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Compare the ways in which Plath and Duffy use language to convey a sense of childhood

Beth Kemp | Monday May 23, 2011


Guide Navigation

  • A Sense of Isolation
  • Theme of Anger
  • Exploration of Relationships
  • Sense of Childhood
  • Ideas of Violence

Associated Resources

  • Compare the ways in which Plath and Duffy use language to convey a sense of childhood.doc
  • Teacher version with comments - Plath and Duffy - Childhood.doc
  • Using exemplar essays to improve students’ work

Plath and Duffy both explore the theme of childhood in their poetry from different angles.  In the poems selected here, Duffy presents childhood as a memory: vague and tantalising in Beachcomber and specific and threatening in Welltread, while Plath presents childhood by exploring the development of an unborn child and the innocence of a newborn.  A key difference is the persona’s relation to the childhood described.  Duffy’s approach to this topic is typically to present a persona’s memory of their own childhood, while Plath’s concern with childhood tends to be more from a parent’s perspective.  The poems examined here are examples of these trademark approaches.

In Welltread, Duffy connects childhood with the themes of school and punishment.  The poem’s topic is school-based, centering on the person of the headmaster, remembered from a pupil’s point of view.  The well known cliché “hurt himself more than he hurt me? makes reference to the caning punishment typical of that era, fixing the memory in a particular period when that was common.  In Beachcomber, however, Duffy’s main theme is memory, explored through the difficulties of recalling a particular childhood event.  In the last stanza she recalls the childhood tongue-twister with the line “seashell on the shore?, suggesting qualities of innocence and playfulness by imbuing her poem with a sense of childhood.  In contrast, Plath centralises the child as her main theme, but uses a secondary theme of nature in both You’re and Morning Song, linking children to nature in their innocence and simplicity.  This link to...

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