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Poem Comparison Essay – Cousin Kate and Havisham

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In this essay I will be linking the poems ‘Cousin Kate’ and ‘Havisham’. The poem Cousin Kate was written by Christina Rossetti and is the story of a cottage maiden and how she was seduced and used by the lord of the estate for which she worked. The poem then goes on to describe how she became jealous of her cousin, Kate, as she then went on to marry the lord. “Havisham” is a poem written in 1998 by Carol Ann Duffy. It responds to Charles Dickens’ character Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. It looks at Havisham’s mental and physical state many decades after being left standing at the altar, when the bride-to-be is in her old age. It expresses Havisham’s anger at her fiancé and her bitter rage over wedding-day trauma and jilted abandonment.

Firstly I will unveil the ways that Cousin Kate and Havisham are linked together. To begin, if we look at both poems without going into analysing it, we see that they both show how women were second class citizens compared to men. They both have a very feminist approach, displaying how women were treated unfairly and didn’t speak out, or weren’t respected as much as the men were. Both the narrator in Cousin Kate and Havisham were very fond and seemingly enchanted by their sweethearts, but this love was unrequited, and therefore, the men left them without a care. The reader can see this by the way the narrator in Cousin Kate was left with a child whilst the man just moved on. This is indicated when the narrator said the lord just ‘cast me by’ showing that she was not of high importance and someone who could just be thrown away when she isn’t needed or wanted anymore, regardless of her feelings. This is very much alike with how Havisham was jilted at the alter and left mentally unstable, whilst her husband-to-be moved on.

Havisham reveals this when she says ‘a red balloon bursting in my face.’ This statement is conveying the idea of her big celebration just disintegrating in front of her eyes and she couldn’t do anything about it. The ‘red’ in the balloon is giving the impression of her love, as red is the colour of love, disappearing in front of her, without considering her feelings. Secondly, the poems are coherent with eachother by the language techniques used. Both poems are written in monologue form. Havisham is a dramatic monologue. This enables the reader to understand Havishams thoughts directly, as they are being spoken to the reader. Cousin Kate correlates with this as it is also a monologue, although isn’t being spoken to the reader like it is in Havisham. Instead the monologue is directed at her cousin, Kate. Another language technique that is echoed by both poems is the use of oxymorons. In Cousin Kate the narrator said she was ‘lured’ to the Lords home “To lead a shameless shameful life”. This oxymoron has a sexual meaning behind it.

The words ‘shameless’ and ‘shameful’ conflict making this an oxymoron. This could mean that it was shameless for her enjoyment of the sexual act and she had no shame with the Lord before they had sex, but it was in fact in real life shameful after she had sex, as she had not married the Lord. Havisham also used an oxymoron relating to her fiancee. She began her monologue with the sentence ‘beloved sweetheart bastard.’ This is an oxymoron which exhibits how Havisham was in love with this man and possibly still is, but due to his actions she sees him as a ‘bastard.’ This is a very strong expletive word, which shows how strong her hate for him is because he left her, but at the end of the day she still loved him, even after what he had done. Thirdly, due to the loss of the men they loved, both women have become isolated and outcast. The narrator in Cousin Kate has been rejected by society due to her being pregnant out of wedlock. The narrator gives us this illusion when she is explaining to Kate how they are now looked at differently in society.

She says, ‘The neighbours call you good and pure, Call me an outcast thing.’ The narrator is expressing how becoming pregnant out of wedlock had altered the was society looks at her. By calling her an ‘outcast’ it depicts how she has been pushed out of society and the word ‘thing’ objectifies her. It makes her sound like someone who isn’t important and has a negative stigma attached to her. Someone who had been rejected by society. This is parallel to how society views Havisham. Due to the pain and heartbreak Havisham went through, it has influenced and damaged her mental health and stability. Havisham talks about her dress. She says ‘the dress, yellowing.’ This reveals how long Havisham has kept this dress on, due to it not being washed and turning a dirty yellow colour, and presumably, has not left her house. This illustrates how Havisham has a mental health problem and how society would not accept her due to this. Havisham has become isolated due to the loss of her love, and as a knock on effect of this, has lost her sanity. This demonstrates exactly how neither of the women will be accepted in society again, as well as how neither can move on from the loss of their love.

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