Stealing

Background

This poem is an interesting insight into the mind of a thief/kleptomaniac. Again, Duffy creates a persona.

When reading the poem, it is worth considering the symbolic value of many of the objects stolen by the persona (in other words: what do they represent to the persona?), because their material worth is little.


The Poem

The most unusual thing I ever stole? A snowman.
Midnight. He looked magnificent; a tall, white mute
beneath the winter moon. I wanted him, a mate
with a mind as cold as the slice of ice
within my own brain
. I started with the head.
Better off dead than giving in, not taking
what you want.
He weighed a ton; his torso,
frozen stiff, hugged to my chest, a fierce chill
piercing my gut. Part of the thrill was knowing
that children would cry in the morning
. Life's tough.
Sometimes I steal things I don't need. I joy-ride cars
to nowhere, break into houses just to have a look.
I'm a mucky ghost, leave a mess, maybe pinch a camera.
I watch my gloved hand twisting the doorknob.
A stranger's bedroom. Mirrors. I sigh like this - Aah.
It took some time. Reassembled in the yard,
he didn't look the same
. I took a run
and booted him
. Again. Again. My breath ripped out
in rags. It seems daft now. Then I was standing
alone amongst lumps of snow, sick of the world.
Boredom. Mostly I'm so bored I could eat myself.
One time, I stole a guitar and thought I might
learn to play. I nicked a bust of Shakespeare once,
flogged it, but the snowman was strangest.
You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?

-- Carol Anne Duffy


Analysis

"The most unusual thing I ever stole? A snowman."

Poem begins with a question, which will immediately interest readers. The juxtaposition of the answer ‘snowman’ makes it a surprising and intriguing first line.

"a tall, white mute"

Personifying the snowman.

"a mate"

Suggests the speaker is lonely...and his reason for personifying the snowman is so that it might become his companion.

"a mind as cold as the slice of ice / within my own brain."

The metaphor equates literal coldness with emotional coldness, suggesting the speaker is cruel and unfeeling. The persona is not happy about his or her life.

"I started with the head."

The speaker begins to pull the snowman apart in order to transport it. It's a ridiculous image, really.

"Better off dead than giving in, not taking / what you want"

An interesting glimpse into the mental state of the persona. To not take things is to ‘give in’, but to what?

"thrill was knowing / that children would cry in the morning"

Cruel. The persona enjoys others’ suffering.

"Life's tough."

Cruel tired cliché, used to openly mock his imagined victims.

"Sometimes I steal things I don't need."

Highlights the pointlessness of his crimes.

"I'm a mucky ghost"

The metaphor, which compares him or her to a ghost, suggests a low self-esteem...that he or she is insubstantial and no one cares about him or her.

"maybe pinch a camera."

A camera captures images, represents events and happy memories...is this why he steals it?

"I watch my gloved hand"

Relishing the act.

"A stranger's bedroom. Mirrors. I sigh like this - Aah."

Pleasure? Sadness? What is it about a stranger’s bedroom? The intimacy that he knows is there?

"It took some time."

The shift from present tense to past tense signals that we are back to the narrative of the snowman.

"he didn't look the same"

There was something about the snowman before that has been lost in stealing it. Perhaps the fact that he cannot steal time and people: he may take the snowman, but he can’t share the experience of building it was a family. Perhaps that’s what he’s really seeking.

"I took a run / and booted him"

Almost childlike, an impetuous tantrum.

"It seems daft now"

The speaker is not able to understand himself and his motives.

"Boredom. Mostly I'm so bored I could eat myself."

Could this be the main reason he steals? Or does the poem hint at other reasons?

"You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?"

As with Education for Leisure, the poem ends with a direct appeal to the reader. This time, however, it is a rhetorical question, that leaves the persona even more isolated. Feels that no one understands him, or why he does it. His attempt to reach out to the world ends abruptly with a bleak conclusion. We, as readers, cannot respond to the persona, even if we do understand.


Compares well with...

  • Hitcher - As with this poem, the persona of 'Hitcher' is mentally unwell. The persona of 'Hitcher', however, is extremely detached, while the persona of Stealing is much more emotionally involved in the crimes.

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All text copyright © 2006 to EJ Taylor. Page Template created by James Taylor. Site created: 10 April, 2006. Last revised: 2 August, 2015