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To what extent are Mrs Sisyphus and Mrs Rip Van Winkle characters of the World’s Wife? The World’s Wife an array of relentless and unapologetically feminist poems consisting of a large number of personas, who are witheringly contemptuous of the men they have ended up with, generally inadequate, self-obsessed and immature. Each poem carrying an implicit message of feminine virtues governed by the somewhat scorn of women.
Mrs Sisyphus and Mrs Rip Van Winkle playing host to many of the ironically degrading characters that have been given to their counter opposites. Mrs Sisyphus serves as a resounding echo to many of the female characters that find themselves within Duffy’s feminist collection. ‘That’s him pushing the stone up the hill the jerk’. It is this blunt yet explicit statement made by Mrs Sisyphus that sets out the pace for the rest of the poem, conveying immediately the attitude she has towards her husband and the ‘dork’ like actions he undertakes.
Furthermore, the fact that Sisyphus was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity, serves as a poignant reminder of him being a symbol for pointless activity. As a result, Mrs Sisyphus expresses this pointlessness and reminds us that ‘what use is a perk, when you haven’t got the time to open a cork’. Yet more importantly, conveys to the reader a woman who seems to long for the companionship of her husband but is just another wife deemed to endlessly disparage his obsessive behaviour.
On the other hand, Mrs Rip Van Winkle is in deep contrast to the attitude that Mrs Sisyphus possesses. As we learn that Rip Van Winkle’s sleep in Duffy’s hand becomes his wife’s liberation ‘while he slept I found some hobbies for myself’. When one thinks of ‘sleep’, we associate it with inactivity. However, in the case of Mrs Winkle the silence and stillness that her husband undergoes awakens the opportunity for her to cease life and all its wonders ‘Painting, seeing the sights’. No longer condemned to the submissive behaviour of her domineering husband.
‘The Leaning Tower, The Pyramids, the Taj Mahal’, taking in each sight with a new lease on life, being able to breath freely and see the sights she’d always ‘dreamed about’ no longer within the clutches of a man. Mrs Sisyphus highlights to the reader, the implications a wife must face when having a ‘berk’ for a husband. She mentions of wanting to go for ‘so much as a walk in the park’, yet as it seems that when a man becomes wildly obsessed ‘keen as a hawk, lean as a shark,’ the importance of a woman diminishes as the size of the stone he pushes is ‘nearer the size of a kirk’.
Therefore, signifying to the reader one of the many characteristics that females have within the ‘World’s Wife’ resenting their husbands. Furthermore, the poem seems partly a language game ‘jerk, kirk, perk, cork’, the rhymes and the half rhymes, give a sense of repetition that imitates Sisyphus’s punishment, yet in actual fact it is not him who seems to be punished, for his folly actions have left Mrs Sisyphus to be the actual victim plagued by his punishment.
This simple yet effective rhyming scheme reinforces the idea that Mrs Sisyphus sees her husband to be nothing more then an individual to be ‘gawked’ at; some type of circus freak. Through her idiomatic tone one is able to draw out the characteristics of a woman who sees no sense in rolling a stone ‘that feckin’ no sooner up than it’s rolling back down’. This movement of the stone going up yet gravely set to an incessant downward spiral is a reflection of Mrs Sisyphus’ relationship with her husband.
Similarly even though Mrs Winkle initially faces the prospect of having an elated life without her husband, sees her dreams shattered when her husband awakes ‘sitting up in bed rattling viagra’. Duffy conveys, the position of Mrs Winkle within their relationship, she seems nothing more then object for sex and pleasure for her husband. Bound by the ever conventionalist view of women being nothing more then the property of men.
Not only deeply patronising, but in all places and at all times, suggesting only men are of importance, and their wife’s are mere appendages. After all she had taken up food and given up exercise ‘ it did me good’ a reversal of what one would associate as being ‘good’ or in the eyes of her husband being seen as an attractive woman. The fact that her self worth is associated by her physical attributes highlights Duffy’s anger at how male emblems seem to place women in a position where only objectification is possible.
Even more so, Duffy hints that in order for a female to find true happiness she must remove the realms that bind her, ‘but what was best, hands-down beat the rest was saying a none-too-fond- farewell to sex’. We as the reader are made to feel the excitement and happiness that Mrs Rip Van Winkle is going through yet as soon as it arrives, her dream comes to a close at the eventual awakening of her husband. Thus, a sense of pathos is created and one can only pity the situation she finds herself in.