Duffy Little Red Cap poem
Length: 1809 words (5.2 double-spaced pages)
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In “Little Red Cap” discuss the use of imagery, syntax and structure.
Introduction to the collection of poems
Similarities and differences between this poem and original fairytale
Imagery – how has Duffy used the words used to create pictures in the reader’s head?
Syntax – word order. Why has she written sentences the way she has? Emphasis on a particular word.
Structure – length of stanzas
“Little Red Cap” is written by Carol Ann Duffy found in a collection of poems called “The world’s wife”, where she has given a voice to the women (fantasy characters and real people) who have generally been silent or their thoughts made clear through the voices of their husband’s or partner’s.
Firstly, the title of the poem grabs your attention and reminds you of ‘Red Riding Hood’, a children’s story. This is clever, as it sets the readers mind to thinking about the story, which means that the reader can connect all of the similarities in the poem to the children’s story, for example; “What big eyes he had! What teeth!”
The poem “Little red cap” is among others where Duffy has based this poem on a fairytale story, in this case, little red riding hood. However, this poem has a few differences to the original version of the story. For example, this poem uses imagery to create a very sexual feeling, where as the original fairytale was not in any way sexual, but had a more simplistic idea of ‘good – little red riding hood’ and ‘bad – the sly wolf’.
The wolf in this poem is portrayed to the reader as a ‘good’ character, and Little Red Cap as the ‘sly’ one who appears to know what she is doing in order to get what she wants.
In the first stanza of the poem, Duffy starts off with the metaphor “At childhood’s end”. This portrays that childhood is so powerful it has been described as a physical place. The reader can picture this place clearly because of they way she has continued to describe the “houses petered out into playing fields” “…till you came at last to the edge of the woods”. This makes the reader think that she is no longer an innocent child, she is independent and is now an adult. However, we find out in the second stanza that she is still only “sweet sixteen” which makes us wonder if she is really as grown-up as we first thought.
Even though much of the poem relates to her no longer being a child, no longer being naïve and innocent, Duffy uses the language to perhaps warn the reader that she is not as grown-up as we presume. The sentence “I lost both shoes, but got there, wolf’s lair, better beware” stands out as a break of normality. It has been written so that it rhymes and spoken quickly, rolling off the tongue to draw more attention to that particular sentence. The sentence is witty and perhaps even a little childish but has an element of trying to be grown-up.
The stanzas throughout the poem are irregular. Stanza 5 is the longest one in the poem and the rushed enjambment of the words gives the reader a sense of excitement.
A good example of the imagery Duffy has used in this poem is, “Away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place”. The way she has used these words makes the image very clear for the reader to imagine exactly what the Wolf’s lair must be like, a nasty place, away from the protection and safety of her home.
The wolf is initially portrayed as a ‘bad’ character, perhaps because that is the role in which is usual, however we learn that the wolf isn’t as ‘bad’ as we first predicted, which differs to the original tale. “It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf”. By writing it in this way, the emphasis is drawn to the word ‘I’ meaning little red cap. If she has changed the syntax and written ‘it was there where I first saw the wolf”, the emphasis would have been more on the wolf, and at this stage Duffy isn’t ready to completely introduce the wolf, only to let the reader hear what Little red cap thinks of him.
In this poem, the wolf appears to be educated and not ‘sly’ in order to con little red riding hood, which is the first difference between Duffy’s poem and the original fairytale. We can see this in the second stanza “you might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.” Of course, the reader knows that the wolf cannot literally read or talk, but this personification is used to create a stronger connection between the reader and the character of the wolf in the poem. For this reason we can see that little red cap also has a passion for learning, for it was the poetry that bought her to the wolf. The word poetry, was separated from the rest of this line in a sentence on it’s own which is another way Duffy has used her words to draw attention to the more important things. For this reason, it is more unexpected for the reader to hear in the change of personality for the wolf’s character.
There is a lot of imagery throughout the poem to portray to the reader that little red cap has lost her innocence. Left it behind at the end of her childhood. “My stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer snagged on twig and branch”. This powerful use of the colour red may symbolise the passion in this very sexual part of the poem, or perhaps even blood, because imagery has been used in such a dramatic way that the reader can see clearly she may even want to have sex with this wolf; “for what little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?” This is almost chatty, written in the way someone would speak to a friend. For this reason, Duffy appears to have written to a more female orientated audience.
Duffy uses more colour later in the poem “where a wall was crimson, gold, aglow with books”, this imagery arguably does not mean that she has a passion for the colour or the wall in a physical sense, but reinforces the point that she has a passion for learning.
Another reason for Duffy’s vivid use of colour in the poem using colours such as “crimson, red and blood” also helps build up to the killing of the wolf, although the reader may still be a little surprised that little red cap has used violence after her contrasting calmer approach previously in the poem.
After the stanza, which portrays a very sexual nature, Duffy uses her use of words, and again uses colour to show purity. “And went in search of a living bird – white dove”. The white colour is a very pure, natural colour and the dove is a very gentle bird. So it almost appears a shock when in the next line the wolf eats the dove “which flew, straight, from my hands to his open mouth.” Before this, the wolf appeared the educated one, but now the role is reversed as little red cap appears very intellectual and appreciates beauty (in this instance, the dove,) where as the wolf does not. The sentence continues “one bite, dead”. This is a very short sentence and emphasises the quick snap of his jaw and demonstrates the destruction that the wolf could cause.
In the last stanza of the poem, we also found out that the wolf was in fact a ‘bad’ character after all and the poem refers back to the original fairytale in which the wolf had been ‘sly’ enough to trick the grandmother into letting him eat her “saw the glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones”.
Towards the end of the poem, little red cap appears to be looking back and reflecting. The enjambment adds to the reflection. “Words, words, were truly alive on the tongue, in the head, warm, beating, frantic, winged; music, and blood.” This again is a very quick sentence consisting of singular words to give a fast, panicked, maybe even exciting feel. Duffy has used personification here so that the reader can relate closely to Little red cap’s passion and excitement for literature, of course words cannot really be “warm” or “winged” but these add to the sense of excitement Little red cap is feeling.
In the next stanza “but then I was young…” There is no longer a panicked feel to the words, but is looking back on the reality of her experience. This is a calmer approach and makes her sound grown-up again.
Duffy uses repetition in the last stanza: “I took an axe to a willow to see how it wept. I took an axe to a salmon to see how it leapt. I took an axe to the wolf as he slept…” This rhyming is a change to the way Duffy has written the rest of the poem, which makes the last stanza stand out and to make the impact of the words stronger on the reader.
Also in this last stanza, there is a change of tense from past to present. “I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up. Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing all alone. This draws the readers attention to the last few lines which are very important in the poem, because everything that has been said previously is contradicted in these last few lines, for example the reader finds out that the wolf isn’t as ‘good’ as he was portrayed, because he did in fact eat the grandmother. As well as this, we see that little red cap is no longer portrayed as innocent because she has had to use violence.
The last stanza is also a reflection of her innocence “out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing all alone”, this demonstrates an almost innocent approach which mirrors what was said in the beginning of the poem. This is a clear way to show Little red cap’s growth and independence throughout the poem, although she still appears a little innocent. However, arguably once she has lost her innocence she cannot get this back. However by doing this she is showing that perhaps she no longer wants to be “at childhood’s end” but back with the protection and security that she would have had when she was still an innocent child.
In conclusion, Duffy has cleverly written this poem based on the fairytale little red riding hood, but there are many hidden meanings to various parts of the poem, for example touching on childhood innocence and teenage rebellion. There are also arguably different interpretations to what Duffy has written.