Due to the fact that Carol Ann Duffy to a certain extent is a feminine writer, it is easy to make the proclamation that she fundamentally undermines male status in ‘The World’s Wife’. Duffy uses the collection to give women who have not been heard previously a voice, and by using this sense of ‘L’ecriture feminine’ Duffy does wholeheartedly have to conform against the phallocentric world many women have found themselves living in now and in the past.
With the poem ‘Mrs Tiresias’, Duffy strongly explores ideas on the basis of masculinity and femininity, and the male persona in this poem is vastly ridiculed. In the poem, Duffy uses many humorous ideas to highlight how she sees women to be the stronger sex and as a result men are shown not to be able to fill the boots of women.
Duffy is able to do this by taking a classical Greek myth, the story of the prophet Tiresias who wounded a female snake after seeing her mating with another snake and as a result he was turned into a woman, and satirizing any masculine ideology that women lead easy lives. This is particularly shown with the use of the menstrual cycle in the poem as “Three painkillers four times a day” allows Duffy to highlight male fussiness over the simplest of problems and hence Duffy shows how if men had women’s problems more consideration would be given to them.
This truly shows how ‘The World’s Wife’ shows no sympathy for men. Furthermore, with the use of “his selfish pale face peering at the moon” Duffy could be using this dramatic image not only to show the power of women with the use of the feminine symbol ‘moon’ but also the fact that Duffy use’s the verb ‘peering’ to describe Tiresias’s actions presents him in an envious light towards women, additionally by using ‘selfish’ Duffy shows no sympathy for men as she shows they have shown no sympathy for women.
The poem ‘Pilate’s Wife’ is similar to ‘Mrs Tiresias’ as in both poems, Duffy re-tells a classical story, in this case the biblical story of Pontius Pilate who people hold responsible for Jesus’ death, in order to satirize men who have been viewed in positive lights previously.
Due to the death of Jesus, “the Nazarene”, in the poem Duffy wasn’t able to use humour to ridicule the idea of masculinity; instead she uses the physical symbolism of hands in the poem in order to present the futileness of the male sex. With description such as “Their pale, mothy touch made me flinch” Duffy is able to present Pilate to be lacking in masculinity which is also illustrated with “Camp hands that clapped for grapes”.
These descriptions are effective because they lay in sharp contrast to the descriptions used to describe Jesus’ hands such as “each tough palm was skewered”, not only does this represent the biblical image of Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross, but also the use of “tough” shows that Jesus was a real man who wasn’t afraid to work hard. This could be Duffy’s way of ridiculing the male breed as she uses the death of Jesus in order to show how the best man was killed off by a useless member of the male species.
Queen Kong’ is another poem in the collection whereby Duffy shows no sympathy for men. In the poem, Duffy presents the form of love whereby a person’s object of desire has no choice in the matter which is shown with the emphatic simile “I picked him, like a chocolate from the top layer of a box” and Duffy also in the poem satirizes the way in which powerful men use women as objects, and she does this with the role-reversal in the poem as Queen Kong is shown to be wearing her man as an ornament, which is illustrated with “I wear him now about my neck”. Queen Kong’ is the only poem in the collection based upon the original film however Duffy takes the story and reverses it in her bid to show that a female gorilla would have gone about things differently.
There is a sharp contrast between King Kong and Queen Kong in that Queen Kong has a vast amount of articulacy and thought whereas Queen Kong has none, this is shown with the fact the Queen Kong has a human way of grieving such as “to binge for a fortnight” which could be Duffy’s way of highlighting the effect men have upon women, in that they lead them into terrible spouts of depression and men are hence ridiculed for this as the reader receives hardly any recognition of how the male persona is feeling throughout the poem, which shows men do not deserve sympathy.
In similarity to ‘Mrs Tiresias’, Duffy has thread through ideas about the menstrual cycle in ‘Queen Kong’. The use of the menstrual cycle in ‘Queen Kong’ with “I bled when a fat, red moon rolled on the jungle roof” is used to reinforce the extent of her passion for the man, and the following line “and after that, I decided to get him back” illustrates how a period changes a woman’s behaviour, which is an idea similarly presented in ‘Mrs Tiresias’ with the fact that “Then he got his period” stands as a one-lined stanza.
This bodily function which is constricted entirely to women allows Duffy reinforce the idea of feminity, and hence exclude any sense of masculinity having a higher status. Tiresias’s experience as a woman is presented in the poem as external only, which allows Duffy to show that men will never be able to think or feel like a woman. This idea is shown in the poem with “telling the women out there… e knew how we felt” which shows how his appearance may be feminine but his understanding is still male. The fact Tiresias is presented by Duffy at the beginning of the poem as a typical man with “out the back gate with his stick, the dog;” and to be doing typically male things such as “whistling” is representative of the fact that men are in retrospect all the same, and therefore Duffy is showing no sympathy for the individual male.
Due to the fact that the reader feels no sympathy for Tiresias because he has lost all sense of masculinity, and even though this is a shocking situation, the fact that Duffy presents Tiresias to be taking advantage of this female appearance to become a celebrity, Duffy is able to present men in a negative way in that nothing will stop them hunting for power and status, even turning into a woman. This is shown in the poem with “on the arms of powerful men” and the use of “On” instead of ‘in’ shows how he is using them for his own benefit.
In similarity to ‘Pilate’s Wife’, ‘Mrs Tiresias’ uses hand imagery in order to present powerful ideas on masculinity and feminity in the poem. With the use of the ambiguous statement “his hands, her hands, the clash of their sparking rings” which on the one hand could be showing the rivalry between the new and old lovers, the use of ‘clash’ here could be Duffy’s way of representing the battle of the sexes in the poem, and as the hands are described to be typically female, Duffy is able to show a man can never rival the status of a woman.
This powerful sense of feminity in the poem is further emphasised with more bodily imagery such as “A cling peach slithering out from its tin” which is a reference to Tiresias’s lack of naturalness and to the fact that men are sweet but heartless, which is also shown with the idea of the new lover having “violet eyes”, with ‘violet’ being the colour of faithfulness.
The sexual tone created in the poem with “fruit of my lips” allows Duffy to show how the real woman in this poem is far more natural, as this description of a woman is far more typical than a “cling peach”. This is suggestible upon the fact that men are totally unneeded in this life, and therefore Duffy shows no sympathy when describing Tiresias’s experience as a woman. In the poem ‘Pilate’s wife’ Jesus is seen as a representative of manhood rather than divinity, and this is particularly expressed in the poem with “He looked at me.
I mean he looked at me”, which illustrates a sense of importance for Pilate’s wife because he looked at her like an individual. Duffy here is able to illustrate how the collection shows no sympathy for men as although Pilate’s Wife is longing for “someone else” and usually adultery causes quite a large deal of emotional suffering for the victim, it is shown in the poem that the only person Pilate has to blame is himself.
This is illustrated with “carefully turned up his sleeves and slowly washed his useless, perfumed hands” the washing of the hands here is Pilate’s way of trying to forgo responsibility, and hence he is not a real man as he cannot stand up for what is right so therefore Duffy shows how no sympathy should be given to those men with a small supply of masculinity.
Additionally, this quotation presents Pilate to be acting laid back and trying carefully not to get wet, whereas Duffy shoes in the poem that the result of his actions are far dirtier, especially with “They seized the prophet and dragged him out” which allows Duffy to illustrate that men live their lives in many ways without a conscience and therefore do not deserve sympathy as they do not give it out themselves. Duffy presents Pilate’s wife as a bored Roman woman stuck in a foreign country with little to occupy her.
This is shown in the poem with “my maid and I crept out” which illustrates a sense of the two women trying to amuse themselves. This relates strongly to the idea of men whose wives stray are part to blame as men often become so preoccupied with other matters that their wives happiness is pushed into the background, and therefore when their wife hurts them, they deserve no sympathy this is also expressed with the emphatic pun “Pontius”, which illustrates Pilate’s wife sense of disgust towards her husband.
Although it could be suggested that ‘Queen Kong’ is sympathetic towards men, especially with descriptions such as “held his wriggling, shouting life till he calmed” however the emotions expressed on the female persona’s half are ones of which the reader can empathise with, even though there is very little reality about the poem. The fact that the male character reduces Queen Kong to numerous emotions, Duffy is able to illustrate how men do not deserve sympathy because of the amount of pain they cause for women.
This idea is portrayed in the poem with the fact that Queen Kong goes hunting for her man “pressing” her “Passionate eye to a thousand windows” this shows the extent to what women are drove to by men. Furthermore, with the use of “He liked me to gently blow on him” Duffy is able to present ideas on the subversion of women for men, tending to their every need. This shows how Duffy could feel that men do not deserve sympathy in her collection as they lead perfectly satisfactory lives.
To conclude the point whether ‘The World’s Wife’ shows no sympathy for men , it is undeniable that many poems in the collection portray men in negative lights; often through both their personality and looks. Duffy wrote ‘the World’s Wife’ in order to give women who have been metaphorically silent in both history and stories a voice; and by doing so she had to undermine the status of the male characters in order to elevate women.