Carol Ann Duffy's Revision of Masculinist Representations of Female Identity

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Carol Ann Duffy's Revision of Masculinist Representations of Female Identity

Carol Ann Duffy is one of the freshest and bravest talents to emerge in British poetry —any poetry — for years', writes Eavan Boland (Duffy, 1994, cover). This courage is manifest in Duffy’s ability and desire to revise masculinist representations of female identity and her engagement with feminine discourse, a concept which, as Sara Mills points out: has moved away from viewing women as simply an oppressed group, as victims of male domination, and has tried to formulate ways of analysing power as it manifests itself and as it is resisted in the relations of everyday life. (p.78)

It is these aspects of Duffy's work that I wish to address here by examining
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Ian Gregson comments on this when he states that:
Duffy explores how masculinist ways of seeing determine how women are regarded, even by themselves, and how language determines the experiences it is supposed merely to describe, how representation makes dummies of us all. (p.101)

This notion of female identity as a constructed in masculine discourse but accepted by all, is a recurring theme in Duffy's poetry. She stereotypes many of her characters in order to foreground their incongruous place within a modern society. She also highlights the inadequacies of language as a form of expression in the Lacanian sense that 'no meaning is sustained by anything other than reference to another meaning' (Lacan, p.83). Language, therefore, is an unreliable form of expression and, as such, is deconstructed by Duffy through the use of dramatic monologues to represent speech rather than written forms, and by her juxtaposition of seemingly random nouns and adjectival phrases and her use of compound words. Language is used to create a tension throughout her work, particularly in her insistence on foregrounding the construction of the poem itself.

This tension is demonstrated in 'Recognition', from Selling Manhattan (1987), where Duffy explores the fabrication of female identity and the inability of language to re-present that identity by employing a dramatic monologue voiced by a despondent housewife:

[…] I love him, through habit, but the proof has

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