We see a woman who finds herself using her voice to convey her feelings, feelings of great rage and criticism ignited by the epigraph. We see that this particular woman becomes louder and louder, from a shout to a roar and eventually beckoning lighting. The poem explores the power of voice and the terrible nature of the world in order to portray how such atrocities and horrors are often ignored or treated with little proper understanding.
Themes – Defiance against Social Norms
The main concept of the poem is the ever increasing volume of this woman, who, after becoming outraged, begins to roar with frustration at the state of the world. The angle to defying the norm originates in the rather pitiful stereotype of a quiet woman. Duffy clearly opposes such a stifling idea by describing the exact opposite. We see that her voice begins to take a sort of shape, that of a huge and terrifying bird that shrieks in the black sky. Such a frightening image exists in clear and strong contrast to the meek and mouse-like expectation many societies place upon women.
Duffy is perhaps arguing that a woman’s frustrations are founded in the fact that they are burdened with a false image by society, a stereotype, and that such horrors of the world make her roar due to the fact that it is the same society that perpetuates war and suffering. Furthermore, her voice is not only seen as powerful but liberating. Taking this great winged beast image, we are afforded the feeling of freedom.
This bird takes flight into the sky, an ancient action of great boundless potential. It is arguable that Duffy is pairing the two in order to state that one’s voice, which is one’s expression, is what gives one freedom. From this, we can say that Duffy likens the idea of a quiet woman to a practically enslaved one
Themes – The Horror of the World and the News
Immediately when reading the poem, we are met with an epigraph taken from a news article that details a horrific state of affairs. This particular extract appears to be the source for this woman’s outrage. In such a short extract, we can see a plethora of troubling and harrowing things such as ‘mutilated children’ and their forced resorting to smuggling. Firstly, this concentrates the suffering into a small section of writing, making it more potent.
One can say that such an example is used by Duffy to portray how obsessive the news is with misery. The news within this poem simply stands for every bad event on Earth, a constant stream of woe and sorrow that has inevitably induced this woman to scream and shout in anger.
We see that Duffy may be attempting to explain how such events are endless and that such things as racism and corruption are constants of humanity. It is a critical stand on the traditions of man to consistently cause chaos and misery and then report upon it.
Symbols – The Bird
One of many examples in which this woman’s new found voice transforms her into something frankly terrifying, the bird is a vague description that could hold a number of implications. Firstly, such a bird may be representative of a siren. Sirens, in mythology, are creatures possessing an appearance that is roughly half bird and half woman. Sirens were destructive beings who used their voice to lure seafarers to their watery demise upon the craggy rocks.
This is perhaps used by Duffy to portray how a woman in possession of a voice that isn’t a mere murmur or whisper to accompany a man’s booming bellow, is feared. It is a sexist idea that is subtly jabbed by Duffy by indicating that sirens are a clear representation of the fear men and society has for a woman willing to voice her opinions.
Symbols – King Kong
Though it may just be a subtle allusion, the reference to ‘fighter planes that buzzed at her face’ is most likely to conjure images of King Kong atop the Chrysler Building. An understanding of this symbol requires an understanding of the source. King Kong is brought to New York in order to exhibit him, a situation which he escapes to only be attacked. The creature is ultimately misunderstood and treated as a simple beast of perdition that must be destroyed, an idea that spells out the demise of the being.
By pairing this with the idea of a woman finding her voice, we can assume that Duffy might be trying to imply that women who do so are often misrepresented as wild beasts that are simply loud and uncaring despite possessing a heart. Duffy shows that society fears a free woman for much of the same reasons as King Kong: they are shining examples that society and civilisation cannot dominate everything.
Devices – Asyndeton
Asyndeton is the omitting of conjunctions, essentially forming a list of particular things that seem endless. We see such asyndeton used here with the same effect. Event after event and idea after idea mount up swiftly with little to divide them, making this buildup appear more chaotic and more relentless. Ideas are merged and are thus, in a way, confused and muddled.
This is a clever use by Duffy to mirror the nature of the news and therefore the world. Horrible things happen every day and news stories are pumped out with a hasty consistency, at a speed which confuses and overwhelms the woman in the poem.
It may serve to aid the concept that the media is like a great factory, churning out any tale of horror to make money at such a pace that one’s whole life and understanding of the outside world is corrupted by pain and sadness.
Devices – Hyperbole
We see, especially come the later stanzas, that Duffy begins to describe the woman’s voice in exaggerated and highly visual ways. The woman ‘bawled at the moon and it span away’, which implies that her great sorrow is poignant and concerning enough to cause celestial objects to flee. This is obviously hyperbole. Such a vivid exaggeration does well to emphasise the power of the voice this woman possesses, which yet again battles against the stereotype of the quiet and submissive woman.
This also plays into the monstrous nature of the woman after finding her voice. Firstly, we can see her as a harpy or perhaps a siren when she dons the wings and utters lighting, and even King Kong when she bellows at the planes in the dark. Such an exaggeration turns her into a monster of sorts, an idea that has an internal conflict of its own.
Firstly, we can see that her destructive new image is what she may appear to be through the eyes of an oppressive society. They may see a woman rebelling via their voice and, instead of noticing it as another human with a valid criticism, they see a loud beast. It is a subtle way of presenting the injustice dealt to women who want to express themselves.
The poem explores the power of women’s voices, while also exposing the horrors of the modern world. Duffy uses the poem to respond to the sexist notion that women must be silent and quiet. Duffy suggests that ‘The News’, representing all the bad events of the world, angers the voice of the poem. The woman’s voice leaves her body, becoming louder and vaster every time she speaks. Duffy personifies and intensifies the voice, escaping and being heard across the world.