“Havisham” by Carol-Anne Duffy

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“Havisham” by Carol-Anne Duffy tells the story of Miss Havisham, a woman who got left at the alter and how it ripped her heart into tattered shreds. Throughout the poem we see just how much pain that love can cause. From the opening of the poem we see how hurt and devastated the character of Miss Havisham is: “Havisham”

The title of the poem allows us to see that Miss Havisham clearly does not like the fact that she is unmarried; the omitted word ‘miss’ shows us that she is both ashamed and embarrassed at this.

This is a clear indication of the pain that the love she had for this man has caused her. We can relate to her hurt and anger as during this time, to be unmarried was shameful. From the very beginning of the first stanza it is shown that Miss Havisham Is both in love with the man but also loathes him: “Beloved sweetheart bastard.”

The use of the oxymoron ‘sweetheart bastard’ shows that Miss Havisham has conflicting feelings towards the man who left her.

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Sweetheart and bastard are contrasting words, sweetheart suggests that she loves him however bastard shows that she is full of hatred for him. This is clearly showing that she is confused about how she feels and that she is bitter and aggressive because of these feelings. Duffy also uses an iambic hexameter in this line, it has twelve syllables and each alternates between stressed and unstressed, this is the only line which is in strict meter the rest are essentially free-for-all.

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Duffy goes on the compare Miss Havisham to a mythological creature who goes by the name of Medusa: “Dark green Pebbles for eyes”

Miss Havisham believes she has turned into some kind of monster because of her love for the man who jilted her. Medusa was a very beautiful woman, just like Havisham once was, who was seduced by Poseidon in the temple of Athena, Athena was gravely jealous by this and turned Medusa into a snake-haired monster who turned men to stone as soon as they look at her. The dark green relates to this because green is well known as the color that represents Jealousy. Also the ‘pebbles for eyes’ could mean that Miss Havisham is cold and emotionless like a pebble towards anyone she meets because of what this man has done to her. Miss Havisham is a person who believes that anyone who is unmarried is shameful: “Spinster”

The word spinster means someone who is unmarried, in Havisham’s society this is frowned upon and shameful. By calling herself this Miss Havisham is indicating that she believes that a person has to be married to be considered adequate by everyone and that a woman’s life could be ruined just by being unmarried. This shows just how much this man has hurt her because by jilting her at the alter this man has made her an outcast of society. We can relate to this because in olden times to have a high or even good standard of living a woman would have had to be married. In the second stanza the poet shows that no matter how much time goes past Havisham cannot get rid of her past: “I stink and remember.”

The word choice of ‘stink’ tells us that she literally stinks because she wears her wedding dress everyday without washing, but she also metaphorically stinks of the past because no matter how much time passes she can’t get rid of how much she loves and cares for the man. She also can’t get rid of the amount of pain and humiliation that he caused by leaving her. She therefore feels too shameful and embarrassed to shower and clean away her memories. We can relate to this because we have all felt so embarrassed that we didn’t want to do anything except hide away in our beds and not move until the pain goes away. Duffy then goes on to describe Havisham’s pain:

“Cawing nooooo at the walls.”
The use of ‘nooooo’ is Neologism. This is a word which has been created and used by the poet to show just how much pain Miss Havisham is in. if Duffy had just used ‘no’ it would sound blunt and hardly create any effect because it shows barely any emotion, it could just be used in a normal conversation, however by using the extra o’s it makes it sound as though Havisham is screaming or shouting with all of the emotion she can muster. In addition the use of ‘cawing at the walls’ relates to the gothic image of a raven makes Havisham should almost animal-like which again links back to the comparison of Miss Havisham being a monster. Miss Havisham goes on to imagine what could have happened if she had gotten married instead of left at the alter: “The lost body over me.”

Miss Havisham starts to create sexual fantasies in her head about the man she was due to marry. Also the use of the ‘lost body’ brings the image of death because it sounds more like the man has died, not just left her. The use of this also banishes the image of the fragile, heart-broken old woman and replaces it with a disconcerting image of a sick-minded, disturbing woman. At the beginning of stanza four, Duffy reveals a little more about the fateful wedding day: “Loves hate behind a white veil.”

The use of ‘Loves hate.’ is an oxymoron. ‘behind a white veil’ suggests that her hate was hidden and disguised by her love for him (the white veil). Also it gives the mental image of a wedding day which was a joyful affair when Miss Havisham was young. Happy and in love. Then the day all suddenly changed when the man abandoned her. Imagery is also used with the use of the color white, because white was a color that represented innocence and virtue. Carol-Anne Duffy goes on to show the extent of Miss Havisham’s embarrassment: “A red balloon bursting in my face.”

The use of the color red is imagery, red is generally associated with anger and embarrassment, so by using it Duffy creates the image of Havisham’s face being bright red with humiliation and loathing behind the veil. Also the balloon bursting is a violent action so that could be the point where Miss Havisham snaps and becomes the crazy old woman that is revealed as the poem progresses, and is also the point where miss Havisham realizes that she has been stood up and left all alone. The story of miss Havisham then becomes sadder and you start to feel sympathy for her again: “Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.” The poet uses a plosive B on ‘b-b-b-breaks’ to show that miss Havisham can no longer continue talking about what happened to her. The poet is also using pathos to show just how hurt and emotional Miss Havisham is, it brings back the image of her being a fragile, heart-broken woman.

In addition the lack of a proper ending by the poet makes the reader wonder what could have happened to Miss Havisham, she could simply just have stopped thinking/talking about her past, but she might have ran out of time to talk about her story.. She could have been caught up in it for so long that she died before she could ever reach a final conclusion.. But we will never know. We can relate to this because sometimes its hard to forget about your past love and sometimes you can get so wrapped in it that it consumes your whole life. In conclusion “Havisham” by Carol-Anne Duffy carries a powerful message.

That when your are in love and it comes to a sudden end, you can either let it haunt you for the rest of your life so that you cannot bring yourself to do anything else, or you can plaster a smile on your face and face the world like you would any other day. The poet uses many different writing techniques from iambic hexameters to oxymoron, and every single techniques helps portray the emotions of Miss Havisham.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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“Havisham” by Carol-Anne Duffy. (2016, Apr 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/havisham-by-carol-anne-duffy-essay

“Havisham” by Carol-Anne Duffy essay
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