Human Interest is a poem by the British poet Carol Ann Duffy. I am currently trying to obtain official permission to publicly display Duffy's poem on here. Until then you'll have to make do with my essay on it ;)
Human Interest by the British poet Carol Ann Duffy is the portrait of a murderer and his deed. The speaker in the poem is the murderer himself. He tells the reader what has happened and why from his first person perspective. In this writeup, I first want to show what can be deduced about the personality and, to a certain extent, the social background of the speaker by analyzing his language and the way he uses it. Furthermore, I want to demonstrate the extent to which formal elements of the poem, such as the frequent use of enjambments and caesuras, further contribute to an image of the speaker's character and state of mind.
I shall first focus on the inner second and the third stanzas, then on the outer first and last stanzas. In the inner two stanzas, the speaker tells us about himself and his lover. There are no indications of either the speaker's age or his physical appearance. The one fact that we know for sure is that he is indeed male. This becomes clear when he refers to the suspected lover of his girlfriend as "the other bloke", implying that he himself is male. About his social background we can only speculate. He says he "slogged [his] guts out for her", which indicates that he is a blue-collar, a working man. His frequent use of colloquial expressions, such as "bloke", "tart", "prick" and "guts" further supports the conclusion that the speaker is a man of simple background. Where the speaker's emotional state is concerned, we have more indicators. He thinks of himself as having been a caring boyfriend: "I loved her." His use of the past tense indicates that this love is now broken. Furthermore, he did all he could think to do for her: "I slogged my guts out for her." Working hard and bringing home the money must have been his way of showing her how much he cared. Later, we begin to realize that aside being loving and self-sacrificing, he is also possessive. In the last stanza he refers to his girlfriend as "My baby." The use of the possessive pronoun when referring to one's partner is common in relationships; however, in light of our knowledge that he killed her out of jealousy, this use indicates an overly possessive boyfriend.
In the outer stanzas the speaker tells us how he killed his girlfriend, as well as how he is feeling now, some time after the deed. The speaker was clearly irrational when it happened.
She turned away. I stabbed. I felt this heat
burn through my skull until reason had died.
He was losing his mind then, and in his rage, he stabbed his girlfriend to death. After the crime and the sentencing ("fifteen years"), emotions of grief, remorse and denial prevail: "When I think of her now, I near choke/ with grief." In this line, his regret is most visible. However, he also seems to deny his own brutality: "I wouldn't harm a fly, no joke." Here he seems to absolve himself of culpability.
The language the speaker uses generally consists of simple words and short sentences; however, the most striking characteristic is his frequent use of idiom. He often uses worn figurative language to convey his meaning. This indicates that he finds it hard to express his feelings in words. The old metaphors "She stank of deceit" and "I near choke with grief" support this thesis. Thus, the speaker finds it difficult to use language creatively to express himself.
In this last part I will briefly demonstrate how the form of the poem and the use of enjambments further contribute to the reader's impression of the speaker's state. Looking at the rhyme scheme (ABBA ABBA CDC DCD), we realize that the poem is a Petrarchan sonnet. However, the units are broken up and regrouped to form the following pattern: ABBA ABB ACDC DCD. Especially towards the end of the poem, this interrupts the flow of language and conveys the impression of the speaker being increasingly more upset. The enjambments and caesuras used in the last stanza enhance this feeling:
When I think of her now, I near choke
with grief. My baby. She wasn't a tart
or nothing. I wouldn't harm a fly, no joke.
Each line of the last stanza is an enjambment running up against a strong midline caesura, such as after "grief", "baby" and "nothing". This supports our impression of the speaker being increasingly at a loss of words, and, when confronted with his crime, broken.
In this writeup I have tried to demonstrate how language and formal elements in Human Interest help create an impression of the speaker's character and personality. We have found that the speaker is a working-class male who has transformed from a loving, giving and possessive lover into a murderer filled with grief and remorse. Now he is convicted, a broken man, torn between remorse and denial. All this we learned by paying attention to language and form of the poem.
This writeup was brought to you by the supportive front of noding your homework and the English Department of the Universtity of Bern.