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Carol Anne Duffy and Sheenagh Pugh

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  • Pages: 10
  • Word count: 2299
  • Category: Childhood

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Carol Anne Duffy and Sheenagh Pugh both use their poetry to write about youth and the process of growing up. Although the write about many of the same ideas, such as the idea that the old prey upon the innocence of youth, their different approaches to the subject matter mean that the poems are often vastly different. In Lizzie, six, Carol Anne Duffy presents a dysfunctional relationship between a young girl and a man, possibly her father or step-father. Duffy presents the contrast between adulthood and youth through the use of two voices which contrast starkly with one another. The child’s voice begins with a very pleasant tone, with simple yet happy language. Words such as “moon… fields…love” are all very non-threatening, and imply a certain freedom, if only the child’s freedom of imagination. However, the tone of the child’s voice gradually becomes more sinister, until the final line “I’m afraid of the dark”. In addition to the common connotations of black representing evil and isolation, this could signify the change in the child, who, as she is growing up is forced to lose her youthful imagination and curiosity as a result of the abuse she suffers.

The structure of Lizzie, six also creates tension. The division into five stanza’s of equal length, each with one question, the child’s answer and two lines of the adult’s response create an acute sense of repetition, and the repeated monotony of the structure echoes the repetitive nature of child abuse, which seems in this poem to be escalating. The fact that the final word of each stanza – “there… chair… stair… bare… care” rhymes adds to this dull throb of repetition. The contrast between the voice of Lizzie and her abuser is extreme, and perhaps Duffy wished for this contrast to reflect the changes one goes through in the transition from child to adult. One technique which highlights the contrast is the use of the same word by the child and adult. For example, “deep in the wood / I’ll give you wood” shows the destruction of youthful innocence and creates an extremely sinister tone, which in turn is designed to disturb the reader. Sheenagh Pugh approaches the idea of the contrast between youth and adulthood in a different way in her poem Sweet 18. This poem is written as a first person monologue, which makes the content more sinister and shocking to the reader as Pugh is exposing thought’s which would usually remain hidden.

This poem also disturbs the reader, but unlike Duffy Pugh introduces the idea of a sexual relationship between the youth and woman. However, Pugh’s Sweet 18 is similar to Lizzie 6 in that it presents the adult as destroying the youth. This is perhaps most apparent in the line “of a young sapling / using his life, sucking it out of him”. This is clearly saying that, if given the chance, the old and mature can destroy the young. Lizzie six is not the only poem in which Duffy raises ideas surrounding youth. Boy is a first person monologue presented from the view of a man who wishes he was still young. This poem focuses on the security most people feel when they are children, and the line “The world is terror” clearly demonstrates that this voice has not made the usual transition from boy to teenager to man, and psychologically he feels more like a child. The character’s mental child-like state is conveyed by Duffy through a mixture of language and his use of short sentences. In this poem some sentences comprise of only one sentence, “Just like that. Whoosh. Hairy.” , and this simple structure projects the idea that the character feels like, and thus talks like, a child. However, in the last two stanzas the tone of the poem becomes a little more sinister. Firstly, Duffy suggests that this man had been in a sexual relationship with a woman who he called “Mummy”.

This breaks a strict social taboo concerning parents, children and sexual relationships, and as a result of this the reader is somewhat shocked and disturbed. In the final stanza the voice changes fairly dramatically “Now it’s a question of getting the wording right for the Lonely Hearts verse”. Written in the 1980s where the lonely hearts were the equivalent of Internet dating, the voice suddenly becomes more mature, and is almost brusque in tone. This reminds the reader that the character is not a boy, and once again adds a more sinister dimension to a subject matter – childhood – which would normally be considered innocent, as well as making the Lonely Hearts adverts, which are often ridiculed, a means for this disturbed individual to contact others. Sheenagh Pugh’s poem ‘She was nineteen and she was bored’ focuses on a girl who grew up wrong, as opposed to Duffy’s ‘Boy’ who never grew up at all. There is no trace of innocence in this character, who, at age nineteen was barely out of adolescence. Pugh’s use of alliteration in the line “murderous crew of mediocrities” simulteaneously presents her as a normal girl with a spark of evil which was ignited. Whilst the innocence of youth was long destroyed for this girl, Pugh does convey her youthful rashness, and an inability to weigh up the consequences of her actions.

However, though condemning the girl – “it’s no excuse she did what we might” – the final lines of the poem do suggest that there was someone or something else which helped her become the malicious and evil guard. The words “those who made her” implies that others, probably older than her, possibly those who influenced her childhood, were guilty in helping to create a young woman capable of committing atrocities, who left the innocent security of childhood far behind. Finally, Duffy presents the idea that it is the duty of the adults who surround children and teenagers to educate them. In her poem “Comprehensive” Duffy uses ventriloquism to adopt seven separate voices, which creates a multi-dimensional poem and also conveys the idea of a multicultural melting pot for all races and religions. However, whilst the teenagers have the capacity to know and understand each other and each other’s cultures, Duffy shows that they are pitifully ignorant about one another. The structure of the poem, with one stanza, creates a blank space on the page between each voice, which could be symbolic of the gaps between the voices socially.

The words “Paki-bashing… he’s a bit dark” show the reader that unless the youths are taught about each other by elders then the superficial differences between them can create fear and tension. It is possible that through the contrast of the title “comprehensive” and the ignorance the youngsters demonstrate Duffy is suggesting that it is the duty of adults to teach children more than mathematics and science, that they should also teach youngsters tolerance and understanding. This idea is developed in Pugh’s “Geography was peculiarly taught”. This poem reveals the thoughts of a person remembering lessons from their youth in a monologue. The most revealing line in the poem is “a people popular with examiners, because they fit nicely into half a term”.

Although this is still a line within the monologue, it appears that a little of Pugh’s own voice emerges here with the message that adults should not decide what children learn based purely on ease of teaching, and that education should be a rounded experience for young people. Pugh’s message is made even stronger by the words “I should say ‘weren’t”. This reveals that in the future where this character now lives the Masai no longer exist. This truly reinforces the message of both Pugh and Duffy: that education should be designed to teach young people about life as well as subjects like science, otherwise the young will turn into ignorant adults, by which time it will be too late. Overall, Duffy and Pugh’s poetry carry similar messages in terms of youth, such as the security of childhood, the fragility of innocent youth and how easily it can be broken by adults, and the message that adults are failing in their duty to educate young people thoroughly about society.

Tom Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia’ is a multi-faceted play which contains a vast array of ideas. The themes of science and maths run throughout the entire text, and are vastly important both in terms of the plot and symbolism. The conflicting ideas of free will and determinism cause great amount of confusion and debate throughout Arcadia, with various characters taking different stances at various stages in the play. Thomasina – the child genius of Sidley Park – disputes Newton’s theory of determinism – whereby theoretically the actions of the future could be predicted by plotting every atom in the present. In this extract she declares “Newton’s machine which would know our atoms from cradle to grave by the laws of motion is incomplete!” This is highly significant, as Thomasina is touching upon the idea which the characters in the present day Sidley Park argue, whereby heat – an extended metaphor throughout the play for sex – alters the deterministic path. This debate between determinism and free will is literally expressed through Valentine’s grouse studies, as he explains why a tiny action in Thoamasina’ day could have vast consequences out of all proportion; namely the chaos theory. The chaos theory is Pointcare’s development of Newton’s basic determinism, and is still a deterministic theory.

However, it is inherently so complicated that it appears to be random. On page 62 Valentine declares “the unpredictable and predetermined unfold together. It’s how nature creates itself”. This seemingly complex system actually goes along way in explaining why Bernard has such problems trying to unravel Sidley Park’s mysteries, as the smallest action – such as Septimus burning the letter from Byron – can spectacularly alter events. Thus, through the presentation and use of maths, Stoppard not only emphasises Thomasina’s genius (she begins idea which others will only think of two centuries later), but also begins to explain the reasons behind the drastic – and often hilarious miscalculations on behalf of those at the modern Sidley Park. Furthermore, on page 116 Thomasina goes on to mention the heat equation which “cares very much, it only goes one way”. This heat equation is a constant throughout the play, as in Act 1 Scene 1 Thomasina first notes that “you cannot stir things apart”. The idea that within science heat will only go one way is extremely significant, as Stoppard reveals that Septimus is eventually driven mad by the fact that the heat equation will only go one way, and that when everything is room temperature the world will die.

This is revealed by the present-day characters when Hannah notes “it was frenchified mathematik that drove him to the melancholy certitude of a world without life or light”. In this Stoppard presents science not only as a world of great new discovery, but also shows the devastation it can bring. Septimus’ demise into obsession with the heat equation and its science also contrasts strongly with his reasons for looking into the equation – his love for Thomasina. Through this inextricable link, Stoppard shows that science and love are not the polar opposites the audience may first assume; they may both lead to great success and happiness or destruction. The fact that heat is also a metaphor for sex also means that Thomasina’s line of page 111 “the action of bodies in heat” is a euphemism with sexual connotations, and also cements the bond between Thomasina’s scientific heat equation and Septimus’s love and eventual decline. Stoppard also prevents the struggle between nature and science. This is perhaps most notable with regards to the Sidley Park gardens, the unseen backdrop the sex, maths and science is the house. The “Improved Newcomer Steam Pump” and the dispute between Lady Croom and Noakes concerning the transformation of the garden from a symmetrical Neoclassicist paradise to a Romanticist wilderness is particularly noteworthy.

As the steam pump controls and affects its natural surroundings, Stoppard is using it as a metaphor to present the idea that science rules nature. This idea is once again introduced through Thomasina’s musing that “if there is a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell why not a rose?” This idea that nature must be ruled by science and numbers, albeit science we are not yet capable of comprehending, is a key theme throughout the play, and reflects and mirrors the debate concerning logical neoclassicism versus wild and uncontrollable romanticism. Stoppard’s use and presentation of science is not limited to the Sidley Park in the 1800s. Valentine’s grouse equations also question whether science rules nature or if nature is independent of numbers and maths. Despite complaining of “distortions Interference. Real data is messy” it appears that here too science ultimately rules nature.

Somewhat paradoxically, it is the natural object of a simple “apple leaf” which sparked Thomasina’s idea, and perhaps this inspiration from a natural object is a glimpse of Stoppard’s own view that a world containing purely science or purely nature is not complete, and that it is only when the two elements are combined that the world can be content, knowledge complete and the truth finally exposed. In conclusion, Stoppard uses maths and science in many different ways to create confusion and humour, to question whether science rules nature, and to question whether actions are our own or our pre-determined destiny. Somewhat ironically, it is Arcadia’s heroine and mathematic genius Thomasina who questions determinism, that meets her fate in the inferno at Sidley Park the night before her seventeenth birthday.

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