A Minor Role – UA Fanthorpe

A Minor Role is about a woman who treats her life as a ‘stage’ and her illness as a ‘role’. She avoids acceptance of the truth. It is at the end of the poem where these acts are finally left behind and the speaker leaves us with a feeling of optimism and fight for her future.

Themes –

  • Social expectations: The speaker is seen to be ‘walking fast in case anyone stops’ – she wants to avoid the attention and sympathy of other people. She knows that it is ‘well-meant intrusiveness’ however she would rather avoid repeating her ‘getting on, getting better […] formula’. There is an expectation for her to appear strong and brave to other people hence she responds to questions about her health with a generic, clinical response… not the truth.
  • Isolation: The speaker isolates herself from everyone else and the outside world, first through the way she tries to avoid other people, and then again through her set routine. ‘Bed solves a lot’ and she goes through ‘torpor’ – the state of hibernation as a survival mechanism to survive tough periods. Hibernation suggests that she is cut of from the rest of the world and has trapped herself in her own space.
  • Performance: This is kind of a combination of the two themes explored above. The speaker is ‘best observed on stage’ and treats her life as two roles. One being the role of the actress and the other being the role of the patient, she feels the need to put on this façade and treats her emotions as ‘genres’. This is both social expectations due to her feeling the need to appear well and healthy, and also isolation because she feels that she is a ‘star’ to herself but just a ‘minor role’ to others. A minor role is a big deal to an upcoming actress but not to everyone else, like her illness is the biggest thing in her life but just mundane to everyone else.


Tone of the poem –

  • There is a distant tone throughout the poem, as the speaker has no separation from what is reality and what is acting. The fact that she treats her life as a performance shows that she is far from accepting the reality. Maybe it is a coping mechanism. However, it is at the end of the poem that we see a hopeful tone. This woman, although she may not be living in reality, is ‘here to make you believe in life’ – she is fighting for her life and hopes to inspire other people that are giving up on their role of an ill person to keep playing that role too, because one day that ‘minor role’ may become the ‘star part’.


Structure –

  • There are 6 stanzas and 1 line at the end of the poem. Each stanza highlights a different part of the speaker’s routine and roles she plays in life.
  • The poet has put some lines in italics, which could be a representation of the script the speaker is reciting. Those italics are the dialogue of her character.
  • The end of the poem may only be one line because that is when we see that she has finally dropped all her roles, now she is just herself, one person = one line.
  • There is also a use of enjambment throughout the poem. This fluidity and free flowing structure between the lines could be a representation of how her real life merges into her roles. There is no distinction between the two.


Techniques –

  • The poet uses listing throughout when describing the speaker’s everyday routine. It is almost a cycle of one thing after another. She switches from one task to the next, trying to distract herself from reality. It is almost overwhelming and suffocating to read the endless list of things she does, which could be a symbol of her the speaker feels smothered and overwhelmed by her illness.
  • There is an extended metaphor of acting through the poem and that life is a stage.
  • There is a 1st person narrative in the poem which emphasises the fact that it is a personal account of a patient and therefore sparks sympathy from the readers.


Important quotes –

‘yearnings for a simpler illness, like a broken leg’

She wishes that it were something that would get better quickly. A ‘broken leg’ is short term pain and suffering, which you can recover from in a few weeks, however hers is a life long illness where she is ‘being referred’ from doctor to doctor.


‘I jettison the spear’

This is the moment where we feel like she is giving up her battle. Allowing her illness to win. A ‘spear’ is a soldier’s weapon that she is now abandoning. It could also be said that this is the point in which she abandons her roles, she is finally leaving behind the roles that she once used as weapons to protect herself with from reality.


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