the harsh reality of love is ‘Valentine’, which portrays that the truth may hurt, which can link to ‘Havisham’ and suggest that ‘Havisham’ fiancé wasn’t actually in love but was rather going for the wealth and money she possessed in her life. This is supported by the quote in ‘Valentine’, ‘I am trying to be truthful’.

Finally, in the poem, the plosives show the themes of disappointment, insanity, and human love. For instance, ‘it’s not only the heart that b-b-b-breaks’. The plosive shows the false hope that comes with deceiving love in this fantasy of a world. The fact that her voice mimics the heart-breaking shows that her spirit and mental state has also been shattered. Also, the plosive can suggest that the contradicting emotion are now overwhelming. 


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