Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Havisham’ is a poem in which there is an element of ambivalence. Havisham is spoken by ‘Miss Havisham’, a character from Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’. She was jilted at the alter by her fiance and continues to wear her wedding dress and sit amongst the remains of her wedding breakfast for the rest of her life, while she plots revenge on all men. Duffy’s use of imagery and widely explored techniques effectively shows this element. Within the first line of the poem, ambivalence is effectively shown through this oxymoron.
We can see the frustrated feelings of Miss Havisham of the love for her ex-fiance but also the hatred. At the beginning of the poem she introduces him as ‘Beloved sweetheart bastard’. This is a highlight of the ambivalent feelings that confuse her as ‘Beloved’ creates a loving and romantic atmosphere of her would-be husband. This is smashed by her pure hatred and anger by the word ‘bastard’. The anger and cruelty are connotations of ‘bastard’ also with a hint of selfishness.
The oxymoron is extra special as it the lovely ‘sweetheart’ contrasts against the hatred ‘bastard’. This shows the confusion and frustration of what she is feeling. It can show the contrast into love itself, with happiness and pain. Havisham’s feelings are stripped and uncensored through the oxymoron. Sympathy starts to come towards us for the pain Havisham still bears through the confused and ambivalent language. Despite everything, through her anger and pungent hatred, she still has a deep love for this man.
Duffy’s use of imagery and metaphors effectively builds upon the ambivalence within the poem as a whole. Here we can see Havisham’s ambivalent, trapped and frustrated feeling of something of which she cannot perform. Havisham has introduced her ex-bridegroom and her anger towards him; she is now blaming him for her aging. ‘Ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with’. The metaphor ‘ropes on the back of my hands’ conveys the image of veins, showing that she has aged, waiting years for him to come back so she can have her revenge. I could strangle with’ is showing us her imagined death, this shows her bitter anger towards this man, with ‘I could’ showing her trapped and frustrated feelings as she cannot perform the task she has longed for. Our sympathy still remains as we are taken deeper into her hurt but an element of disgust starts to come through for that she cannot get over her ex-bridegroom deserting her. Duffy also uses exquisite word choice to introduce the ambivalence. Havisham’s marital status is a ‘spinster’, a woman who hasn’t been married nor hope of getting married.
We find that she hasn’t washed since that day and she sits in bed and screams in denial and other times asking who done this to her, trying to shift the blame to someone else. Her word choice of ‘the lost body over me’ shows a sexual desire, death and lack of identity. ‘The lost’ is referring to her ex-bridegroom, showing that he is unidentifiable and to an idea of that she doesn’t trust men. ‘Body’ can refer to death, as she isn’t insisting he is alive. It also has an image of a sexual relationship to which the next part of the poem explains.
As a reader our sympathy that we used to feel for her disappears, to read that of her sexual desires is pretty disturbing. The use of alliteration in the poem effectively establishes the theme of ambivalence. We have seen Havisham show her romantic and sexual feelings towards this man then when she awakes her rage; anger and hatred come snapping back. Her anger continues shown with this alliteration/metaphor in the closing stanza ‘A red balloon bursting in my face’. The word ‘red’ has connotations of love, passion and anger which portray the ambivalence theme.
Duffy has created a confusing emotion to of which she could be feeling, or all of them at once, this frustrates Havisham and bring the reader to pity Havisham to a certain extent. These emotions are hidden by the veil: ‘love’s hate behind a white veil’. ‘Balloon bursting’ is shown as childish, due to normally children would play with balloons. With the child-like continuing the bursting of the balloon could give the child a fright, and also lead to them crying. This shows Havisham is still upset about what has happened, and again portrays that she is still not came to the terms with her being jilted.
With the alliteration concluding the poem we are halfway between pity/sympathy to the hurt and struggle she has been through but to also the disgust and despair of her not being able to move on, and to the pungent revenge she wants personally. In conclusion Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Havisham’ effectively has theme of ambivalence throughout the poem. It shows the different mind state of ‘Miss Havisham’ of whom through the poem loses her identity until she becomes just ‘Havisham’. She uses different technical features to foresee the ambivalence.