In this poem, Duffy adopts the voice of a bored young man who tells us about his exploits stealing.
This speaking a poem in the voice of a character is called a 'dramatic monologue'.
It is as if this is a speech from a character in a play.
If this poem was a speech from a play how would you imagine this character to look, how would he act, what would he do?
The character tells us the things he steals and his motivation for stealing. He tells what he does with the stolen goods and the thrill he gets from stealing. The theft of the snowman is pointless, mindless and cruel. The thief actually enjoys the thrill of 'knowing that children would cry in the morning'.
On the other hand, it is just a stupid, and fairly harmless prank, that you could imagine lots of people doing, or thinking of doing, given the right circumstances.
The poem is carefully balanced in its view of the speaking character.
As well as condemning his actions, we may feel some sympathy for this rather lost character. Certainly Duffy seems to want us to feel a little uneasy about, and perhaps responsible for, this juvenile delinquent.
The following table shows us what we can tell about this young man from the poem...
|What we can tell about the Character and his life:||Actions/Lines from the poem:|
|He's lonely.||'I wanted him, a mate.'|
|He likes to think of himself as being heartless, unemotional.||'with a mind as cold as the slice of ice within my own brain.'|
|He's had a hard life and has to fend for himself.||'Better off dead than giving in.'|
|He's become bitter, petty and cruel.||'Part of the thrill was knowing that children would cry.'|
|Again he's probably had a hard life. He's become bitter and hardened. He thinks he's tough.||'Life's tough.'|
|He doesn't belong anywhere. He's alone with nowhere to go.||'I joy-ride cars to nowhere.'|
|He resents other people - again he's bitter.||'I'm a mucky ghost.'|
|He glamorises his robberies. Like he is the star of a film.||'I watch my gloved hand twisting the doorknob.'|
|He's frustrated and angry at his life, and at what he doesn't have, as symbolised by the snowman.||'booted him. Again. Again.'|
|Perhaps he feels guilt, certainly he sounds less cocky.||'It seems daft now.'|
|He wants help and a better life.||'sick of the world.'|
|He's got nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to live for.||'mostly I'm so bored I could eat myself.'|
|He feels separate from ordinary people. He's bitter, resentful and aggressive, but needs and wants help.||'You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you.'|
Often in Dramatic Monologues the characters reveal more than they intend to about themselves.
How do you think this character would like to come across?
Is this the same as the way he does come across?
The language in this poem is unlike what people normally expect of poetry.
There are no similes, metaphors or examples of personification. There is no alliteration to speak of.
Why do you think this is?
In fact most of the words in the poem have only one or two syllables, and they are all very straight forward and everyday words.
A Speaking Voice
As in 'Valentine' Duffy manages to convey the impression of a speaking voice, engaged in a conversation.
Where might this boy be when he is telling someone all this?
Duffy creates this sense of speaking by...
- Starting the poem with a question, that seems to be responding to someone asking the question 'what was the most unusual thing you ever stole.'
- By using non-standard sentences and incorrect punctuation to convey the rhythms and pauses of speech. Neither 'A snowman', nor 'Midnight' are proper sentences, but they reflect how we speak. Both are followed by full stops to indicate pauses for thought.
- Making the character dos his story with common sayings, that are not strictly relevant to the story, 'Better off dead', 'Life's tough', 'sick of the world'.
- The structure of the poem: The character doesn't develop his story logically. He goes off on a tangent in the third stanza before returning to the snowman in the fourth.
|Duffy's subject is a young boy, or is it a girl? She/he has been let down by society in some way. Because they have nothing to do and no way of improving their self-respect they turn to petty mindless crime.|
|We will all have different attitudes to this character depending on our own viewpoints. A Daily Mail reader for instance is unlikely to have much sympathy, whereas a Guardian reader might have too much, perhaps.|
|Duffy certainly, however, gives the character enough complexity to suggest she has some sympathy. His final, aggressive question, for instance, is meant to make us stop and think.|
|This is a dramatic monologue, and in it Duffy cleverly captures the rhythms of speech.|
|The language is plain, ordinary, 'unpoetic', and so suits the speaker.|
|The form of the poem is loosely regular (6, 5 line stanzas), as if it is attempting to order itself. The fact that there is no change or development in form might suggest how this character is trapped in his world, with his fear, his loneliness and his delusions.|