Does 'The Laughter of Stafford Girls' High' have an ironic tone?

Essay on Laughter of Stafford Girls' High, a poem included in Duffy's Feminine Gospels.

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To what extent could the poem be said
to have an ironic tone?
`The Laughter of Stafford Girls' High' explores a narrative of laughter erupting in a girls' high
school and, within this, presents various themes such as homosexuality, suicide and struggle for
identity. It is suggested that throughout the poem there is a sense of irony but to what extent?
The fact that the poem and its depiction of seemingly contagious laugher, assumedly
connoting joy and happiness, ends with a suicide is perhaps ironic in itself. The laughter is presented
with floral imagery where it states that `her lips split from the closed bud of a kiss' to the `daisy chain
of a grin' resulting in her laughing with the `blooming rose of her throat'. The description, with its
connotations of nature, portrays the growth of the laughter within Miss Fife specifically but perhaps,
as is common with Duffy in the anthology, intends to transcend to represent the growth of laughter
in the school as a whole. The irony though is how the portrayal of laughter in such a natural,
potentially therefore encouraged and positive thing, ends with the teacher falling `through the
clouds with a girl in her arms'. The juxtaposition is perhaps ambiguous. It could possibly suggest that
no matter what is going on in one's surroundings, no matter how joyous or natural it may be, people
may still be in such melancholy circumstances. Alternatively, it could portray the idea that, on a more
cynical note, where laughter may be a happy occurrence, it may be despondent for others.
It could be suggested that the structure of the poem is ironic. Each stanza has 13 lines and
appears to be rigid but within the mildly varying structure there is a story of arguable chaos. This
bears resemblance to `The Diet' where Duffy also contrasts a narrative of loss of control with a
questionably fixed structure. The concurrence of this is perhaps emblematic of a loss of control as,
for example, the head teacher is depicted as having some kind of neurotic breakdown and is
described as putting her head in her hands and having `wept'. The poignant verb interjected in the
structured stanza connotes the idea of deep sadness and loss of influence and the use of irony could
have been used to highlight the inadequacy of a headmaster and by extension, perhaps a statement
of imperfections of women on a whole from Duffy. By presenting a woman in a profession famously
dominated by men, Duffy was perhaps expected to depict her as being highly successful but in not
doing so, it could be said that Duffy is drawing attention to the unrealistic expectations of people on
a whole.
If one were to consider the poem as being a feminist allegory, one may suggest that the
narrative, too, is ironic. The fact that the staff are women, and manage to lose such control over
people whom they are educated and paid to oversee, is potentially ironic whereby Duffy is famously
and even throughout the anthology seen to be portraying women as successful. It could also be seen
as being ironic that the teachers, a depiction of women breaking former stereotypes and defying
housewifery, leave their jobs in order to uptake their dreams. It is an example of situational irony in
that they contradict what they are expected to be doing. Conceivably, Duffy may have illustrated the
sensual lesbian encounter between Miss Batt and Miss Fife in order to represent the breaking of
stereotypes and potentially a feministic ideology of women being strong and independent.
Furthermore, the alarm clock being described as `tutting' may intend to emphasise the courage of

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The description of Mrs McKay's death is almost ironic given that her marriage with her
husband was pessimistically explored. The simile that depicts the waves as dancing her away `like a
groom with a bride' juxtaposes the former portrayal of Mrs McKay lying awake in the `beached boat
of the marital bed'.…read more


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