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In both Before You Were Mine and Pluto, Duffy uses characters to present different viewpoints of the past and present. In Before You Were Mine, the past is seen to be tangible and physical as the character of the narrator’s mother is heavily described, whereas in Pluto the character grieves for his past and his family.
In Before You Were Mine, Duffy makes the character of the narrator’s young mother come alive in the present day, by making time aphysical distance. The narrator is “ten years away from the corner you laugh on”, and this metaphor places the narrator in the same time period as their mother. It creates a closeness between them as the narrator enhoys their mother’s youth as they “shriek at the pavement”, and it is like a snap-shot of the past that romanticises the mother as a “Marilyn” Monroe figure in their life, “glamorous” and “bold”. The posessive tone Duffy uses in the title (“MIne”) shows how the narrator wants to be a part of their mother’s life even before they were born, but ultimately demonstrates their close bond.
Similarly, Duffy presents time as fluid and fluctuating through the character in Pluto. She indents the second stanza, which demonstrates that the character’s thought process is jumbled and miss-matched, as it loses the straight-forward rigid structure she uses in the rest of the poems in Mean Time. The physical shift shows that the narrator doesn’t know where he is physically in time, and the capitalised “Home” suggests he is a dementia patient in a care “Home”. Also, the fluctuating use of tense adds to this effect, as the poem begins in present (“when I awoke”), to the past (“and i was a boy”) to an ambiguous final stanza (“to think of another world out there”). Unlike Before You Were Mine, the narrator doesn’t seem to have a grasp of time.
Furthermore, Duffy uses specific items and objects, which further romanticise and ‘fill out’ the character of the mother. The “polka-dot dress” and the “high-heeled red shoes” act as “relics” of the past, and as a gateway to the past.; the narrator can use these “relics” to exactly imagine her mother’s youth. Also, the imagery associated with these objects suggest glamour and beauty, suggesting that the narrator is hyperbolising her youth in ordewr to portray the best version of this “ghost” of the past, again like a snap-shot in time.
The use of specific and sensory items reoccurs in PLuto. Just like the bright “red” shoes and eye-catching “polka-dot”, we learn about the character through sensory stimulus. The boy smells the “tangerine soap” of his youth when he’s “washing (his) hands”. Duffy uses this to transport the character back to his past through the scent, as often this triggers the strongest memories. The repititon of “Pluto Pluto Pluto” suggests he’s forgotten himself and believes himself to be young again as he has encountered “the same soap suddenly”, and “Pluto” may be symbolic of new beginnings and life, as it was discovered when he “awoke”, a metaphor for birth.Sibilance beginning with “it has the same soap suddenly” is cut-off by a semi-colon, perhaps symbolising a shift in his mental state, and is continued by “so” on the next line. It forces the reader to connect these two lines, which masks the metaphorical shift into the past the narrator experiences, demonstrated by the semi-colon; the reader becomes jumbled along with the character.
To add to the characterisation of the mother in Before You Were Mine, Duffy adds subtle hints about the mother’s hopes, dreams and eventual future (or present from the narrator’s point of view). The “fizzy movie tomorrowa” may be a metaphor for the exciting, fame-filled future “the right walk home could bring”. The “right walk” is a metaphor for the “right” decisions and the “right” choices she can make to bring about these “movie tomorrows” this “marilyn” figure deserves. However, Duffy ,ay indicate in stanza four that the mother didn’t reach her potential as she is “stamping the stars from the wrong pavement”. She made the “wrong” choices, so the parallel between the “stars” on this pavement encountered on the mundane task of going to “mass” and the “stars” of the Hollywood walk of fame, suggests she’s missed out on fame and success. It adds almost a regretful tone to the poem.
SImilarly, Duffy presents in Pluto amore negative portrayal of the past becoming the future, as again he is looking back at the past abd what he had, just like the glamour the mother had. Duffy uses a hyphen and a short sentence to dramatise the realisation “-and i was a boy”. The narrator suddenly realises where he is, and begins to recount the past that he had, “half-hearing (his) father’s laugh”. The past suddenly catches up to him and he is “bereaved”, as he only “half” remembers his youth. There it is disimilar to Before You Were Mine as the past is “unreachable”, and there is little characterisation of the narrator, showing that he doesn’t know his past self, or even his presetn self until he begins to “notice things”, like the age spots on his face identified in the metaphor of “brown coins of age”. He is “shocked” by how quickly the future has caught up to him, and the metaphor of the “hourglass weeping the future into the past” suggests the fleetingness of time and how quickly the “movie tomorrows” become yesterday, rendering the character hopeless and “bereaved”.
Duffy uses strong, vivid and colourful characterisation in Before You Were Mine to provide a vivacious look at the past, and strong and exaggerated character suggests that we fill in the gaps for memories we can’t remember. Alternatively in Pluto, the past is “dark” and as distant as a “planet”, shown through the jumbled identity of the character shown in this poem.
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