A Complete Guide to ‘Stealing’ by Carol Ann Duffy Critical ...

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A Complete Guide to ‘Stealing’ by Carol Ann Duffy Critical Essay

Remember the purpose of a critical essay is to answer a question and show off your knowledge of the text and language.

Step 1

Look at the question and make sure you understand it.

Choose a poem that features a convincing character.

By referring to poetic techniques, explain how the poet creates a

convincing portrayal of the character.

• Your task is to write 4 paragraphs that convince me Duffy created a realistic character.

• Every paragraph should deal with a different stanza and you must quote in each paragraph.

• After each quote you must analyse the language and explain how this makes the persona believable.

Step 2

Introduction

This must include the following:

• Title of the poem in inverted commas

• The poet’s full name

• A brief summary of the poem

• A reference to the theme of the poem

• A link to the question

Eg. In society today, there are many reasons as to why people are driven to steal. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, ‘Stealing,’ is a strangely disturbing and complex poem that explores the motives of a thief who steals a snowman. In the dramatic monologue she takes on the persona of a disaffected youth who pointlessly steals things he does not need. Through this nameless speaker Duffy examines the psychology of anti-social behaviour and creates a convincing character for which we feel both sympathy and a great dislike towards.

Now write your own introduction – use your group introductions to help you with this.

Step 3

You will now write your four main body paragraphs but before we do plan the stanzas and quote you wish to use. Remember you are selecting quote that help you to prove this persona becomes real. Use your group paragraphs to help you with this.

|Paragraph |Stanza |Quote |What makes it convincing? |

|1 |1 |“The most unusual thing I ever |Believable because it’s first person |

| | |stole? A snowman….I wanted him a |Asks the reader a question so involves us |

| | |mate.” |Unexpected response (snowman) makes him |

| | | |intriguing |

| | | |Get the impression of loneliness |

|2 | | | |

| | | | |

| | | | |

| | | | |

| | | | |

| | | | |

|3 | | | |

| | | | |

| | | | |

| | | | |

|4 |5 |“Boredom. Mostly I'm so bored I | |

| | |could eat myself.” | |

| | |And | |

| | |“You don’t understand a word I’m | |

| | |saying do you?” | |

Now write your four paragraphs using the PCQE structure.

Example

In stanza four the speaker’s attempts at reassembling the snowman fail. Despite his efforts and desire to recreate this ‘mute’ friend, inevitably, the snowman begins to melt:

“He didn't look the same. I took a run

and booted him. Again. Again.”

The short statement effectively sums up the speaker’s disappointment when the snowman’s appearance has changed. At this point the speaker becomes frustrated and is overwhelmed with anger. Duffy uses enjambment to create a sense of movement in the line “run” which mimics the speaker’s actions. This powerful run up and the word choice “booted” help us to understand how forceful the speaker is when destroying the snowman. “Booted,” meaning to kick has connotations of violence and force and this illustrates how angry the speaker has become. The repetition of the minor sentence, “again,” reinforces and emphasises his anger as he repeatedly kicks the snow in a tantrum. We almost feel sympathy for him here as it’s clear this rage is driven by his disappointment – he longed for a friend and his efforts are creating one have not paid off. Duffy helps us to appreciate the intense emotions of the disturbed speaker and understand his isolation.

Step 4

Conclusions must include:

• A signal word that marks the end – i.e. ‘In conclusion, to conclude, in summary, overall etc.

• The full poet’s name again and the title

• A final link to the question – summing up your essay

• Personal response to the poem

Example ‘Stealing’ essay

Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, ‘Stealing,’ is a strangely disturbing and complex poem that explores the motives of a thief who steals a snowman. In the dramatic monologue she creates the convincing persona of a disaffected youth who pointlessly steals things he does not need. Through this nameless speaker Duffy examines the psychology of anti-social behaviour and creates a vivid character for which we feel both sympathy and a great dislike towards.

In the opening stanza we are introduced to the speaker a conversation is established. The dramatic monologue quickly involves us in the poem and engages us with the persona:

“The most unusual thing I ever stole? A snowman.

Midnight. […] a tall, white mute

I wanted him a mate.”

Immediately Duffy gives the character a voice ad brings him to life. The opening line is a question which makes us feel as though he is talking directly to us. We begin to wonder who the persona could be speaking to, other than the reader, and it becomes clear that there is something vulnerable, childlike and lonely about the character. The minor sentence serves to shock the reader as we did not expect the answer to be a snowman. The fact that he steals a snowman, something typically associated with children and joy, implies that he is destructive - perhaps that something lacking form his own life. His destructive nature is reinforced by the minor sentence, “Midnight,” which has darker connotations. This word stands out and helps to remind us that our speaker is a criminal as midnight is a time associated with crime and danger. The speaker appears to be in awe of the snowman and there is a strong contrast between the brilliant, dazzling white of the snowman and the darkness of the setting. Duffy’s clever word choice, “mute,” serves to highlight to us the true extent of the persona’s isolation, as there is something sad about wanting a friend you cannot communicate with. We could perhaps be drawn into feeling sympathy for the speaker however, this quickly disappears as we delve deeper into the persona’s mind.

The speaker begins to painstakingly dismantle the snowman in the second stanza. The description gives us further insight into his cold and uncaring nature:

“Better off dead than giving in, not taking

what you want. He weighed a ton; his torso,

frozen stiff, hugged to my chest, a fierce chill

piercing my gut.”

Even though moving the snow is freezing and hard work, he is pleased because he knows there will be suffering. He puts a great deal of effort into taking apart the snowman and we may be fooled into thinking it’s because he is so desperately lonely. However, we are shown the unsympathetic side of the speaker who goes through life taking what he wants and not caring about the consequences. It suggests he has no morals and will completely disrespect others without a care. Duffy’s use of violent word choice and imagery –“fierce” and “piercing” – also help to unveil the speaker’s cold nature. The word “fierce” is typically something ferocious and frightening, whereas piercing reminds us of pain and conjures images of stabbings and knives: both of which directly relate to the speaker’s harsh personality. The alliteration – repeated ‘t’ sound - almost mirrors the staggering effort the persona is putting into stealing the snowman and we are reminded that his efforts are once again pointless. His hard work is not going to bring him the companionship he longs for it will only cause pain. The speaker is so complex and Duffy cleverly gives us such an insight to his mind that we cannot help be convinced by the disturbed character.

In the fourth stanza he returns to the topic of the snowman. He has now completed the rebuild but inevitably it is no longer the perfect snowman he desired:

“He didn't look the same. I took a run

and booted him. Again. Again. My breath ripped out

in rags …Then I was standing

alone among lumps of snow, sick of the world.”

Stealing a snowman, which is not something permanent, shows us his mentality; he hasn’t time to think or consider his actions, instead he simply acts and does as he pleases. The short statement effectively sums up the speaker’s disappointment when the snowman’s appearance has changed. At this point the speaker becomes frustrated and is overwhelmed with anger. Duffy uses enjambment to create a sense of movement in the line “run” which mimics the speaker’s actions. This powerful run up and the word choice “booted” help us to understand how forceful the speaker is when destroying the snowman. “Booted,” meaning to kick has connotations of violence and force and this illustrates how angry the speaker has become because he’s efforts have been for nothing. His rage is reinforced by the repetition of the minor sentence, “again,” reinforces and emphasises his anger as he repeatedly kicks the snow in a tantrum. Also, the enjambment of ‘alone’ is significant in illustrating, once again, his isolation as our attention is drawn to this line. We almost feel sympathy for him here - his efforts have failed and he is once again lost, detached from society and lonely - and it’s clear this rage is driven by his disappointment – he longed for a friend and his efforts are creating one have not paid off. Duffy helps us to appreciate the intense emotions of this realistic and disturbed speaker and understand his isolation.

In the final stanza, the speaker’s intense boredom and desire for companionship are very apparent. His detachment from society is clear again:

“Boredom. Mostly I'm so bored I could eat myself.”

The minor sentence helps to emphasise the persona’s depression as it is so bold. It’s clear he does not enjoy life. This idea is repeated to stress the intensity of his disinterest. The image is an identification of the narrator's life, boredom, punctuated only by random acts of vandalism, theft and cruelty. There is no meaning to his/her actions other than to satisfy and entertain at other's expense. This line is also quite disturbing as it hints at self-harm and again makes us consider if underlying psychological issues are affecting him. The poem ends on depressing point that creates a sense of hopelessness indicated by the final question, “You don’t understand a word I’m saying do you?” This challenge to the reader suggests the persona is misunderstood as we do not clearly and definitively know the real reasons that motivate the thief. The tone of the ending – depressive and dark – neatly sums up the persona’s disaffected nature and isolation. We are left to wonder at the social upbringing and society in which the speaker lives and what will happen to him.

In conclusion, Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Stealing’ creates a highly realistic and vivid character that we have mixed feelings towards. She uses a variety of clever techniques to convince us this character could exist. We are given an insight into her character’s motivations, his desires and his emotional instability. In reading this poem we are shown both the disturbing sides of criminals but also the softer side. Duffy makes us question society’s role in anti-social characters and makes us think are we doing enough to help people who, like this speaker, are living on the outside of society, disaffected with no way out.

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This line helps you pick the text

This line tells you what to do

P: A statement / topic sentence that makes a point

C: Background information from the poem that introduces the quote

Q: Quote

E: Analyse the language of your quote. Comment on techniques and show how this makes the speaker realistic

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