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Year 11 texts

Pride and Prejudice


Most commentators agree that Austen advocates an essentially conservative position. Pride and Prejudice focuses on a section of the rural ruling class (little mention of the other classes) and is concerned with marriage, decorum and harmony, all attributes that support a traditional social order. But Pride and Prejudice is also famous for creating Elizabeth Bennet, a character who was an independent and liberated representative of womanhood for the early 19th century. As mentioned it is no radical novel nor is the heroine a libertine radical calling for change and female equality. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Bennett counters the female stereotype of the time by being independent, intelligent, articulate, witty and ironic. Importantly it is these attributes that make her attractive to Darcy - 'the liveliness of her mind' (306) and not just her fine eyes. She is shown as attractive and likeable and all those whose values who conflict with hers are constructed as pompous, pretentious or fools.  

Daddy

‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath can be read as a personal poem about a daughter’s relationship with her father, however it can also be read as an allegory of female submission and final rebellion in a patriarchal world that has been responsible for all the wars and imperialisms of the twentieth century. According to this reading women are oppressed and marginalised in society by masculine values.

All the male figures in the poem - father, statue, gestapo officer, teacher, husband and vampire - are constructed as dominant and oppressive. The father is seen as a god-like figure; all-powerful, cold and restrictive. The female persona is suffocated and constrained (‘black shoe/In which I have lived like a foot’) and unable to live fully (‘Barely daring to breathe or Achoo’) in his dominating presence. This oppression is realised by the persona and she decides that she must rebel against this patriarchal power that denies her control over her life (‘Daddy , I have had to kill you.’) The father is merged into the Nazi figure who has been responsible for the mass slaughter of Jews (‘I thought every German was you’) and the female persona becomes the oppressed victim (‘I think I may well be a Jew’). Through this she positions women in the same position as the Jews, being exploited and destroyed, and taken to their deaths in ‘Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.’ In this allegorical portrayal men have the power to destroy women, to be the cause of their metaphorical deaths all within legitimate parameters.

Plath ironically uses the stereotype of women who admire strong, abusive men - ‘Every woman adores a Fascist,/The boot in the face, the brute/ Brute heart of a brute like you.’ - to reveal the unequal relationship between men and women, and which in turn has justified and legitimated male violence as part of a natural order. Women’s lack of power is also portrayed earlier when they are denied a voice and are metaphorically silenced in society - ‘I never could talk to you./The tongue stuck in my jaw./It stuck in a barb wire snare./Ich, ich, ich, ich.’ This denial of power through silencing women, especially evidenced through the attempt to articulate the ich (‘I’) reveals the subordinate position of women in the patriarchal world.

The poem shows that the real power of the patriarchy is to make women internalise the dominant ideology, making their subservience part of the natural order of the world. These are often seen in sado-masochistic images (‘The boot in the face’, ‘And a love of the rack and the screw’) which constructs women as responsible for their own submission, though Plath uses these to criticise this state of affairs.

Women are constructed as child-like figures (‘You stand at the blackboard, Daddy’) who must be instructed by the all-knowing, authoritarian males, as an indictment of the unequal ways women are treated. Men are rational and omniscient, while women are fragile and emotional (‘Bit my pretty re heart in two’), who attempt suicide when they suffer loss. Nevertheless the persona sees these unjust relationships, and acknowledges the father-teacher figure as really the devil (‘A cleft in your chin instead your foot/But no less a devil for that’), and the husband as merely a continuation of her subservience. The father and husband are then merged in the image of a vampire (‘The vampire who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year’) who must be finally killed ritually with a stake through the heart to gain the female persona her freedom.
Certainly the poem is concerned with the personal sense of suffocation felt by the persona in relation to her father and husband, however this is just part of a much larger patriarchal world which is aligned with war, torture, and mass genocide through the misuse of power. The text criticises the aggression of men, holding them responsible for these social injustices, and while showing the oppression of women and their collusion finally empowers females by having the persona break free of these constraints.

’Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath

‘Tulips’ explores the feelings of the persona while she is in hospital. The title sets up expectations of flowers being a welcome gift, a thing of beauty appreciated by the women. However, from the first line it is clear that the tulips are not wanted and are out of place in the patient’s room. Instead the persona desires peace, emptiness, a nothingness that does not have to engage in the world of sensation, passion and responsibility.

The tulips are symbols of this life force: the vivacity and energy that connects her to life and love, family and responsibility. However the persona does not want to be reminded of this life. The tulips are also seen in metaphor: they are ‘a dozen red lead sinkers around my neck’, which suggests an onerous weight that is dragging her down. In this context the tulips represent the responsibilities that come with love and family, and persisting with life when the persona would prefer to drift away from it. She simply wants peace (‘... I only wanted To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.How free it is, you have no idea how free -The peacefulness is so big it dazes you.’), not passionate reminders of her life outside. The tulips are also seen as predatory, eating ‘my oxygen’, and she hears them breathing ‘like an awful baby’ that fills up the previous solitude with ‘loud noise’. The simile of the ‘awful baby’ shows her relinguishing her motherhood role and the associated responsibilities through the incongruous image. It is yet another example of the outside world of loving expectations that drag her down.
In the last stanza the predatory nature of the tulips is fully revealed. The tulips are a threat and ‘should be behind bars like a dangerous animal’, and the flowers opening their petals is seen in the incongruous image of ‘They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat.’ This disrupts the readers’ expectations of a simple flower and confirms the persona’s awareness that such beauty is not always beneficient. The ‘African cat’ metaphor reveals its full significance - the tulips are dangerous and vicious, amoral and ready to devour her. They threaten to take away her solitude and peace with the network of obligations that a mother and wife is expected to perform.
The persona also sees herself in metaphorical comparisons. Her ‘body is a pebble’, her head ‘an eye between two white lids that will not shut’, she is ‘a thirty year old cargo boat’ and ‘I am a nun.’ The cargo boat metaphor reveals she is a vessel that carries the cargo of her past and the things that define her as a burden. Ironically it is the jettisoning of this cargo that brings peace - the medical term of ‘swabbing’ is cleverly fused with the nautical term so that the image of ‘swabbed me clear of my loving associations’ extends its metaphorical significance between the hospital and the sea. The cargo boat metaphor is extended through the stanza and the persona sees her possessions, those things that connect her with the world (‘my tea-set, my bureau of linen, my books/Sink out of sight’) fall through the water disappearing. She acknowledges that she metaphorically drowns - ‘the water went over my head’- but the result is not despair and loss, but a sense of peace and purity (‘I am a nun now, I have never been so pure,’)

The poem is meditative in its approach and metaphorical in its style, however the rhythms are still conversational and gives the impression of the persona speaking out from her bed about her state of mind. The tone captures the sense of resignation that the persona feels towards the outside world. At times the persona voices her discontent - ‘I didn’t want any flowers’ and ‘The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me’ - and while the last four stanzas centre on this it never amounts to outrage or despair. All the way through the tone of discontent is tinged with a certain resignation that culminates in the final lines where she becomes ‘aware of my heart’, acknowledges the love beneath the message of flowers, yet still not feeling that she this is satisfactory in any way.

The colour red has symbolic significance in the poem as it is the colour of the tulips and blood; it is a vivid, bright colour that suggests life and contrasts with the white sterility of the hospital (‘The tulips are too excitable ... look how white everything is’), yet it is this blandness, this escape from life that the persona wants. The redness is a reminder of passion and love as well as being compared to her own sickness: ‘Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds’, and becomes more like a weight, like the mythical albatross around her neck, ‘A dozen red lead sinkers around my neck’.
The metaphor of the ‘little smiling hooks’ in relation to the smiles of the family photo, clearly suggests the sharp pain that ironically derives from loved ones and the associated obligations and responsibilities. The ‘little smiling hooks’ present an incongrouous combination of images, a paradoxical image which show these happy smiles are not always benevolent, but malicious and harmful. Ironically it is love that hurts; the little hoks that are sharp and intrusive and connects the persona to this family world.
In conclusion, ‘Tulips’ reveals the resigned anguish of the persona who does not want to remain connected to the outside world of love and family, possessions and responsibility, but is consumed with the idea of nothingness; the purity and peace that comes from releasing yourself from this world. A peace that can only be achieved if she lets go of ‘smiling hooks’ that connect her to everyday life.

Poetry Textual Analysis

‘Mirror’ by Sylvia Plath is a poem that explores the themes of growing old and the apparent importance of outward appearance. The speaker in the poem is the mirror who explains in the first stanza that it simply reflects what it sees without any intended malice, while in the second stanza it centres on a woman looking at the mirror. It is in this latter stanza that the main concerns are explored with the loss of beauty and age being shown principally through the metaphor of water (‘I am a lake’, ‘drowned a young girl’, ‘like a terrible fish’).

The first stanza has the mirror telling the reader that it is truthful and ‘exact’. It only reflects what it sees (‘I am not cruel, only truthful’), and is not guided by ‘love or dislike’, though its reflections can cause such pain. The tone is detached and constantly mentions it does not intend harm, but its power is shown by the image of ‘The eye of a little god’. This metaphor reveals how dependent people are on appearances, the way they see themselves in a mirror.

It is in the second stanza that all the major concerns form to show the passing of time and the destructive nature of time and age. The mirror, already personified, now sees itself as a lake (‘Now I am a lake’), and it is this metaphor of water that is extended throughout the stanza. The woman who looks into the mirror is seen to regard the reflection as what she really is (‘Searching my reaches for what she really is’), as if her identity is simply her external appearance. The references to ‘those liars, the candles or the moon’ are images often associated with romance and the need to be told you are beautiful, yet these are images of light which are dimmed and only present a picture that hides age or other imperfections. Unlike the mirror the candles and moon are ‘liars’ who only show what a person wants to see, and the mirror shows no compassion for the woman, revealing only her physical self. When the mirror reflects ‘faithfully, the woman is distressed (‘tears and an agitation of hands’) as she is not as beautiful as she was once and age is destroying her.

These ideas are shown poignantly in the final two lines in the metaphor of water. The mirrors says ‘In me she has drowned a young girl’, metaphorically showing that her youthful beauty has been lost and now with the encroaching years all she sees in the mirror is an old woman, who is seen in her wrinkles and creases in the simile, ‘like a terrible fish’. It is this final line that is so devastating as the woman is no longer seen to be even human, with the adjective of ‘terrible’ accentuating the horror of the reflection that meets her when she looks in the mirror.

The poem shows the human concern of growing old and people’s preoccupation with physical beauty, yet it is the discompassionate tone that the mirror addresses the reader that is important. The mirror, in its impersonal and detached outlook has no ability to see beneath appearances and unfortunately the woman also seems dependent on her looks and the fact that she is aging. The poem might be suggesting that this ‘eye of a little god’ is limited as shown by the adjective ‘little’ and that physical beauty is only transient and these things are not important as other aspects of the person. The poem is in many ways about the lack of compassion shown by the mirror who continually stipulates he is impartial and truthful, yet unlike a human, lacks the qualities that reveal the real significance of being human.


The House of Yemanja

‘The House of Yemanya’ by Audre Lorde explores the feelings of the persona (a daughter) towards her mother. Their relationship has not been satisfactory for the girl and she laments the lack of love that exists between them. There is a great sense of loss and though the girl has mixed feelings towards her mother there is a need for her to be reconciled with her mother. These feelings are shown principally through metaphor, imagery, repetition and a tone that combines the anguish and loss she feels with a certain understated defiance.

A cooking/food metaphor is used to describe the relationship between the mother and the daughter. The mother is described as a cook who is baking her daughter into a perfect girl: ‘My mother had two faces and a frying pot/where she cooked up her daughters/into girls’. However the girl fails to be the ‘perfect daughter’ and this is shown in the frying pot being a ‘broken pot’. This seems the reason for the breakdown of their relationship and though the persona acknowledges she was not the perfect daughter and rebelled against her mother’s moulding she still needs her love. This individuality yet need for her mother’s love is revealed in the cooking/food metaphor: ‘I am the sun and moon and forever hungry/for her eyes’. The hunger she repeatedly states is the love that is missing between mother and daughter. The image of her mother being ‘two-faced’ is also linked to the extended metaphor as the mother is seen to ‘bring(s) me bread and terror’. This incongruous juxtaposition, like the ‘two faces and a frying pot’, reveals that the mother catered for her physical needs but not her emotional, psychological needs.

Other images are also used to reveal the relationship. The mother is seen as ‘pale as a witch’ and in the maternal metaphor of ‘her breasts are huge exciting anchors/in the midnight. The latter reveals the mother as the steady and reliable figure who cares for her children when they are in trouble. The breasts show the inextricable link between mother and daughter and the anchors suggest the great depth that exists in the blood-kinship. However as shown earlier in the stanza (‘I bear two women upon my back’) this is only one side to her and the witch is the other side to her mother which so disturbs her daughter. Furthermore, the poem suggests that this maternal figure was always hidden (one dark and rich and hidden/in the ivory hungers of the others’) and never realised.

The image of the sun and moon is shown in the persona seeing herself in this metaphor. She is both light and darkness, present during the day and night, and as such may be viewed as rather an egotistical claim on the part of the persona. However, the image is always followed by ‘and forever hungry’, which suggests that she still needs more than this, and this need is her mother’s love. She is an individual who had defied her mother’s moulding, but she still wants her love to be complete. The final image positions her as the individual again - ‘the sharpened edge/where day and night shall meet/and not be/one’ - but again it suggests that this ‘sharpened edge’ is not totally positive and she almost finds herself caught between two worlds. She is the sun and moon, but she to be more firmly placed on the stability of the earth and only her mother can give this.

This predictament is revealed in the penultimate stanza when the repetition of ‘mother I need’ in a pleading voice evokes this utter sense of desolation. She compares herself to the ‘august earth’ that needs rain. She is seen metaphorically as the dry earth of summer and her mother is the rain. In this context the sun and moon are distant objects beyond touch, which could parallel her relationship with her mother, but she needs to be the earth fertile with loving rain, rather than the ‘sharpened edge’ caught between light and darkness.


The Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough.
Ezra Pound

This poem is essentially one metaphor that makes a comparison between faces the speaker sees in the crowd and petals. It is a metaphor that juxtaposes the urban with the natural, and the visual image is clearly evocative in linking the two realms.

The word ‘apparition’ presents an unearthly quality to a poem that is otherwise firmly constructed in concrete images. The supernatural and suddenness evoked by the word suggests that there is something more to these people who own the faces; they are more than a crowd of anonymous non-entities, and this is further endorsed by the linking of ‘faces’ to ‘petals’ and the crowd with the dark bough; the latter being linked as well by rhyme, which aurally connects them.

The poem supports the view that there is something beautiful in these faces, and the natural image of the petal emphasises both beauty and delicacy, perhaps a potential, an unfolding that opens out revealing a self that realises this promise, which is inhibited and repressed by crowded urban life. This is suggested by the petal being positioned on a ‘wet, black bough’, with its connotations of darkness and misery, as well as the sounds of the image: the alliteration of the ‘b’ is harsh and flat and the monosyllables of all three words are all deadening in contrast to the softer, quicker sound of the polysyllable ‘petals’.

The title is of great importance as it clearly states the setting of the poem and without it the poem would be less defined. The scene is in a French train station; a symbol itself of the hectic urban lives that rush back and forth everyday to work without having time to think or be oneself. The train stations are all underground and further emphasises the fact that this is a world cut off from nature; a place where the individual with all its potential for natural beauty is alienated from its source.

In conclusion Pound’s imagistic poem subtly and evocatively presents the lives of city dwellers who hurriedly rush back and forth each day, losing themselves in the crowd and not fulfilling their potential to live existences that are natural and individual.

‘In Cold Storm Light’ by Leslie Marmon Silko is a poem that recreates the wonder of the snow elk as they appear during a storm, constructing them as mystical, awe-inspiring creatures that are connected with Nature. The poem is a celebration of the beauty of Nature, its landscapes and creatures, and this is evocatively shown by the way the different senses are mixed, the sound patterns,metaphor and the shape of the words on the page.

The title creates the setting for the poem and positions the persona as an observer from above the canyon. He observes the storm in motion but it is through the descriptions of the landscape - the use of synaethesia where one sense is mixed with another that makes the experience more mystical: ‘The wind is wet/with the smell of pinon’, shows the tactile sense of wetness combined with smell, as if suggesting that all these things experienced are not separate but part of the greater picture. The sounds of the words are soft, and the alliteration of the ‘w’ sound creates a certain swiftness as if capturing the sound of the wind.

Poetry Is : Poetry is meant to give us insights into ourselves and the world around us. (also parts on socio-historical context)

Poetry is meant to give us insights into ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes poems might consciously critique the ills of society, the injustices present in political and social systems or it might simply give insights into what it is to be human, our own inner struggles or what is commonly called the 'human condition.' The first canto of 'The Book of Water' presents the Christ story in a revised way, still with its promise of hope for living fully, teaching us to 'breathe in a new element', while the second canto is a critique of American foreign policy with its metaphorical references to September 11 and the recent events that had caused so much suffering and death to other nations. Jonathan Holden's 'Tumbleweed' is more concerned with the human condition, the struggles that face each person shown in the metaphor of the tumbleweeds blowing wildly at the whim of impersonal external forces.

'From The Book of Water' is concerned with myth, how stories are constructed of gods and nations; it explores the Christ story from a new perspective, while also investigating the duplicity of the United States with its external facade of creating a free world ('they smile and have words of forgiveness/speak of freedom and liberty') while in fact being responsible for the slaughter of 'a million surreptitiously'. It is a damning indictment on materialistic American society which masquerades as a beacon of liberty only to promote its own commercial interests - 'marketable gifts that says you can be like us/it is assumed all want shiny gifts'. The poem is a very strong political comment on the current situation, constructing the nation of America (called 'new calimbus' with its allusions to both New York and Columbus) as an all-conquering power who deceptively presents itself as the custodian of goodness ('tricks all into believing its goodness/it gives and gives') while being responsible for terrible atrocities.

The poem was written in the wake of September 11 and clearly wishes to criticise the Western hysteria (or at least American) at the loss of three thousand in the Twin Towers (also alluded to in Christ allegory - 'where waves tower above like awashed skyscrapers') while American foreign policy has resulted in a half million children and women dead during the 1990's in Iraq alone. It shows the facade America present the world ('they are good, right, civilised/they oppose terror') but it is because of this and its power over the world media ('their ancient craft is words/ upgraded on silicon chip ... and convince black is white') that they are able to construct others as evil and themselves as saviours.

This depiction is achieved through the dominant metaphor of water in conjunction with the opposing images of fire and desert. The two sections of the poem that seem quite disconnected are in fact linked through the metaphor of water and the way the teachings of Christ have been appropriated and distorted by the Christian nation of the United States. This is a reflection of how the poet sees the world of the twentieth century - it is materialism and consumerism that dominate people's lives, yet they still use religion to support their moral position. In this version the Christ-figure belongs to the twentieth century (as stated in epigraph where the book is a relic found in the thirty-first century by beings from another world)and has come to save the world from its mistaken belief in rampant materialism. He must 'journey beneath water', an allusion to the baptism and be reborn. It is from this metaphorical drowning that he can understand the cries of 'drowning men and women' and in a watery resurrection he rises to tell his 'stories/of weightlessness fluidity'. The references to weightlessnesss and fluidity embodies Christ's teachings. It is a shedding of earthly possessions, to be willing to flow with the natural rhythms of life and not be constrained by dogmatic beliefs. It is only when you are free of the burden, the weight of this life and its obsession with ownership, power and material possession that one can float and be alive. These ideas are refered to in the last lines where the Christ-figure brings a new way of living: 'a way of breathing/in another element.'

The poem has constructed a voice who observes with interest the history and stories in the book. By placing the voice in the far distant future he can observe the values and actions that took place in the twenty-first century and thus comment on materialism in the Western world ('it gives and gives/marketable gifts that says you can be like us'), the hypocrisy and terror behind American imperialism, and the loss of Christ's teachings in a world where it is used to subjugate other religions and nations. It is left to the supposedly Muslim, Marijah of the desert, to comment on this state of affairs and remind us that 'all water is sacred'.

The metaphor of water represents spirituality and the teachings of Christ before they were appropriated by institutions such as the church and nations. The Christ-figure is linked to water as mentioned, but it is the way the United States masquerades as followers of a gentle, non-violent Christ that the metaphor takes on greater significance. The Americans are shown as claiming 'their element is water/say their prophet is the one who surfaces', yet they are hypocritical and deceptive as their 'hands are dark with burns.' The fire symbolises the great destruction they have caused in wars that pre-date the attack on Afghanistan. The repetition of fire on disjointed lines show that have brought war to places around the globe - 'the desert caught fire' refers to its attack on Libya and support of Israel in attacks on Palestine; 'the jungle caught fire' refers to the disastrous war in Vietnam, while the 'concrete' and 'mountains' may suggest the widespread atacks and enormity of their belligerence.

The U.S is able to do this and still gain support fromn the whole Western world as they construct the reality that the world sees: 'their ancient craft is words ... downloaded exploded into the faces of their believers/and convince black is white.' They even change the appearance and shape of water (representing their distortion of spirituality and Christ's original teachings) showing how that commercialise it ('slick waterways') and prersent it as something that it is not - 'call it the sea/and have all marvel at its artifice.' Most importantly water is used to kill others by drowning them or denying them the life that comes from water. In this case it is a metaphor for the way Western religion and a Christain way of life is constructed as superior to other faiths and is used to as moral reasons for imposing their beliefs on other cultures.

'Tumbleweed' by Jonathan Holden -

'Tumbleweed' by Jonathan Holden is a poem concerned with the human condition, the struggles that face each person as they journey in life. The tumbleweeds are used in the poem as a symbol of human condition where each person is being blown wildly in all directions at the whim of impersonal external forces.

The poem is a journey by the persona and his son in a car across the landscape. They witness the tumbleweeds being blown aimlessly and it in these observations that the poem becomes a meditation on the nature of human existence. The car is a metaphor for the gods as suggested in the final line, 'as the gods sail by all day, at sixty miles an hour, free'. They are impersonal and amoral, not caring what becomes of the tumbleweeds, who symbolise humans on the trek through life, merely watching without help and sometimes hitting them for no reason other than they are blown across their path ('We catch it flush, feel its shrivelled limbs clutch the bumper'). In this description the tumbleweeds are personified to appear like humans, suggesting that human existence is both aimless, blown by impersonal forces and that unseen tragedies can occur for no divine purpose.

The tumbleweeds can be seen as symbols of individualsfacing the uncertainty of human existence as the poem likens them to individuals on this journey of life: 'they travel singly', 'They do not know each other', 'bobbing toward us as if eager for something'. All these are images of isolation and construct the human condition as one of loneliness, uncertainty, without control of your own destiny. There are many other metaphors and images used that reveal the individual to be imprisoned by this life. These include images of incarceration ('miles of prisoners' and 'barbed-wire perimeter', while images of mutilation ('like a chicken just beheaded') suggest the terror of existence and the insect image of 'clawing like insects begging' is another example of human's insignificance, wanting to be helped but ignored by a greater force.

'Dolor' by Theodore Roethke - persona

In 'Dolor' the reader learns about the persona's attitudes to modern society. It shows the tedium and boredom of the industrial city which alienates people in soulless jobs that offer no fulfilment. The feelings of the persona are evident in the tone of the poem.On one level it is ironic as it seems to mimick and even parody T.S Eliot's 'Prufrock', however by the end the tone seems to suggest just the weariness of the persona and sheds the initial comic element ('sadness of pencils') to reveal a materialistic world consumed by the trivial tasks that dominate their lives. In this the persona criticises the terrible conformity that is symbolised in the closing image of 'grey standard faces'.

The feelings of the persona are also seen in the sounds of words and the chosen detail.


Poetry in Twentieth Century

Georgian Poets: 1900- 1914
War Poets: Owen, Sassoon
Modernists 20's: Eliot, Pound; Yeats in Ireland, Anna Akhmatova in Russia, e.e.cummings
William Carlos Williams (20 - 50's) Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost (10's - 50's)
30's: Auden, Louis McNeice, Patrick Kavanagh, Hugh McDiarmid, e.e cummings
40's: Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop
50's: Beat Poets - Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso
60's; Confessional Poets - Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell
Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Czeslaw Milosz
70's: Adrienne Rich ('Diving into Wreck', Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery)
80's on: Seamus Heaney, John Burnside, Audre Lord
post-colonial writers; Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott (in Caribbean)
Mahmoud Darwish (Arab)
Australian: Paterson, Lawson, Kenneth Slessor, James McAuley, Judith Wright. A.D Hope, Gwen Harwood, Michael Dransfield, Dorothy Hewett, Les Murray, Peter Porter, Dorothy Porter, Anthony Lawrence, Judith Beveridge.

'The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower' (1934) Dylan Thomas

'The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower' is a lyrical meditation on the paradox that the very life-force that gives life also brings inevitable death. It reveals in a melancholic tone the beauty in Nature and in living and the fact that the persona cannot explain life ('I am dumb') and that death is the only certainty in life.
The poem examines this central paradox (and each stanza follows thius structure) by giving one image of nature that captures the energy and vitality of life, compares it to his own life before giving another image that shows the death and decay of the natural world and himself, before moving on to a personal reflection that life is a mystery and that such a force is responsibility for both life and death.

The poem is centrally concerned with the wonder of life. Images of nature are used throughout to show the beauty of the natural world ('green fuse drives the flower' ... 'drives the water through the rocks') and this is compared to the youth and vitality of the speaker, but it also reveals that all things must die: the force that gives beauty to the flower is the same force that 'blasts the roots of trees', or the water of streams that dries up. The persona constantly reiterates his dismay that a force that brings life, vitality and beauty is also responsible for age and death. He sees the beauty of the flower turn to a 'crooked rose' and knows that his youth, his 'green age', will also be 'bent by the same wintry fever'.

Images of nature are associated with movement, vitality and the source of life, repeated in the verb 'drives', before showing its antithesis in images of destruction ('blasts'), dryness ('dries the mouthing streams') and stagnation ('Stirs the quicksand'). It is exactly this paradox that stands as the mystery of life and depresses the speaker. If there is an initial beauty in life it cannot help but move to death and it is this realisation, one that makes the speaker feel as if there is no security or meaning, or at least a way of controlling life, that drives the persona to meditate on the nature of death.

The third stanza is full of images of death. The force that drives the wind is also the same that will eventually send him on his metaphorical boat of death - the 'shroud sail' capturing the journey of death in the boating meatphor where the sail that would normally take him on journeys is now his burial wrapping. These images of death are continued with references to the 'hanging man' and the biblical allusion to man being made from clay ('How of my clay is made the hangman's lime'), showing that the source of life already contains the seeds of death.

Time cannot be stopped, a theme present in poetry for centuries, and as love has often been an antidote or way of overcoming this, Thomas moves to an examination of love, though it seems it can only 'calm her (time) sores' rather than being the answer. After opening lines that contain a verb of action and movement (whirls, drives) the rhythms slows down, with the verb 'leech' which shows a slow gradual seepage rather than wild movement and the slow sound of the monosyllable also shows the shift as if the poem itself is growing old and slowing in its movements. Love 'drips and agthers' rather than being a wild spontaneous action and though it helps it in only in the 'fallen blood' perhaps representing memoey of past that some solace is found.

The poem then concludes with an image of love and death in the 'lover's tomb', which shows that loves too dies and the persona id left in his meditation in poetry ('How at my sheet') knowing that death is inevitable in the image of the worm that eats the decaying body. This hollowness is captured in the half rhyme and assonan ce of 'tombs' and 'worms', ending in a note of resignation.

The image of the shroud sail is a metaphor for death. The sail of the boat is a shroud, the garment wrapped around a dead body as it is placed in the grave, and shows the inevitable journey to death that all life leads to.

The rhythms are quick and reflect this life, then shifts to show how this ame force is responsible for death and he cannot explain why this is so.

W.H Auden 'September 1, 1939

This is the date that Hitler invaded Poland and formally began World war 11. The poem is a narrative poem that records the persona's reactions to the event, while also drawing on related historical events and people. Auden left England for America in early 1939 and the speaker starts the poem in a bar in New York ('On Fifty-Second Street') lamenting the hypocrisy and politics of the 1930's that had led the world to war. He is contemptuous of the 'low dishonest decade', critical of the rise of Fascism and Nazism and the ways governments and the general public have allowed such a thing to happen. In the end there is a simple message that humans need to discard nationalism, see beyond their own comfortable lives hoping that nothing terrible will ever happen to them and accept others with love: 'We must love one another or die.'
The terrors of dictatorships and an accompanying nationalism are explored in the poem, showing how German nationalism has grown from the the seventeen century in Luther's time to the 'psychopathic god' in the figure of Hitler who was born near Linz. This idea is broadened by Auden to take in the dictatorships of Ancient Greece outlioned by the historian Thucydides. These things have happened in the past and now the world must suffer again ('We must suffer them all again') because these people have been supported, actively or silently, by others. At the heart of all these terrors is the unwillingness of people to be responsible; they prefer to live closed within the routines of everyday life,
The faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play

These last two lines metaphorically show how there is always the wish to believe that things will always be fine - the lights will always show and all will be happy - especially in America where the speaker is seated, and will not involve themselves with the problems of others.

This idea is developed further by outlining how people prefer to make vows about their private lives, which is suggested they don't keep, while outside the world is ravaged by tyrants which they do nothing about, prefering to ignore social responsibility:

The dense commuters come,
repeating their mornng vow,
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work'

Audenr suggests that it is because of this tendency for individuals to wrap themselves in the routines of their little lives of work and marriage and obeying what at the time seems politically expedient that world outside falls to dictators and then fail to acknowledge the tyranny that others are forced to live under.

Marriage by Gregory Corso

'Marriage' by Gregory Corso is a poem that is a critique of the social values concerning marriage in the 1950's Western world. Corso was a Beat Poet, a group that were critical of American values in the 1950's. They viewed society as oppressive, forcing people to live conformist suburban lives according to an ideology that on one level purported to value democracy and equality yet in reality marginalised groups that did not support the middle class, white patriarchy. This was a decade where communists were outlawed, Blacks had virtually no rights and women were limited to roles of housewife and mother. To the Beat Poets marriage was just another instititution that kept people obedient and in their place, living safe lives without questioning society.

Some of these ideas are revealed in the poem by the persona continually asking 'Should I get married ? Should I be good?' The persona goes through a series of absurd situations that in some way reflect the social rituals associated with marriage: meeting the parents ('When she introduses me to her parents/back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie'), the wedding and honeymoon where he lists out all usual events and attitudes ('rice and clanky cans and shoes'), yet beneath this is the craziness and conformity that underlies these events and the reasons for getting married.

The persona is obviously self-mocking in his tone but this never detracts from his critical attitude to the reasons for marriage. He gives examples of possible marriages, ironically showing how these perfect dreams lapse into absurd and inane existence:
'How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit bythe fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and loving wanting my baby'
which degenerates into him in a papa chair 'saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!'

Another scenario has the persona married to a beautiful women in a penthouse yet again he finally calls it a 'pleasant prison dream'

In the long run marriage, thqt cornerstone of society associated with love, family values and wholesome living, is shown to only be a nothing more than his fear of growing old by himself in 'a furnished room with pee stains on my undrwear'. In this poem Corso clearly shows his critical views on marriage and at the same time undermines a central institution that society is based upon.

Five Ways to Kill a Man

'Five Ways to Kill a Man' by Edwin Brock is a critique of modern living and the general destructiveness of the twentieth century. It clearly shows that the twentieth century has more ways of systemically killing people than all the centuries beforehand. The poem is primarily concerned with the way technology and advances in science have made it possible to destroy more people in less time.

The poem uses four examples from the past showing how these have been 'cumbersome ways to kill a man', before moving to the final stanza where the twentieth century is seen as a more 'simpler, direct, and much more neat' way to kill a person.

Contemporary Poetry - Edward Kamau Braithwaite (Many ideas taken from Kamau Braithwaite, Roots, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, University of Michigan)

My lecture today is divided into two parts: firstly looking at the cultural tradition underpinning poetry, an English poetic tradition, and the moves to subvert this, in the attempt to give marginal groups a voice in their own forms of expression. I will look specifically at Caribbean poetry and the work of Kamau Brathwaite. In the second part I will discuss why poets write and my own views on writing, and we can then have an open forum and questions.

It is a very difficult thing to discuss contemporary poetry - the past is always easy, the poets have become famous, the characteristics of an era have become familiar, categorised and written about but with contemporary poetry you are caught in the middle of it, which always makes it hard to see out.

There have been a few major shifts that are recognisable over the last twenty or thirty years. Because of the radical changes in gender and racial politics since WW 11, and the breakdown of imperialist colonial empires we have seen the emergence of different voices representing once marginal groups. Post colonial writing holds the attention of much scholarship today and there are many important writers - among these the Caribbean writers, Derek Walcott and Edward Kamau Brathwaite.

Poetry has often been defined as using ‘elevated’ language, that is language with a regulated rhythm (mostly iambic pentameter), the use of metaphor, sounds that capture the subject, often with an underlying set of meanings and words that are mellifluous and flowing; however, if we look closer you will see that it has been the language of the educated, white middle/upper class society. The voice reflects the values of this particular group and though many poets may not have belonged to this group the poetry echoes this privileged group. In many ways it is a ‘civilised’ language imbued with a cultural tradition that privileges the cerebral, introspective mode of thinking in a language that reflects this approach.

Basically we come to the notion that language empowers and disempowers certain groups in society. Some ways of speaking and modes of writing privilege a certain view of the world.

Poetry has also been seen as the most elevated of literary arts moreso than the novel, non fiction and drama, and it is the poetry of Shakespeare in his plays that make them so respected. The reason again could be that the language does not belong to the everyday speech patterns of people but a rarefied use of language which can nevertheless capture the everyday in a perceptive and indeed profound insight. This has been what poetry has meant to people - the beauty of language expressed in new and different ways.

I ascribe to these beliefs to a large degree, but at the same time I am aware that it is very elitist. The voice, the flow of language, syntax, the rhythm, use of traditional poetic techniques all belong more to ‘standard English’, and by this they mean the discourse of the white, educated classes (middle/upper class). There are ways of speaking about things, a certain decorum, some things that cannot be spoken about, even certain words that could never be used as poetry. This leaves poetry in the hands of a certain group catering for the taste of the conformist, conservative middle classes and thus maintaining the status quo. In many ways this is what Rap Music was a rebellion agaiinst - the ways they spoke, thought, behaved were not ever expressed in the mainstream music of the time - the staccato rhythms, harder guttural sounds, use of obscenities, anger and subject matter reflected their lives on the streets, as marginalised oppressed minorities. The 80’s and 90’s has seen black Americans on the street given a voice at last though it is still banned or not played by mainstream stations.

During the last fifty years other voices have emerged. Female poets have become more central to the art and part of the modern canon; they explore the oppression of women in societies that have allocated them limited roles - often angry, coming from a voice that knows this experience.

The Beat Poets changed the style - the idiom of the cool young beatniks in the 1950’s is a very different voice to those before. Ferlinghetti (‘Sometime during eternity’), Ginsberg (‘Howl’, ‘America’). It was cool to write in the slang of a subcultural group, a rhythm that had more in common with the blues and jazz than formal poetic diction. The subject was iconoclastic, rebuking the social mores of a conformist 50’s America, where all was ‘peachy keen’, lost in the materialistic splendour of the richest country in the world, though again we are talking about middle class - millions of blacks, Hispanics and other groups lived in poverty and without rights.
(read beat poets)

There were also many people in Africa and the Americas who had been under the yolk of colonial empires; most of these disintegrated after the late 40s and 50s and we saw a group of indigenous writers wanting to write in their terms yet often caught between their way of understanding the world and the English language they needed to use to capture this - and more importantly the discourse the poetics that was seen as poetry. (Soweto)

Kamau Brathwaite from the Caribbean is a poet that exemplifies this. His poetry talks of the terrible suffering of blacks - slavery, slave triangle, history of black oppression - but instead of using the poetic discourse of the English tradition he uses the rhythms of the Caribbean people’s speech which he calls ‘nation language’.

In nation language the ‘tonal shape of the language, its rhythm changes, structure, contours of thought and image, eruption into song/dance/movement, make it clearly recognisable as African speech-form’ (219), a part of a folk tradition. It belongs more to the African culture, a magical/miracle tradition when the shaman or conjurman uses words for power. Vibrations awake at the centre of words (238). the overall space and patterns of this language is linked to religion - the spirit/image being electrically conducted to earth like lightning or the gods themselves. 243

Rhythm and repetition are central features, but it can also involve chants and chorus, as in spiritual litanies, gospel and above all, worksong. 249

This was the language of the original slaves and labourers brought to the Caribbean by the conquistadors. Its status became one of inferiority. Their spoken language was marginalised within the culture and this was accentuated by an educational system where the language of the planter, official and Anglican preacher were maintained and privileged, and flowed into English cultural heritage where Shakespeare, George Eliot and Jane Austen, models intimate to Britain, that had little to do witht he environment and reality of the Caribbean, became dominant. People knew more about English kings than their own national heroes. More about the falling of snow than the force of hurricanes.

‘In other words according to Brathwaite, we haven’t got the syllables, the syllabic intelligence, to describe the hurricane, which is our experience, whereas we can describe the imported alien experience of the snowfall.’ 263
(read sun poems)

In the ‘Sun Poems’ Brathwaite traces the origins of blacks in the Caribbean, showing how the white plantation owners and colonial administration benefitted from their slave labour. This section is written in the more conventional syntax and rhythms of the English poetic tradition:
‘Soon after the blacks arrived plantations prospered
rivers of green flowered through valleys up into hills’

However the rhythms and syntax shift dramatically when the poem explores the injustice, exploitation and the suffering by blacks. The voice addresses the sun, that giver of all life, listing out the his creations (your brother, my mother, gave birth to shango and uncle) and asking why have we been forgotten, asking to be remembered while they suffer ‘in this sweat juiced jail.’

The repetition (Sun have you’, sun who’) sets up a chant; the harder stress on opening syllable, seeming more like a prayer that comes from a magical tradition, than the more rational European one. The sun is linked to creatures like the elephant and bull, and in a line that comes out more like a shout : ‘testicle birth-sperm love-shout origin’. It connects the source of life with the primal instincts. And as Brathwaite has said, the language that is English is delivered in a way that sounds more like a machine gun.

The section also takes in the black experience as well as the things they have excelled in: aretha’s gospel voice, the blues of coltrane, the speed of jesse owens and the terrible days singing on the railroad lines.

The language in part 11 also uses alliteration and repetition to great effect again, seeking that chant-like effect to conjure up the black africans’ past traditions.

The poem is a critique of the western colonialism, imperialism, the slave trade and the subsequent cultural imperialism that destroyed the blacks’ culture and denied them their language. Brathwaite is trying to reinstate some of these traditions in the rhythms of his poem. Moreover he is critical of the way their past have been forgotten - often stating that the Caribbeans have been taught the literature and beliefs of Europe rather than their own, which is alienating to a people.

Brathwaite often plays with language drawing attention to an issue by slightly changing the word to make connections: landscape become landscrape suggesting the way the landscape has been scrape away and destroyed

The beat of ‘rat-a-tap rat-a-tap rat-a-tap tappin’ sets up this mesmerising rhythm, almost like a drum beat, while also connecting the rodent rat which was deadly on graveships, to the destruction of their culture.

Sun Poems was written in 1982 and Brathwaite has been critical of the attitude of the Nobel Prize winning Caribbean poet Derek Walcott in his attitude to his African heritage and the style he uses.

**

As I have mentioned already Brathwaite wants Caribbean, African and other colonised people (as well as English regional accents such as Cockney) to speak in their own vernacular and dialect. He uses the term nation language in contrast to dialect as the term dialect has very pejorative overtoness. Dialect is thought ofas ‘bad English’, it is ‘inferior English’. Dialect has a long history coming from the plantation where people’s dignity was distorted through their language and the descriptions that the dialect gave to them. Nation language on the otherhand, is the submerged area of that dialect that is much more closely allied to the African aspect of experience in the Caribbean. It may be English, but it is an English which is like a shout, a howl, or a machine-gun, or the wind, or a wave. It is also like the blues.

As an aside before finishing this change advocated by Brathwaite has occurred in history before. Once all Europe wrote in Latin, it was the language of the scholar, the educated. In the fourteenth century the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri argued for the recognition of his Tuscan (Italian) vernacular as a nation language to replace Latin as the most natural, complete, and accessible means of verbal expression. The movement was successful throughout Europe with other national languages and literature taking root, though they inturn proceeded to ignore other languages such as Basque and Gaelic and to suppress languages inn the colonies they invaded.

Twentieth Century Poems you should read

Michael Ondaatje ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’
Margaret Atwood ‘Spelling’
T.S Eliot ‘The Waste Land’
‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’
Seamus Heaney ‘From the Republic of Conscience’
‘Limbo’
Sylvia Plath ‘Tulips’
‘Lady Lazarus’
‘Daddy’
Allen Ginsberg ‘Howl’
Audre Lorde ‘From the House of Yemanya’
Robert Lowell ‘My Last Afternoon with Uncle Devereux Winslow’
‘Water’
Brook Emery ‘Approaching the Edge’ (The Argument from Desire, ed Ron Pretty)
Anthony Lawrence ‘Skinned by Light’ (The Nightjar, ed. John Hawke)
Bronwyn Lea ‘Driving into Distance’
Lily Brett ‘Poland’ (‘An Inflection of Silence’, ed. C. Pollnitz)
Gregory Corso ‘Marriage’
Adrienne Rich ‘Diving into the Wreck’
Philip Larkin ‘Aubade’
Lawrence Ferlinghetti ‘Sometime during Eternity’
Dylan Thomas ‘The Force that through the Green Fuse drives the Flower’
R.S Thomas ‘Woman’
Elizabeth Bishop ‘The Moose’
e.e. cummings ‘anyone lived in a pretty how town’
‘All in green went my love riding’
William Carlos Williams ‘Prelude to Winter’
Geoffrey Lehmann ‘ A Voyage of Lions’
Okot P’Bitek ‘Return the Bridewealth’
Kamau Brathwaite ‘Sun Poems’ (book length)
‘Ogun’
Guillaume Apollinaire ‘The Sighs of the Gunner in Dakar’
Ishmael Reed ‘beware : do not read this poem’
Wole Soyinka ‘Muhammad Ali at Ringside, 1985’

Short Stories

The Whole Town’s Sleeping

‘The Whole Town’s Sleeping’ by Ray Bradbury constructs women as weak, fragile and vulnerable, and is accepted as natural in text. They are the victims of violence and this is presumably perpetrated by males. It is suggested that women should always be onguard and defensive, locking themselves away from potential harm. Because this is naturalised within the ideology of society it is assumed that women are vulnerable and need to be protected, thus relegating them to a weaker, subservient position within society. They are constructed in the text to fearful of the violent masculine world outdoors and belong to the daylight hours as the darkness of night present a threat. In the story men do not have this same fear and often treat the potential danger in a more light-hearted manner. It is also assumed that men are all potentially violent.

Moreover, the story seems to endorse the idea that women who do not take sufficient care and attempt to be independent, ‘acting like a male’, are in some way to blame for what happens to them. This again reallocates the responsibility, making the victim responsible for what befalls them without seriously criticising the male who is the cause of the murders. This marginalises women in society as it suggests that women should live more sheltered lives, preferably under the protection of a husband, and if unmarried, live in a state of siege, where they have to continually acknowledge their weakness and vulnerability, and accept they do not have the same rights and mobility as the stronger males.

The representation of females is in terms of fragility, vulnerability and child-like innocence. They are aligned with images of genteel delicacy (‘sat with a twinkling lemonade in her white fingers’), childishness (Lavinia, as cool as mint ice cream’), and vulnerability (‘The heat pulsed under your dress and along your legs with a stealthy sense of invasion, ‘felt her heart going loudly within her and she was cold too’). All these representations serve to naturalise the weak and fragile nature of women, and when Lavinia attempts to be strong and independent, the text foregrounds the idea that she is only trying to be like this and beneath this facade her female nature is weak. When she finds the dead Eliza she pretends to be strong while within she ‘felt the ravine turning like a gigantic black merry-go-round underfoot’. Though stating ‘I’m not afraid of anything’, she is soon shown to be full and fear and says to herself that ‘If I get home safe I’ll never go out alone, I was a fool.’ Through this representation of the only strong and independent female, the text colludes with patriarchal ideology and essentialist assumptions on the innate weakness of women.

More importantly Lavinia becomes the victim of the murderer because of her foolish presumption that she could be strong, independent and in control of her life. The text suggests that had she taken precautions and accepted her vulnerable position in the world she would not have been murdered. Her independence had made her refuse the offers to stay at the other women’s houses, which led to her murder. The text accepts this as natural and in doing so perpetuates gender stereotypes, implying women are childish, vulnerable and delicate and must accept their subservient position.

The text also suggests that she was killed because she was pretty and that females without a husband are more vulnerable. All three are ‘maiden ladies’ and their lives are shown as child-like - they drink lemonade and go to the sweets shop. The patterns of imagery in the story also reveal underlying assumptions about the women and their place in society. The women are aligned with images of white (‘white fingers’), ice cream and confectionary (‘cool as mint ice cream’, ice-cream night’, ‘Popsicles dropped in puddles of lime and chocolate’), while the outside society is shown in menacing images of darkness and heat (‘The heat pulsed under your dress’). This sets up the conflict between images of light and coolness, with darkness and heat, and serves to reveal the women as innocents who are vulnerable to the darker forces in society that are constantly shown as a threat. They belong to the daylight hours where they can be seen (another assumption that they need to be watched and protected) and should not dare to venture out at night alone as they are no longer under the watchful patriarchal eye that can protect them.

A Company of Wolves by Angela Carter

- The story empowers women as it criticises traditional gender stereotypes and presents an alternative model of womanhood. This model is one that supports female independence and sexual freedom. The main character, who is nameless but corresponds to the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood, is mapped in terms of independence, resourcefulness, rationality and intelligence. This depiction of women has often led to the woman as being sexless and hardened (feminist/lesbian stereotype), but Little Red is shown as keeping her sensuality and is not masculine at all.

- The story questions traditional gender stereotypes, and specifically the fairytale genre where girls are stereotypically mapped as weak, passive and mere objects of beauty who either wait for marriage or be protected by a father-figure. ‘A Company of Wolves’ presents the girl as being in control of her life and not needing a male to protect or guide her.

- ‘A Company of Wolves’ criticises the traditional belief that women’s lives are precarious and that danger is ever-present. There are two types of men: the predatory wolf who wants to take advantage of girls for his sexual appetites and the moral man or father-figure who will protect them. Women have been encouraged by traditonal morality to find refuge in good men who will protect them as they are physically vulnerable and emotionally weak. Women have had to pay for this ‘safety’ by giving up their sexual freedom and their independence. The story presents a different role for women as they are shown as being capable of controlling their own lives with their own intelligence, resourcefulness and even sacrificing their virginity if needed, as female virginity as a cherished social value has been yet another code of behaviour that has oppressed them. The other type of male is the wolf and though he represents the worst side and should be avoided, his behaviour has often been justified by explaining it in biological deterministic terms (essentialism): he is wild by nature, and cannot control his appetites. This is the ‘boys will be boys’ stereotype and it is the responsibility of the female to keep away from him. If she is taken it is her own fault. In this way women have traditionally been seen as the custodians of morality and responsible for outcomes. This has allowed these men’s behaviour to deviate well beyond the standard to that expected of a woman.


‘Sisters’ by Brigid Lowry

‘Sisters’ by Brigid Lowry explores the lives of sisters growing up. The attitude to family is two-fold: the family environment is one where they are free-spirited and tomboyish (‘We run wild on the slopes of a green hill’, We climb tree’, We yell and scream’) but are emotionally damaged by the violent father (At dinner time we sit together on an old sofa while our father rages in the kitchen’). Outside the house they are happy and free but within the house they are forced to keep out of trouble and repress their feelings(‘We hide our face and our feelings’). This is poignantly shown in the metaphor of ‘in the house the anger bruises our soft skin’, which reveals how the father’s behaviour, if not direct violence, has been the cause of pain.
The other attitude is one of unity where the sisters have remained close throughout their lives, helping and supporting one another, and this unity is shown in the text through the constant repetition of the pronoun ‘We’ and the narrative voice being not one sister but all.

The text seems to be showing the value of family unity through the sisters, celebrating their closeness as in the world outside they have found only disappointment and breakdowns, and it is only their close relationship that has given them strength to endure. On the other hand it shows that families can also be emotionally damaging to its members. The mother finds solace in drinking and smoking, the father finally suicides and the children suffer from the violence. These apparently contradictory set of values present the range of things a family can be. Ideally it can be a source of great happiness, but it is also a cause of suffering.

The representation of gender in the story is a little ambiguous. Initially the girls are wild and tomboyish, running and screaming and helping their father dig potatoes, but this soon gives way to very stereotypical representations of male and female.

Women are mapped in a series of images that draw on stereotypical gender assumptions. The girls are associated with flowers and nature, with two of the girls taking the names of flowers as their middle names. They are sensitive and emotional(‘We love rivers, music, flowers.’) and though this is seen as a positive attribute it is also mapped in passive ways as the world acts upon them. They are scared and vulnerable in the house with a violent male (though this is more to do with being a child than a gender issue) and are later self conscious of their appearances (‘We agonise about our weight. We say to each other, do you think I should wear this’) and are constructed in terms of stereotypical domesticity and end up performing stereotypical female actions like painting, sewing, earting muffins and drinking tea.

In these represenatations women are associated with the emotions and feelings. They have inner lives that are need to be understood and articulated.(‘We learn to meditate. We see a therapist.’) Nevertheless they subvert these gender assumptions at the funeral by carrying their mother’s coffin and refuse help from males.

After initially be constructed in terms of assertiveness and freedom - running wildly, yelling and screaming, climbing tree and falling into compost - the sisters are seen in images of domesticity.

The male is violent and unable to communicate with the females. Interestingly he suicides showing he is emotionally weaker.

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