Duffy, writing from the twentieth century perspective, revisits the well known character from Great Expectations in a dramatic monologue, where she assumes the persona of Havisham to explore the innermost thoughts and feelings of a bitter woman destroyed by unrequited love and humiliation. Havisham appears to be written in the style of a Shakespearean sonnet, but does not end in a rhyming couplet, only continues in this style. This symbolises that there is no happy ending for Havisham and thoughts of her lover’s betrayal will haunt her throughout the rest of her life, her pain in ongoing and never ending.
Duffy takes away Miss Havisham’s title; by doing this she strips her of her identity in society. Duffy’s use of an oxymoron and pejorative, ‘Beloved sweetheart bastard’, has an undercurrent of violence, and emphasises Havisham’s conflicting emotions about her ex lover. The use of dark, monosyllabic language like ‘dead’, coupled with the harsh ‘d’ sound shows how detached Havisham has become from her emotions. The metaphor ‘dark green pebbles for eyes’, reflects how her soul has been hardened to all feelings and emotions.
The isolated noun ‘spinster’ reflects Havisham’s own isolation from society, through her embarrassment at being jilted at the altar. Havisham ‘stink[s] and remember[s]’, the olfactic image shows that Havisham is consumed by her past and that every part of her is tainted by it. Duffy employs an aural animalistic image, ‘cawing’ that strips Havisham of her femininity and in her wardrobe Havisham’s dress is ‘yellowing’, reflecting her own decay.
Havisham is afraid to look in ‘the slewed mirror’ because she fears herself and then she questions ‘who did this to [her]’, whether she is responsible for what she has become. Duffy uses darkly erotic and sensual images as Havisham imagines emasculating her lover, and a violent plosive, ‘bite’, to emphasise her desire to emasculate him, just as her femininity was taken from her. The oxymoron ‘love’s hate’ reflects Havisham’s conflicted emotions, that her past has disturbed her present and future.
Duffy employs a violent plosive, ‘red balloon bursting in my face’, with a denotation that emphasises her desire for revenge. There is a violent, isolated, onomatopoeic, aural image that represents her pain, her past and her suffering. Havisham longs for ‘a male corpse’ which implies her desire to torture and gain revenge on her ex lover. Duffy shows us that it is not only Havisham’s heart that has broken, but her mind is broken too, she has been destroyed by her ex lover and this has distorted her view on her life and herself.