In Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, ‘education for leisure’ and Sheenagh Pugh’s, ‘she was nineteen and she was bored’, both poets look on modern society in a negative way. Both poems look at the themes of suffering and unhappiness when cast out from society.which are two states that are inextricably linkable. Unhappiness can come as a result of suffering, or the need to make others suffer can come from pure unhappiness. Duffy and Pugh both make these distinctions in their work, and are able to engage the reader by exploring these universal themes.
In Duffy’s ‘education for leisure’, we find a character who is in the grip of unhappiness and possibly some sort of depression. The opening line, ‘ I am going to kill something. Anything.’ shows the reader straight away the nature of the speaker in this poem. The word ‘am’ shows the certainty and determination of the persona which is quite a shocking opener for the reader. The caesura in the opening line foregrounds the word ‘anything’ which shows the reader the lack of empathy and morality this character has, the fact that they aren’t bothered what they kill it is just for the thrill of taking another life.
This is similar to Pugh’s, ‘she was nineteen and she was bored’, as this uses caesura to foreground certain words. For example, the phrase, ‘cleaning a house being nobody.’ This phrase foregrounds the word ‘nobody’ as if she dwells on the fact she is seen as lower down in society. This means that the next line, ‘she joined the murderous crew’ is foregrounded to show the contrast from a kitchenmaid to the killer she becomes. The second line, ‘I have had enough of being ignored and today’ uses enjambment to give the poem the style that sounds like the speaker is talking to you as if they are taking a breath. This is also used in Pugh’s poem for the rhythm to create a beat as she slowly changes from a harmless maid to a guard involved in a genocide.The phrase in the poem ‘I am going to play God’ is one of the ways that Duffy brings across the egotistical nature of this character.
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The word ‘play’ makes it sound easy and as if it is easy for this character to ‘play God’. Also this shows how much power the character thinks they have which is shown again in the phrase, ‘I squash a fly against the window with my thumb’, this shows how the character takes pleasure out of having power over another being. This can be compared to the line in Pugh’s poem- ‘given power, she overdosed on the exhilaration of misusing it, of seeing her betters at her boots’, this line shows how given power anyone can become a heartless killer if they are following a regime that puts them in charge of murdering others. The last line of the first stanza is ‘a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets. The phrase ‘stirring in the streets’ shows that out in society there is potential for violence to come from anyone which creates a sense of mystery because we never know where it is going to come from.
This again links in with Pughs poem and where a kitchenmaid turns out to be a guard in a concentration camp and therefore anyone could possibly turn out to be a killer. In the second stanza we see that it may possibly be events from their childhood that have made this character an outcast in society. This is shown in the phrase ‘Shakespeare. It was in another language’ which shows the character may have some sort of hatred towards the education system because they weren’t the most intelligent person in school. References to education are also used in Pugh’s poem in the phrase, ‘where’s your brains now, eh, your education’. This contrast to the Duffy’s poem because in ‘education for leisure’, the persona Duffy creates is someone who may have failed through the education system.
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On the other hand in ‘she was nineteen and she was bored’, the persona Pugh creates is someone who was intelligent and worked well for her education although she still ended up as a guard in a concentration camp which shows that the lure that being put in a place of power can put on people. Pugh reflects on what this character could have been in the line, ‘if she’d been intelligent, large-minded’ which shows how the character didn’t use her education well and lost her compassion when she was in a place of power and the poet seems to sound angry at the character for what she did. We are reminded of the egotistical nature of the persona that Duffy has created when the phrase, ‘I am a genius’ is repeated. This contradicts what was said about how the character didn’t understand Shakespeare and we see how the character is self-loving and very confident about their intelligence. Throughout the poem we see how the character has been cast out from society.
This is shown in the phrase ‘I could be anything at all, with half the chance’, this shows how the character feels they have been let down by the rest of society and they haven’t been given the opportunity to show that they could be a big part of society. This also links into the idea that this character has some sort of hatred towards the education system. In the last stanza it says, ‘he cuts me off’. Although this refers to a telephone call, this is a metaphor for how everyone ‘cuts the character off’.
This line comes straight after the phrase ‘he’s talking to a superstar’ which again shows the egotistical nature of this character. We see that the character may have a psychopathic nature in the final phrase, ‘I touch your arm’, this makes the poem very personal as if it could affect you. This sends out a message to the reader that we as a society need to make sure nobody is an outcast because when somebody feels like they are not wanted then they can turn to crime which could affect you.
This is also shown in Pugh’s poem where it send out a message that anyone who feels like they are low down in society will get a thrill out of being in power no matter what they are told to do, they will do it. In conclusion, both poems present how anybody in society can have a disturbed mind this is show in the phrase where the persona Duffy has created uses dark humour- ‘I pour the goldfish down the bog’. Both of the characters created by the poets seem to have no place in society and therefore look to killing as a way of having power over others. Although it is done in different styles, both poets get a message across that we, as a society, need to make sure that nobody is cast out or it could have devastating consequences because they feel they have no place where they are welcome. We are shown in this poem that both poets explore the fractured and disconnected nature of Western society and how both poet’s view of modern culture is highly pessimistic.
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