Giuseppe is a narrative poem that looks at the killing of a mermaid in order to feed troops during WW2. There is a lot of violent imagery and looks a lot at how women are treated as inferior by these overpowering men. All men are the same and carry this capability of violence within them.
- Violence by men: the main theme around this poem is masculinity vs femininity. These men are in a war and are war creates monsters hence they go out and kill this ‘mermaid’ to cure their ‘starvation’.
- Grief: The speaker’s ‘Uncle Giuseppe’ knows what was done was wrong; he ‘couldn’t look […his nephew…] in the eye’. And the way in which they all constantly reassured themselves that ‘she was only a fish’ shows that they all felt guilt and knew it was wrong, however they still killed this mermaid. Uncle Giuseppe is grieving his past wrongdoings in the war.
Tone of the poem –
- There is a tone of disappointment and regret throughout the poem. The speaker thanks God that his Uncle ‘couldn’t look […him…] in the eye’ because it shows that his uncle does feel shame for what had happened for which his nephew is thankful for. The way in which the speaker highlights that his uncle was an ‘aquarium keeper’ shows that he is disappointed with the fact that a man of his profession, who’s job is to look after sea life, was capable of such an awful thing.
- We also see regret from the uncles perspective, not only through the way he is unable to look his nephew in the eye, but also through the punctuation choices. (‘She, it’ + ‘she was simple, or so they’d said’) the commas give a sense of the uncle holding back as he tells the story, and giving justifications such as ‘so they’d said’ because of the regret he feels. He is hesitant to open up this side of him to his nephew, he is disappointed with himself.
- There is no regular structure in this poem. Every stanza is of a different line length. This could be a representation of the fact that although every stanza is different (every man is different), all of the stanzas are telling the same story (all of these men are capable of the same things).
- The poem also uses enjambment throughout which could also be a representation of how uncle Giuseppe is reluctant to tell this story through the automatic pauses you take at the end of each line.
- The poet uses the imagery of nature through the reference to the ‘bougainvillea’. This is a thin, delicate flower to symbolise that (like the flower) femininity is also delicate and easily crushed by men. It’s this theme of nature and femininity.
- There is also this use of listing through her being ‘butchered […] by a doctor, a fishmonger, and certain others’. A doctor is meant to be someone that helps, but the fact that he is also participating in this slaughtering shows that all men are the same and will act brutal in war. It is also significant that a fishmonger was also present. These men are trying to convince themselves that she was only a fish therefore the presence of a fishmonger is a reassurance for them that they are not doing anything wrong.
- The poet also uses a simile in the line ‘she screamed like a woman’, this is significant because it is another way in which these men are reassuring themselves that they are not murderers. It is also ridiculing them because even though she is clearly more human than not, they are still pretending. This is sad for a reader to hear. We can almost hear the woman’s scream.
- There is also alliteration used (‘dry and dusty ground’). This harsh ‘d’ sound is a reference to the fact that the mermaid has been taken from her safe, natural habitat and is now being treated in such harsh and violent ways.
Important quotes –
‘priest who held one of her hands’
Even the priest, a man who should believe that killing is the ultimate sin, is approving of this. He is comforting her, whilst also justifying her death (‘said she was only a fish’). If he really believed she was a fish, there would be no need for comforting. There is this idea of inner conflict, we all want to be good but follow the crowd.
‘they put her head and her hands in a box’
These are the parts of your body that are the most human. Your face is how people identify you, and your hands are where your fingerprints and identity is. These men have gotten rid of what is most human of her to get rid of their guilt. They are trying to separate what of her is human from what makes her a fish.
‘someone tried to take her wedding ring’
Fish do not marry, these men know this, they are trying to dehumanise her in order to justify their actions. They have killed someone’s wife, potentially mother?