Seamus Heaney

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How do Seamus Heaney's "Limbo" and "Two Lorries" depict men diminishing women's societal roles?

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Women's role in society is diminished by men in Seamus Heaney's "Limbo" and "Two Lorries" by, respectively, the stigmatizing of unwed mothers and the shameless flirtation of a young coalman with the speaker's mother.

In "Limbo," we see the tragic consequences of the stigmatization of unwed mothers in the Ireland of yesteryear. Unwilling to live with the shame of being the mother of an illegitimate child, the young woman in this poem has killed her newborn child.

In traditional societies, it is men who set the rules. And it is men—Irishmen, to be precise—who have created a society in which illegitimacy is a stigma that adversely affects not just the child born out of wedlock but also the child's mother. Without such a stigma, it is almost certain that the mother in this particular case would not have committed an act of infanticide.

In "Two Lorries," we are treated to the spectacle of a smooth-talking coalman from Belfast chatting up the speaker's mother. Compared with the place of women in society presented in "Limbo," it's relatively harmless, at least on the surface.

However, a woman's role is still diminished by the "Dreamboat coalman" Agnew as he pays court to the speaker's mother. He operates on the assumption that she will accompany him to the cinema in Magherafelt. To him, the speaker's mother is just a sex object, his next conquest.

It may seem relatively harmless on the surface, but the interaction between Agnew and the speaker's mother actually reveals the kind of unequal relationship that exists between men and women in this traditional society.

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