19 Mar 2013

Analysis: How does Simon Armitage Create the Character in Alaska? Exam Essay for OCR Poetry Anthology for the Literature Exam


Basic Meaning: a man talks bitterly to his ex-girlfriend, how it's no big deal she left. He paints a vivid picture of how he thinks she must see him: like a 'Kodiak bear', or a 'prince' in an ice palace. This icy image echoes his emotional state, and the fact he's losing himself in fantasies. It's like he's having an argument with someone who's not listening any more.

He says (he imagines) she pictures him 'clueless' unable to iron his own shirts or cook, and that he only came close to 'missing' her when he was trying to put the king-size duvet cover on the duvet single-handed.

Then he's rude about her and her new boyfriend, and describes himself, finally as Alaska, cut off by the Bering Strait.

A* Analysis
Alaska is a fictional dramatic monologue where a man talks to his ex. The man is never named but we hear his detailed intimate thoughts. Armitage creates the character’s idiolect [distinct way of speaking] through use of informal, colloquial language. The character uses fragementary utterances [incomplete sentences] like ‘big deal’ and ‘so you upped and went’. Armitage starts the poem with the word ‘so’, which makes it feel as if the narrator is part way through a conversation. He repeatedly refers to her, ‘girl’ as if he’s addressing her. But gets no response. This creates the feeling that she doesn’t want to listen to him.

The character seems quite self-centred. He says ‘big deal’, but actually seems obsessed. However, although he keeps referring to her ‘girl’, the character actually talks mostly about himself - about the way he thinks she sees him. He repeats ‘you must see me’ twice and ‘you must picture me’ feels almost like a refrain. Here, this creates the effect he’s going round in circle, making no progress. He’s trapped in his thoughts of her. This is definitely not a conversation, it’s all one sided and feels like a rant. No one is listening to him.

Imagery of isolation recurs: in the title, Alaska, of a frozen state of American cut off from the mainland, in the metaphor of ‘icy palace’. The fact he thinks of himself as a ‘prince’ in a ‘palace’ suggests arrogance: this is the kind of arrogance that isolates. The cold also suggests his emotional state through pathetic fallacy in ‘snow’ and ‘rainy’. The ‘bering strait’ refers to a sea that is frozen most of the winter, trapping Alaska and Russia in ice, making sea communication possible. This could be a metaphor for the fact the man is speaking but the ‘girl’ isn’t listening.

The man paints vivid pictures of what she must imagine: a typical bachelor state of burned shirts, his house a ‘scrap heap of beer cans’, as if he’s incapable of functioning without her. It’s interesting that he insists he’s not like this, as really we’re left with quite a strong impression that he is. He says he came close to ‘missing’ her when he was trying to put a cover on his duvet. This domestic image shows how much he must have relied on her, and creates a feeling of pity as he tries to grapple with a task he’s never had to do on his own before. The domestic references suggest they lived together or she often helped him and now she’s gone.

L: Write about the structures, and sounds Alliteration, onomatopoeia, Look at the poetry list: effects of sounds - plosives, sibilants and liquids