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Reviewing The Poem Salome By Carol Duffy English Literature Essay

The poem Salome by Carol Ann Duffy focuses on the dangerous female seductiveness. The poem is interesting to both Feminist and Marxist. Feminist are particularly interested in this poem as Salome trys to overcome female stereotypes and a patriarchy society. Marxist are interested in this poem as Salome would be seen as a woman who is privileged, spoiled and a person who abuses her power and uses her sexuality to do harm and satisfy her own whim. Feminist would be particularly interested in this poem as Feminist look at the major division between men and woman, they see men as the power holders in society and their ultimate aim is to get rid of the exploitation of woman.

The poem is intimate and is addressed to a large audience. In terms of style the poem consists of black humour mainly the result of the clash of rhymes, as for instant: “lighter, laughter, flatter, pewter, Peter.” The poem it written in free verse which coupled with the long lines and questions in the first stanza which reflects the process of waking up to a head on her pillow “I’d done it before”, this quote which is an irregular form suggests disorientation and chaos. The poem goes through stages, firstly Salome wakes and tries to remember the name of the person she slept with but soon goes into a stage in which she is appreciating her handy work. The poem has four stages to it, each presented in one of the four stanzas, these are; disorientation, realisation, guilt and horror.

Bertens (2001) states, that there are two types of woman, the dangerous seductress and the helpless woman, “…Stereotypes included the woman… as an immoral and dangerous seductress, the woman as eternally dissatisfied shrew, the woman as cute but essentially helpless, the woman as unworldly, self- sacrificing angel…” Salome portrays the idea of the dangerous seductress as she gets John the Baptists head on a platter as a result of her erotic dance for King Herod. Salome’s seductiveness means that she can have any man she pleases “Woke up with a head on the pillow beside me- whose?” the quote can have a double meaning either sex or murder and as of the question it shows a slight uncertainty in her character. The poem suggests that Salome is the type of character that sleeps with loads of men, “Simon? Andrew? John?” By looking closely at the names mentioned in the poem we realise that theses are the names of disciples (Simon, Andrew, John), signifying how highly Salome regards herself, and the shows the denial she is in. However Salome also portrays the idea of a helpless woman as she gives in to her desires “I’d done it before (and doubtless I’ll do it again)”, this quote shows that Salome had no will power and gives in to her whim. In the Biblical story Salome performed an erotic dance for her stepfather, only when she had performed it she got what she wanted. Bertens (2001) states “…While helplessness and renouncing all ambition and desire are presented as endearing and admirable that a helpless woman appears to be more appealing and angelic.” Bertens basic message is that independence leads to a woman being disliked while dependence leads to be being admired and appreciated.

The poem’s first stanza starts with 14 lines, and as we go down through the four stanzas’s the size of the stanza’s become relatively small. Throughout the poem the lines get shortened “Never again” this shows that Salome is either racing through her thoughts to recollect the previous night or is panicking and regretting what she has done. There is a lot of ambiguous language in this poem “Sticky red sheets” which can lead the readers to think deeply about what they are reading, the colloquial language in the poem makes it seem very dull and depressing “cut out the booze…” the result is the reader not wanting to read on but Salome’s jokey attitude towards life drives the reader forward “ain’t life a bitch”. Towards the end of the poem the common long lines slows the pace of the poem and adds too the impact of the horrific end.

The poem ties into many of contemporary ideas about the dangerous female seductiveness, and the still powerful taboos about female promiscuity. The poem clearly carries with it a sense of revenge where the woman is getting back at men who have murdered, or punished woman for their excessive sexuality. The assumption in Duffy’s poem is that Salome has committed the murder herself, whereas in the biblical story Salome only caused John the Baptists death. Duffy illustrates the character of Salome as a figure who abuses her power and gets away with anything. Duffy’s poem celebrates the behaviour of Salome which transgresses moral and social code. In fact her behaviour contains a certain mythical quality. Salome is a privileged aristocrat meaning that she is of high social class and has feudal and legal privileges, (the only reason she got the Baptist decapitated). This leads to the Marxist idea that she is spoiled, hard headed and abusive of her powers. Feminist would agree when said unlike regular woman Salome holds a lot of power, especially at the time of doing the dance, although she has power she is still exploited, to get what she wants she had to do an erotic dance.

Salome perceives Masculine behaviour throughout the poem, from the beginning the reader assumes that a male is expressing his feelings after having sex. But we learn from line 7 onwards that it is in fact a woman waking up. It can be argued that Salome portrays masculine behaviour as she tries to control men in the same way men controlled woman. At the time of King Herod woman were seen as innocent and pure people who acted lady like and not like Salome is seen to be acting, and were those who had no interest in “fags…booze” Freud suggests that “Salome is archetype women who use their sexuality to do harm to men”. However, during the time when the Biblical story was written, women were considered the 'second sex' and many of his females were labelled degenerates which lead Freud to look into the Electra Complex which is a psychoanalytic theory that females/males have a sexual attraction to one of their parent. This can relate to Salome as the reader may interpret it as Salome sleeping with men to fill in the gap of her father, which leads her to possess a masculine quality of sleeping with many individuals. Bertens (2001) states that woman was seen as “cute…self-sacrificing angel” and men are normally ones that do harm. Salome is an example of the modern woman which is not dependent on others, Bertens (2001) states “…We see immediately that female independence (in the seductress and the shrew) gets a strongly negative connotation.” Carol Ann Duffy makes out Salome to be a modern character, in doing so the entire poem becomes modern; words such as “booze…fags…sex” are slang words which give the poem a modern feel as these words relate to the user as most people use them in everyday life.

The domination of female sex is shown in this poem, but is condemned by many critics as of it amoral and deranged characteristics. Duffy’s representation of an anti-male views in Salome are targets for a rejection as she dehumanises them. Duffy paints the character of Salome to be a femme fatale, who can get any man to her bed, and regularly wakes up with a corpse beside her. The black humour of the poem is that Salome is totally heartless to the Baptist’s death; she shows no remorse and is too “hungover” to even care she is just worried about her plans to cut down her “booze” and “fags” and the matter that a woman can also be hard, cool and in control just like men. Many Feminist and Marxist are interested in this poem as they see women are callous people who don't care about any man they ruin, Marxist and Feminist see it as a true and also helpful observation about the human condition.

The language used throughout the poem is very modern and Duffy introduces many contemporary expressions along with slang to link the poem with its original biblical story. The colloquial phrases and slang expressions suggests that Salome is a modern character “a night on the batter” or “ain’t life a bitch”, such choices of words also reflect on the attitude of the speaker. Any focus on the dead man’s head is associated by the colour red, which gives the impression of blood “reddish beard”. Along with the pauses which show Salome waking from her sleep, Alliteration is used in the poem, the repetition of hard ‘C’ sounds with the use of rhyme helps in the creation of an upbeat rhythm.

To conclude the character of Salome is interesting to both Feminist and Marxist as she portrays many qualities. Ideas regarding Salome such as contradictions in her character, Masculine behaviour, Privileged Aristocrat etc, lead us to assess her characteristics, and go deeper than face value of the poem. Carol Ann Duffy uses many ways in which she tells the poem which leads to a modern interpretation of the old Biblical story of Salome.


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