Explore the ways in which Carol Ann Duffy uses setting in the poem Disgrace.

Explore the ways in which Duffy uses setting in the poem Disgrace
The setting of the poem is a house which has slowly fallen to a state of disrepair
however this house is supposed to symbolise the death of the relationship between the
persona and their partner. The title “Disgrace” suggests that there is something about
their relationship which the persona is ashamed about; as the poem goes on its clear
that this shame is directed at the absence of love or care in the relationship. This creates
a tone of loneliness and hopeless which helps establish the themes of love, neglect,
realisation and decay. All of this helps contribute to the miserable and decaying setting
presented in the poem. The setting created is isolated and hopeless and neglected and is
enforced by the broken relationship between the persona and their partner.
The language used in the poem helps create the dark setting that emanates throughout
the poem. The poem starts with the conjunction “but” which usually suggests that the
following statement will be negative. Thus, one can assume that the mood and tone of
the poem will be negative which will add to the setting that Duffy has created which is
hopeless- a negative emotion. The use of the pronouns “you and me” which immediately
proceed the pronoun “both” is used to indicate that although there is an element of
unity within their partnership, the pronouns “you and me” suggest that there is still a
sense of isolation and space between the two people which prevents them from being in
a conventional healthy relationship.
Additionally, there use of imagery also helps adds to the setting. The use of
personification is particularly significant in this poem because it’s used to personify the
feelings and actions of the person. For instance, in the fifth stanza, Duffy writes that the
“fridge/ hardened its cool heart”. The fridge is personified to represent the people in the
relationship and how they lack love for each other because their hearts are “cool”. This
adjective connotes the coldness in the relationship and indicates that the people in the
house are as cold and soulless as the objects which is why they are used as a
comparison. It helps establish a very cold, hopeless atmosphere that makes this sombre
setting what it is. Also, the use of the simile “selfish as art” helps create that isolated
atmosphere. This is because art has connotation of being a self-serving and individual
endeavour that keeps you isolated from others. Therefore, to use this simile to describe
the behaviour of the persona in the poem suggests that the relationship is solitary.
Lastly, there is the use of the metaphor of “dead flies in a web” to describe the words
that the persona fling at each other. To describe them as trapped in a web suggests that
their relationship has fallen apart due to neglect as webs are mostly associated with
messiness. In the sixth stanza, the telephone is personified and is said to have “press[ed]
its ear to distant invisible lips”. This clearly connotes the distance and isolation evident
throughout the relationship especially with the adjective “invisible”. This could suggest
that the person on the other line is invisible because they are never around them so
they forgot that the other person was ever even there. This clearly creates a very lonely
atmosphere that is the basis of the sombre setting created by Duffy. Furthermore, the
use of the metaphor “thickening cyst of dust and gloom” is used to highlight the neglect
found within the relationship. The presence of dust suggests that the relationship hasn’t
been cared about for a while so time has clearly passed but things have not gotten
better. Thus, the setting created is very neglectful and uncared for and as a expansion so
is the relationship presented.
The structure of the poem is set in 8 quatrains and there is a significant use of the
technique of caesura. The use of caesura could be used to indicate a breakdown in the
communication between the two individuals. This is particularly clear in the second
stanza when there are a series of simple sentences like “and how our words changed”
and “dead flies in a web”. The short length of the sentences feels curt and cut off as if the
conversation just stopped halfway and they didn’t finish. This breakdown of
communication is also the death of their relationship which helps create a hopeless
sombre atmosphere. In the fifth stanza, there is a syndetic list of the items in the house
which were “meal, untouched, wine bottle, empty, ashtray, full”. This feels very
fragmented to the reader because the phrases are not written with the adjective written
before them rather they are in this list. The separation of these nouns makes the house
feel very impersonal and not homely because of the fragmented style. In the third
stanza, there enjambment is used in the last line when the next stanza starts with “and
worse” finishing the sentence from the previous stanza. This is used to emphasise the
connective “and” because it shows that the situation between the persona and their
partner is never ending and that it isn’t getting any better with time. This fills the reader
with dread because it makes a very dark atmosphere that isn’t getting better with time
but is rather doing the opposite. This also feels hopeless because it suggests that there
isn’t any chance that the relationship will get better with time.
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