Poem "Stealing" by Carol Ann DuffyWhat is the general tone of this poem?
The general tone of Carol Ann Duffy's tragical poem "Stealing" is different from the islands of other tones in the poem. The general tone is a narrative one: the speaker is telling a reminiscence: the time s/he stole a snowman. The general tone used by the raconteur is casual, a conversational tone: "The most unusual thing I ever stole? A snowman."
The general tone, apparent still at the end of the poem, "I stole a guitar and thought I might / learn to play," gives way quickly to other tones during the recounting of the snowman story. First comes the chilling tone of bitterness, "a mind as cold as the slice of ice / within my own brain," that gives way to the tone of steely determination, "Better off dead than giving in," that soon enough is driven through other fleeting tones to that of rage and raging despair:
I took a run
and booted him. Again. Again. My breath ripped out
in rags. ...
sick of the world.
The general tone nonetheless is casual and conversational, a good raconteur preparing to recount a good story, complete with the good ending from a bitter, cynical, crushed, heart-sick raconteur who would rather have something else to recount:
You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?
The poem "Stealing" is a look into a life that is going nowhere. We are hearing from a person who doesn't mind causing pain, as when he mentions that stealing the snowman will make kids cry the next day—in fact he says it's part of the "thrill" for him. He steals things that he doesn't need. Here is someone who takes not out of want, but from boredom. I find this almost a sad as those who steal because they need to eat. Ultimately, the thief's live reflects a purposelessness. He beats up the snowman and even the bust of Shakespeare he stole. He finds no satisfaction in what he does, but shows how isolated he feels when he asks, at the end, "You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?"
There is sadness, emptiness and loneliness in this person's world: the tone, then, is probably sadness for the world of people who act without a purpose and who are all alone. I doubt the speaker even understands himself.
One way of discussing the general tone of this poem is to call it narcissistic or solipsistic. In other words, the speaker seems focused almost entirely on himself: on his thoughts, his desires, his feelings, his needs, his actions, etc. Notice how frequently the simple word "I" is used. (Does any other word, except possibly the articles "the," "a," and "and" appear more frequently in this work?) It's possible to suggest that most of the other tones valuably mentioned above result from the speaker's even more basic tone of self-centeredness and self-involvement.
Duffy is kind of like a modern day Robert Browning in the way that she creates dramatic monologues that give us a real insight into characters that we would otherwise probably never meet. This excellent poem gives voice to a dissaffected youth who is overwhelmed by the lack of meaning in his life. He expresses his lack of purpose through stealing a huge range of inconsequential objects as a means of voicing his desire for purpose. I would therefore agree with other editors by saying that the tone of this boy's words is one of profound dissatisfaction with his life and the world in which he finds himself in.
I think I would go with "angry" and "alienated" to describe the tone of the poem. The speaker wants the snowman so as to have a friend. He wants to hurt other people. He would rather die than give in. To me, these are the attitudes of someone who feels alienated from and angry at society.
What do you think the speaker would have been doing during the London riots this year? Just a thought...
Bored, frustrated, hopeless, sees no way out of the circumstances in which he feels trapped. He's not stealing in order to gain attention for himself, although he's unsympathetically aware of the children who would be crying when they discovered their snowman was gone. It's just something to do in the midst of having nothing more worthwhile to occupy his time and energy and thinking.
I have to say that I would lean toward the tone of the poem being hopelessness as well. The speaker states how bored with life that he is and relates it to the reader many times. In the last line, "You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?" even shows how bored the speaker is with the reader and how he/she simply finds no hope in anyone understanding him/her.
While indeed detached, there is also an underlying moroseness to the tone of this speaker who steals for little reason. Like the packrat, the thief steals simply because he/she feels the compulsion to acquire things. But, these things do not bring the speaker any delight, and still the speaker's life is empty as he/she has taken rather than created.
The general tone of the poem is hopelessness. The thief feels that his life has no purpose. He steals because he is bored. He steals unimportant things like the snowman, because his life is going nowhere. The imgaery in the poem is all about dark and cold, because that's how he feels inside.