A Fairground Killer - An Interpretation of Carol Ann Duffy's 'Psychopath'

Essay, 2008

5 Pages, Grade: 2,7


A Fairground Killer

Carol Ann Duffy‟s poem Psychopath gives voice to a man who has turned into a schizophrenic child molester and killer. We witness what an effect some events that happened in his childhood have had on him and how he is dealing with them. In the following essay I will do a close analysis of the poem with a focus on the personality of the main character.

The first paragraph (running from lines one to eight) of the poem introduces the lyrical I as the main character whose name is later revealed to be Jack. He is walking through the streets while constantly checking his appearance in the windows of department stores. The first impressions that the reader gets from him are that this is somebody who is very much focused on his looks and his attitude, in which he wants to emulate icons such as James Dean and Marlon Brando. Without any apparent connection to these first statements of the poem the lyrical I interjects that “[s]he is in the canal” (l.4.) This foreshadows the killing of a girl that Jack will address later on, but at this point in the poem it appears like a random statement; like the fact that the girl is in the canal is stuck in his head and he just can not avoid these words coming out of his mouth. Also in this first paragraph we get first hints of his relationship to females in general. Jack tells us that he “feel[s] like a king” (l.6) “with a good-looking girl” (l.5) by his side. This reveals that girls to him are objects meant to elevate his status. He shifts the focus again to „she‟ and how he first met her riding past him on a wooden horse (ll. 6, 7.) Given that Jack explains later in the poem that this is taking place on a fairground and that he “turned the world faster” (l.8) we might conclude that Jack is a fairground worker whose job it is, for instance, to spin the carousels and control other attractions.

In the second paragraph we learn about his routine in approaching girls: “I swing up beside them and do it with my eyes, Brando” (ll. 9, 10.) This conjures up images about the kind of man he would like to be and the way he sees himself. After a first investigation of the girl he just saw on the wooden horse (“She was clean. I could smell her”) his words “Here we go, old son” (l. 11) mark the beginning of her seduction. In the following lines a lot of things are mentioned that are a staple of fairgrounds: candy floss, goldfish, coconuts, the Tunnel of Love . These words form a sharp contrast with the overall tone of the poem. All of those are means for Jack to win over the girl. The line “[y]ou can woo them” (l.12) shows us that Jack already has experience and knows what works in that respect, or at least that he would like the reader to think that he does. The last three lines of that paragraph give us insight into his character and that a leather jacket to him really is a “new skin” (l. 14) which consequently gives him a new self. This provides him an opportunity to escape from his ordinary and unappealing identity. Hints at that are given in the line “I touch [the jacket] and love myself” (ll. 14, 15.) The leather jacket is also in line with the image of himself as a Marlon Brando-like character who knows how to woo and please the girls.

The third paragraph of the poem talks about how „they‟ move from place to place with the scent of local girls on their fingers (ll. 17, 18.) This could either imply him and his fellow fairground workers, or the different identities that he has. Either way he goes on bragging about his alleged abilities as a seducer (“I know what women want” [l. 19,]) and how forcing his most recent conquest to drink whiskey is part of his routine (“No , she said, Don’t , like they always do” [l.24, 25.])

The next five lines (ll. 25 to 29) are a flashback to Jack‟s first sexual experience that apparently also developed on a fairground at the age of twelve with a girl named Alice. His account of that event is interesting in that Alice seemed to be unimpressed by his abilities as a lover (“she jeered” [l.26], “I touched her and went hard, but she grabbed my hand and used that” [ll.28,29.]) It seems like he never could quite deal with that failure at pleasing Alice so that now he has to make up new images of himself as somebody who epitomizes the complete opposite. In the concluding lines of that stanza Jack tells us that he is walking off the fairground with that unnamed girl he wooed with a goldfish. “She‟d come too far with me now” (l. 32) is a clear indication that the fate for the girl is sealed.

The fifth paragraph (ll. 33 to 36) joins an analysis of Jack‟s character by a gipsy (according to which he “could be anything with [his] looks, [his] luck, [his] brains” [ll. 34, 35]) with the refusal of the girl from the fairground to go any farther with him (“I‟m not that type, she said [l. 36.])

Her refusals are all in vain, however, and in the following paragraph the ultimate seduction begins. Jack‟s efforts at trying to convince her in some way to give in to him (“I […] talked sexy” [l. 38]) are useless, so he resorts to more physical attempts, such as grabbing the plastic bag that contains the goldfish. When she sees the fish gasping and wriggling on the grass she might see in that her own fate. The last lines of that stanza (“A dog craps by a lamp-post [ll. 40, 41]) again seem to be a random insertion, because they do not fit with the dramatic developments that are going on. My guess would be that this ironic tone serves to reinforce Jack‟s indifference towards the girl he is raping and killing. This comes natural to him, and it is just as normal as a dog “ crapping .”

The following paragraph (ll. 41 to 48) is another flashback to Jack‟s past that is crucial in understanding and explaining why Jack has turned into this psychopath that seduces and kills girls. He expresses deep anger and hatred towards his own mother, whom he walked in on with the landlord when he was little. This was a radical experience for him and shattered all his innocent views on love, trust and faithfulness. The line “[t]he sky slammed down on my school cap” (ll. 43, 44) expresses that sentiment. In that account he again inserts the line “[s]he is in the canal” (l. 46) which links his dramatic childhood experience with the very recent seduction of an innocent girl.

The focus shifts again to the girl he overpowered off the fairground. Evidently it only took him “one thump” until he could rape her. After that apparent success and restoration of his manhood he refers to himself as “Jack the Lad, Ladies‟ Man” (l. 50.) Nevertheless, he is also showing signs of resignation and longing for second chances (“You get one chance in this life and if you screw it you‟re done for, uncle, no mistake” [ll. 52 – 53.]) This is when he finally shoves her in the canal, which provides us with a point of reference as far as the recurring line “she is in the canal” is concerned. After that, he is trying to justify what he did and making up excuses such as “she asked for it” (l. 56.) Interestingly, he points out her promising future that he withheld from her.

In the concluding paragraph Jack finds himself in a bar, referring to himself as “a reflection.” The lines that follow are a product of his inebriation and do not seem to convey any further insight apart from the fact that he is haunted by what he did to the girl from the fairground. The line “[d]eep down I‟m talented” (l. 58) echoes the previous prediction from the gipsy and serves to make him feel at ease. He is clearly intent on forgetting what he did.

In Psychopath Carol Ann Duffy gives us insight into a character who is deeply troubled by events he was exposed to in his childhood and which have had ripple effects on his personality. With Jack she creates a character that is disturbing on many different levels – for one thing he is a pedophile that uses his position as fairground worker to hit on young girls and rape them. He truly has two different sides as symbolized by the leather-jacket which enables him to become a seducer like Marlon Brando and James Dean. On that note, his personality issues all seem to revolve around his perceptions of manhood. This confusion is most likely a result of the shock he felt when he saw his mother having sex with the landlord.

As far as the speech situation is concerned, we are clearly dealing with a dramatic monologue here. There are hints of stream of consciousness situations of some sort because the poem lacks any logical chronological structure. There are quick shifts from present to past, as exemplified by the repeatedly inserted line “she is in the canal.”


Excerpt out of 5 pages


A Fairground Killer - An Interpretation of Carol Ann Duffy's 'Psychopath'
Ruhr-University of Bochum
Seminar: Voices in Poetic Texts
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ISBN (eBook)
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Quote paper
Tim Reuter (Author), 2008, A Fairground Killer - An Interpretation of Carol Ann Duffy's 'Psychopath', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/114873


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