Practical Criticism of “Dear Norman” by Carol Ann Duffy

The title ‘ Dear Norman’ subtly suggested a love poem dedicated to a newspaper boy named Norman. “Dear” implies a certain degree of affection and romance. “Norman” is actually a normal name, which represents the banality of an ordinary newspaper boy, which the narrator lovingly transforms into a diver for pearls. Besides the magical and elevated status of a “diver for pearls” compared to the newspaper boy, there is also a phallic connation to “diver” as “diving’ also suggests the act of the penis plunging into the vagina.

“I can do this”

The narrator boldly asserted. She is highly confident. A similar sentiment resonates in the next line

“In my night there is no moon”

Since “Moon” symbolizes something that is unachievable and unattainable, the absence of the moon in her night shows that nothing is impossible for her. It is by her conscious intention in which she mentioned the stars and moons. It is within her power. It is within her design. “Design” denotes a singular purpose in which the narrator aim to make Norman hers.

Firstly, her imagination projects an image of Norman body with the usage of strong visual imagery, healthy toned “brown” skin and perfect white teeth, showing Norman’s attractiveness and also the narrator’s power in defining the image of Norman.

Secondly, the narrator interpreted Norman’s act of posting the Mirror (the newspaper) to be his action of searching for the perfect shell.

“He is equal with dolphins”

Dolphins are highly intelligent, graceful creatures and the narrator’s comparison of Norman being equal with the dolphins shows her high regard for Norman, whom she believes his action of diving for pearls to be elegant as dolphins.

A third demonstration of the narrator voice of confidence is her decision to name Norman Pablo. The act of naming is very symbolic and reminds us, the readers, of the power her imagination wield over her object of affection. The tone is definite and draws us to the narrator’s superiority, “Because I(she) can”.

The narrator brilliant imagination saw that Pablo expresses his delight and charm, laughing and shaking seaweed from his hair. It is an act of total innocence as Pablo presented the pearl to the narrator, in striking contrast to the raunchiness that follows.

A remarkable feature of the name Pablo is its allusiveness to the erotic love poetry of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Also, the following line is a line from Pablo Neruda’s poetry.

Cuerpo de mujer, blancas Colinas,muslos blancos (English translation: Body of woman, white hills, white thights…)

Other than infusing the exoticness of a Chilean melody, the line leaks of sexual strength. Evocative of fecund powers, it is playfully suggestive.

Like us, the narrator found it difficult to comprehend the obscure poetic language of Pablo at first and then she understood. This is the more innocent of the interpretation. Otherwise, it is that the narrator found the sexual act of copulation difficult and then easy.

The line “As I watch him push his bike off in the rain” is repeated twice. Perhaps this poignant and romantic image of Norman’s silhouette disappearing in the rain keep reverberating in her memory, over and over again…between the space of the last line of third stanza and the first line of the fourth stanza.

As the narrator savours her fantasy, she engages in her childish but romantic act of tracking Norman’s name on the window plane. It expresses her longing as she wishes for Norman to dive for her again.

“Tomorrow I shall deal with the dustman”

Those who expect a bout of melancholia to follow after the departure of Norman might be mistaken, as the narrator enlightens us with this last line that the above process is a cycle. Her imagination is magnificent as she prepares to make another target hers- the dustman, when he comes to her home tomorrow.


About Yuen kei

I am currently at peace now :)
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3 Responses to Practical Criticism of “Dear Norman” by Carol Ann Duffy

  1. Joe Stevenson says:

    Would just like to say that I think that Norman is not the name of the newspaper boy, but is the name of the speakers husband to which the poem and the title is addressed as it shows the speakers boredom with her husband and longing for a younger person to show her affection which becomes the prime object of her desire.

    • Yuen kei says:

      Yes, thinking about it, it is possible as well. After all, the space between the imagination and physicality is always blurred. Especially in her fantasy dreamscape, we can’t tell which from which.

      Thanks for your insight 🙂

  2. anenglishmind says:

    This helped me out a lot, thanks!

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