The World’s Wife – Three Poems, One Message

“Thetis”, “Ms. Faust”, “Mrs. Rip Van Winkle”. In Carol Ann Duffy’s “The World’s Wife” poem collection, these 3 poems share a similar theme: while women seek to educate themselves, men tend to engage in destructive–and sometimes lustful–activities. The question here then lies: why are such men in positions of power or influence?

Looking at the first poem “Thetis,” the destructive nature of the male sex is lain in the open. At its core, “Thetis” details of a girl expressing herself both creatively and emotionally, but being stopped short each time by a man’s violent act. We know that the male gender is responsible for such actions, seeing as the text references “his fist” (6), “his strangler’s clasp” (17), and “the guy in the grass” (24). Each quote describes a different male figure in her different stages of life, as symbolised by the new animal form that she takes. From here, the poem thus emphasises the point that no matter where women go or what they do, men will inevitably disrupt it in their violent nature.

“Ms. Faust” elaborates on this point further, showing how women are able to bide their time and expressing themselves through emotionally-beneficial activities, whereas men perpetually create larger and greater problems not only for themselves, but for humanity as a whole. For example, as Ms. Faust engages in meditation or world exploration, Faust, in the poem, goes on to lust upon women, engage in politics, warfare, and cheating nature (by cloning a sheep). These actions are all similar in a sense where men lose their morality and humanity; Faust is representative of men throughout history, raping, killing, pillaging ever since the beginning. They never stopped. Despite all this, Duffy adds a powerful message at the end: much like the legend itself, when the deal Faust–symbolising men–made runs short, he must eventually must pay the price. When this happens, everything he created passes upon Ms. Faust, now single, separate from men (emphasis on the “Ms”). Duffy does this to show how times are changing, and the positions of power are changing from men to women, something that her role as Poet Laureate has already experienced.

Lastly, “Mrs. Rip Van Winkle” focuses less on the destructive nature of men (as the other two have), but rather more on the lustful, more foolish aspect of men. Like the other poems, the female counterpart is more interested in self-discovery, indulging in activities that made her happy as a person. Through this, Duffy states that no matter the situation, women have always been able to persevere. On the other hand, men, when faced with old age and the depletion of sex, are only able to focus on satisfying their lustful urges. Again, there is nothing beneficial, only a lewd self-indulgence.

Again, Duffy brings up the question, “if men are so incompetent, then why are they the ones in control?”. “Ms. Faust” perfectly summarises the predicament of what’s to come. The message is clear: women are taking position besides, if not above, men in society.

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