The Woman Who Shopped by Carol Ann Duffy explores the stereotype of a shopaholic woman. Yet, Duffy takes the extrapolation to new extremes, the character of the poem becoming a shop herself. This simultaneously points to the commercialization of modern society, whilst also demonstrating the objectification of women. Duffy argues that women are made into commodities, both literally within prostitution, but also within a society that is ever embodying a capitalist reality.
Explore The Woman Who Shopped
Duffy begins with the character of the nameless shopaholic, exaggerating her traits until every moment of her life is consumed by shopping.
There is a clear break in the middle of the poem, with Duffy using the pause to move from a realistic depiction of the woman’s life, towards an extended metaphor of the woman actually embodying the shop. The divide is marked with a ‘***’ break. By the end of the poem, Duffy uses euphemism to suggest that the woman has become a prostitute to pay for her expensive tastes, bartering her body in exchange for goods.
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Form and Structure
Duffy’s The Woman Who Shopped is split into 14 stanzas. 7 of these stanzas make up each part of the poem. The first 7 explore the woman’s realistic shopping habits, while the second set of 7 act as an extended metaphor. As in other of Duffy’s poems, such as The Long Queen, the significance of 7 could be pointing to the days of the week. Indeed, by having 7 stanzas, Duffy is suggesting that the woman’s addiction is 24/7, each day being represented by a stanza. This is repeated in the second half of the poem, the stanzas again representing each day of the week as a store.
The key themes that Duffy addresses in The Woman Who Shopped are Women’s Voices and Stereotypes of Women. Indeed, Duffy discusses a woman within the poem but does not actually give her a voice, instead depicting her life in actions. This relates to the frenetic energy of always wanting more and more, Duffy representing the perceived stereotype of a shopaholic. In doing this, Duffy represents a part of women that she has not previously explored within the feminine gospels, here using a negative stereotype of women to discuss the wider world. The woman’s addiction can be seen as due to capitalism, the constant need for wealth and showing off wealth being central in The Woman Who Shopped.
One technique that Duffy uses when writing The Woman Who Shopped is internal rhyme. Examples of this, such as ‘she loved her own smell, sweat, and Chanel’, speed up the rhythm of the poem. By connecting words, Duffy makes inherent links in sound, the familiar sounds flowing quickly off the tongue when read. Duffy aims to speed up the meter of the poem, reflecting the chaotic and frenetic buying habits of the woman through the past rhythm of the poem.
Another technique that Duffy uses when writing The Woman Who Shopped is the asyndeton. As in many of the poems within ‘Feminine Gospels’, this poem contains asyndeton. Duffy links together many purchases in an asyndetic list. In doing this, she creates the idea of a never-ending shopping spree. Indeed, the woman moves from item to item, buying, and discarding. The chaos of this fast-paced shopping is created, in part, through Duffy’s use of asyndeton.
Stanzas One and Two
went out with a silver shilling, willing to buy, bought
centre of town where the sales had commenced.
The Woman Who Shopped begins by propelling the rhythm of the poem forward. Duffy uses a rhyme scheme, mixed with moments of internal rhyme, to speed up the meter. She rhymes ‘buy’ with ‘eye’, ‘brim’ with ‘him’, pushing the poem ever onward. In doing this, Duffy centers The Woman Who Shopped on instantly rapid imagery, the poet moving through items at a great pace.
Even the verbs that Duffy uses within these early stanzas come from a place of activity. She writes ‘haggled’, ‘danced’ and ‘taped’, furthering the frenetic moment. The woman is characterized as frantically running from sale to sale, spending all she can.
Stanzas Three, Four, and Five
applied for a job for the wage and the bonus, blew it
went on the internet, shopped in America, all over Europe,
Duffy uses asyndeton throughout these lines, listing item after item that the character has bought. The poet moves through ‘wedding, a wedding dress, groom, married him,’ even monumental moments like ‘marriage’ just being an excuse to spend. Duffy uses asyndeton to further the chaos of the woman’s life, not giving her time to pause and take in everything she is doing. Consumerism is who she is, Duffy exaggerating the stereotype of the shopaholic woman.
The woman even begins to use her husband’s money, ‘shuffling his plastic with hers’. This relates to credit cards, the wife using both hers and his in order to continue her buying spree. The confusion implied in ‘shuffling’ perhaps suggests that the woman has done this without letting him know. In the following stanzas, the woman’s life begins to fall apart, this being the first moment she steps over the line.
Stanzas Six and Seven
tapping her credit card numbers all night, ordering
curled in the doorway, six shopping bags at her feet.
Across these stanzas, Duffy expands the scale of the woman’s shopping habit. From the early ‘silver shilling’, she has now progressed ‘all over Europe’. Duffy is perhaps suggesting that internet shopping has only further enabled this stereotype. Of course, shopping is now accessible from anywhere that has an internet connection.
It is interesting to note that the woman is buying for the sake of it, not simply because she needs things. Duffy demonstrates this through the pluralization of ‘pools, caravans, saunas’, all things that she could not use at the same time. The woman is buying for the euphoric moment of hitting ‘buy’, not to use the items themselves.
The woman tries to ‘flee’, but only ends up running into ‘happy shoppers’ wherever she ran. Perhaps Duffy is further relating to the accessibility of shopping, pointing out the dangers of this form of addiction. The woman ends up on the streets, ‘curled up’ for support against ‘the doorway’ of the shop. Shopping and places of purchase have quite literally become her refuge.
Stanzas Eight, Nine, and Ten
Stone cold when she woke, she was stone, was concrete
shaving gear, shoes: fourth floor for books, toyland,
After the break in The Woman Who Shopped, the woman wakes up and finds herself ‘stone’. The double repetition of ‘stone’ simultaneously links to the metaphor of becoming a shop, while also displaying a deep emotional sadness.
Duffy uses the euphemism of ‘her stockings were moving stairs, her shoes were lifts, going up, going down’ to suggest she has become a prostitute. With no line of support left, the only way the woman can feed her addiction is to sell her own body. Thus, Duffy presents the shopping addict becoming a shop herself. This displays the harsh reality of capitalism, while also revealing the precious nature of women’s bodies.
Stanzas Eleven and Twelve
childrenswear, sports: fifth floor for home entertainment,
the credit cards swiping themseleves in her blood, her breath
Duffy fuses the semantics of the body with the lexis of the shop. She writes ‘lungs glittered with chandeliers’, furthering the metaphor of the woman becoming a shop. She loved shopping so much that Duffy has created a metaphorical representation that is half woman-half shop, hence the fusion of semantics. Everything she has become is a representation of her lavish tastes, ‘crammed with cheeses, fruits, wines, truffles and caviar’, her whole body exuding a sense of money.
Stanzas Thirteen and Fourteen
was gift wrapping, the whisper of tissue and string, she loved
Birds shrieked and voided themsleves in her stone hair.
The final two stanzas of The Woman Who Shopped take the metaphor to the extreme, the world becoming overrun with the growing shot. Each day ‘juggernauts ground, unloading their heavy creates’, more and more items being delivered to the shop-woman.
Duffy presents the end of the world through the lens of capitalism, the ‘sky was unwrapping’ like a present. Even the most untouchable forms of nature, ‘sky’ and ‘light’ became products that were bought and sold. The final image is of the total destruction of nature, ‘birds sheik and voided’. Duffy presents a future in which everything is sold, the woman expanding onwards until everything is consumed by consumerism.
Capitalism is the defining ideology is the modern-day, some of the most powerful countries’ economies based upon this. Duffy discusses how people believe women fit into our capitalist societies. Indeed, she draws upon the stereotype of a shopaholic woman to define her central character. Duffy laughs at this ridiculous depiction, exaggerating a satirizing its creation. The constant process of buying reflects on consumerism, how people always desire the next best thing. Considering there will always be a new model created, this is a process that will never be finished. Duffy also comments on women’s bodies, how they are seen as a commodity that is bought and displayed like trophies.
Duffy’s The Woman Who Shopped can be compared with other poems that discuss women’s bodies. From the feminine gospels, these would be The Map-Woman and The Diet. Both of these poems use the female body as a springboard to discuss further ideas about the world.