Poems of the Decade: Presentation of Gender

Compare the ways in which gender is presented within ‘The Gun’ by Vicki Feaver and ‘Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass’ by Simon Armitage.


Student Exemplar:

The theme of Gender is presented strongly throughout ‘The Gun’ by Vicki Feaver as well as ‘Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass’ written by Simon Armitage. The theme of gender is key to both of these pieces of literature as it has been in much poetry and prose for centuries. Both poems discuss male dominance and femininity through the use of symbols, personification, diction and connotations to discuss the deeper perception of both genders.

The first way that gender is portrayed is through the symbolism of the chainsaw and the gun. This is a key similarity between both poems as both the “gun” and “the chainsaw” are described with harsh, angry imagery and connotations of violence as well as death. This is because they are both symbolising masculinity and the stereotypical ‘testosterone filled’ male. Armitage uses violent and angry lexis as a way of describing the chainsaw as a violent weapon capable of causing harm. “Grinding its teeth”, “Instant rage”, “bloody desire, sweet tooth for the flesh of the face and bones underneath”. Similarly, Feaver writes, “casting a grey shadow” and “King of Death” to create an ominous tone. This relates to the “instant rage” of the chainsaw and the feeling that at any moment it could become an angry murder weapon. In terms of gender representation, both authors are portraying masculinity as hyper-aggressive with no regard for life. Feaver also uses male pronouns when describing the “King of Death” with “his black mouth” to represent men as something evil and villainous, much like the gun and the power it holds.

In ‘The Gun’ femininity and the female gender in general is disregarded as Feaver prefers instead to only focus on the harm that men can cause. Apart from the mention of “sex” and the “cooking”, Feaver doesn’t mention any need or want for women which shows how the power and control the gun gives takes the place of any real relationship or other pleasure. The reference to sex is important because it hints at dissatisfaction that the speaker and the subject feel. In contrast, Armitage does discuss femininity more thoroughly through the use of the pampas grass to portray women as prideful and weaker. “The pampas grass with its ludicrous feathers and flumes” and “Sunning itself” are the key quotes used to describe women. However, Armitage doesn’t go any near as in depth when describing women as he does with men. The fourth stanza is significantly shorter than the others perhaps to show a certain mysterious quality that women possess and that men don’t fully understand.

The anonymity of the speaker is also powerful as both speakers have a sense of power because of the objects that they possess and are able to control. Although the two poems are set from different perspective, we can assume based on their behaviour that the subjects are both male. Through this, we see the recurrent theme of men becoming “power crazy” and losing themselves. In ‘The Gun’ through a (most likely female) third person perspective we see a soother and wiser tone as if the speaker can already see what is going to happen from the moment the gun enters the house. “Bringing a gun into a house changes it.” This makes the poem not only menacing but also a cautionary tale as if the speaker is trying to warn others.

In conclusion, both poems centre around a female versus male contest. Through the use of the chainsaw and the gun we see masculinity being a passionate, angry power while the pampas grass and the speaker in “The Gun” express femininity as consistent and gentle. The use of the grass continuing to grow in “Chainsaw versus the Pampas Grass” also shows that male strength may not always win in the end.

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