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Literary Techniques In The Poem The Diet By Carol Ann Duffy

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Carol Ann Duffy analyses society’s attitude to women in ‘The Diet’ and throughout Feminine Gospels, connecting it to other poems in the collection. The poet explores themes through an extended metaphor of society’s pressures and the effects it has on women such as isolation, loss of identity and loss of control. A variety of literary techniques are used to convey themes of feminism and the struggles of womanhood as ‘She starved on, stayed in, stared in the mirror, svelter, slimmer’ the use of sibilance is showing the change and transformation of the woman written in third person, which can also represent all women who diet and suffer.

In ‘The Diet’, the character is anonymous reflecting how the protagonist is unrecognisable in herself and emphasises the themes of loss of identity throughout. The narrator presents the character as lost as she is ‘looking for a home’, the noun ‘home’ shows to us how she doesn’t belong in this society because of the stigma built against women needing to look a particular way. It’s a common social attitude conveyed by the media that women should look a certain way like ‘the width of a stick’ and be a certain weight and behave in certain way. The imagery of the women’s weight dehumanises her, comparing her to an object which reflects how women get treated in modern day society. Duffy conveys society’s ideas of how women should look ‘doll-sized, the height of a thimble’ by using personification throughout, this emphasises the struggles of women to fit in society, consumed and trapped to look a certain way that women end up destroying themselves and losing who they are. A semantic field of death is created by the writer as the ‘skeleton preened’ which emphasises a loss of identity and she had ‘guns for hips’. The noun ‘gun’ is connotated to killing which society is accepting her efforts to be slim, accepting she could die from the pressure of the media. The writer conveys how society’s pressures lead to harmful outcomes resulting in losing themselves mentally and physically as ‘she was eight stone, by the end of the month, she was skin and bone’ the sibilance throughout the poem emphasises to the readers the dramatic skin loss or the constant pressure of the media/society to be thinner. The oxymoron of ‘anorexia’s true daughter’, contrasts motherhood to the deadly eating disorder, showing her family have even disowned her by and took away her identity. Additionally, in Duffy’s ‘Tall’, the character has lost their identity and society has given her a new name based on her appearance of being tall, her faults have become her new name and identity, which result in losing herself because ‘Taller Was colder, aloner, no wiser’, the adjectives emphasise the negative effects society has on women.

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Duffy presents the lack of control women have in society in ‘The Diet’ through the energetic pace which is emphasised by the use of caesuras which is symbolic of the character spiralling out of control. The woman loses herself as ‘the diet worked like a dream’, this simile suggests to the readers that this is more of society’s dream for women to be slim and be as small as possible but the dramatic irony would be readers knowing it’s a nightmare. Duffy link’s society’s attitudes as a fairy-tale through a variety of language methods such as metaphors and similes. The mocking tone indicates that this isn’t reality, and raises questions, did the diet work? Society has restricted women to be a certain way by not allowing ‘No sugar, salt, dairy, protein, starch or alcohol’, this list of restrictions could be metaphoric to society’s restrictions on women’s independence and how they should behave. The internal rhyme and listing used by Duffy adds a fast and purposely irritating tone, which ironic because the problem is the reality of society and it adds to a sense of fantasy. Despite slimming down, and losing all the weight like society wanted, the anonymous women still is perceived as disgusting as she ‘lay in the tent of a nostril like a germ’, the noun ‘germ’ connotates disease and how contagious society’s stereotypes are. In Feminine Gospels, the poem ‘Tall’ also treats society as a fairy-tale by way of the ‘Personal birds sang on her ears. She whistled’ the personification presents a fantasy land and her imagination is the only thing she is in control of.

Duffy additionally explores the effects of isolation throughout her poem which is shown by her downfall as ‘she woke alone’, the adjective ‘alone’ shows how even when skinny, she was still rejected. Duffy uses the characters emotions as a metaphor to convey the isolation as ‘she lived in a tear, swam clear’, these rhyming couplets reinforce the woman has no place in the community and has caused her to create a dreamland for herself, free from influences of the media and society’s pressures, this could be symbolic for women everywhere that one day they will be clear from the community’s demands. Due to the isolation from society, it leads to the woman to lose control of herself ‘in a river of wine’ because of constant rejection- this metaphor shows the unstoppable flow of self-destruction. Duffy presents the character as abandoned from society like ‘the last apple aged in the fruit bowl, untouched. The skimmed milk soured in the fridge, unsupped’. The imagery here reflects her place in the community, no one wants her for who she is. In Duffy’s ‘Beautiful’, Marylin Monroe needed to be dolled up ‘till her hair was platinum, her teeth gems, her eyes sapphires’ which lead her to rely on ‘coffee, pills, booze’ in order to stay the way society wanted her, losing her true self and identity. Duffy throughout her collection, shows how women are so alone and trapped with no one to turn to other than relying on alcohol and drugs as coping mechanism for society’s demands.

To conclude, Duffy uses a variety of methods such as caesura to reflect an ongoing starvation continuing from stanza to stanza to show how females are forced to conform to an idealistic shape. She does this by demonstrating the fluctuation between self- hate and identity in the ‘Diet’, by reinforcing the themes of isolation, loss of identity and loss of control. This message is significant: it reflects our current society and inspires change throughout the medias stereotypes to look a certain way to change. Duffy’s poems in ‘Feminine Gospels’ describes aspects of females losing their identity, and the differences between women in the same society, with the same feelings, being corrupted by the media.

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Literary Techniques In The Poem The Diet By Carol Ann Duffy. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from
“Literary Techniques In The Poem The Diet By Carol Ann Duffy.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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Literary Techniques In The Poem The Diet By Carol Ann Duffy [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2022 Dec 3]. Available from:
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