“Shooting Stars” is a poem written by Carol Ann Duffy. It gives us an account of a woman’s terrifying experience during the Holocaust. These people were killed for having a different faith, but also tortured. This poem shows that it was not just the men who fought in war as heroes but also the millions of Jews who were killed. Carol Ann Duffy convincingly shows this through theme, imagery, word choice and structure.
The title “Shooting Stars” has an ambiguous meaning, “Shooting” gives us the setting of the poem, which is indeed the Second World War. “Stars” are like humans, each is different on its own but together they are one and the same, a general classification. Duffy could also be referring to “Shooting Stars” like human life, they don’t last forever, no guarantee how they will last and some lasting longer than others.
This poem has been written in the form of a dramatic monologue as it is written in first person narrative to give us an honest approach to what is a very horrifying ordeal. The narrator appears to be female and the terrifying experience she went through was not unique. This was an everyday occurrence for these woman and children. She is symbolic to all those killed in the war.
Convincingly, Duffy tells us that the woman is dead, “After I no longer speak”; this euphemism helps us to see that she is telling us of her last dying moments, and how she saw many innocent people being killed. We know that she has not long been killed since Rigor Mortis has set in, which is the stiffening of the muscles, and the only way that they could get the jewellery off was by breaking the woman’s finger, which is quite a grotesque thing to do.
In the first verse, there is a lack of punctuation, “Rebecca Rachel Ruth Aaron Emmanuel David” this shows that the number of victims is endless, the people are also grouped together, but by giving the people names, it makes the situation more realistic and shows that it was a real event. The people had “Stars” on their brows which represented the targets that the men saw on the victims’ forehead. The victims were also “beneath the gaze of men with guns”; they were made to feel inferior to the soldiers. The soldiers were very intimidating and this was a typical scene which took place in the concentration camps.
Despite knowing that they were going to die, they kept their composure, trying to be defiant “upright as statues, brave”, wanting to keep their dignity and not give the soldiers satisfaction of seeing them crumble. Inversion is also used to put emphasis on the word “brave” instead of “statues”. This would also unnerve the soldiers who were ready to shoot.
Here the narrative stance changes to include a second person. “You waited for the bullet”, this ‘you’ is in reference to those waiting to die, but also to draw the reader into the situation to show the reality of what was happening.
As people “Fell”, thus being used as a military term, they showed bravery and courage. There is repetition of “Remember”, which is also capitalised, this is the personal plea from the Jewish victim who is telling us of her ordeal, she wants nobody to forget the people involved or what happened, and also reinforces the significance of this event. Unfortunately for the narrator, she was found “one saw I was alive”, which creates a sense of fear, as this was not good for either the soldiers or the woman. The soldiers would feel stupid for not noticing her and she will be terrified at being caught.
In the third stanza, there is more inversion, this time “ragged gape” which could also be seen as ‘gagged rape’. This image is disgusting as it tells us of what the woman’s torture entailed. This could also be ambiguous, “ragged gape” to show the physical appearance of this woman, who was gaunt and starved looking. The victims’ clothes would be too big and in bad condition while they also looked tired and most probably quite ill too. This is significant to the past as this was the harsh reality for millions during the Holocaust.
Even though this woman was still alive, there was nothing she could do to stop the soldiers from torturing or killing innocent young children. As “the soldiers laughed” with others, they didn’t see what they were doing as wrong. Their actions were ruthless, but they seemed detached emotionally to something that was in fact morally wrong. Rape is bad enough in general but “only a matter of days separate this from acts of torture”, showing that this was added to all the anguish that they already have to endure.
In the fourth stanza, we are told more about the disrespect the soldiers show towards the dead victims “young men gossiping and smoking by the graves”; they seem carefree, as if these acts were nothing. They were desensitised, while they carried on joking with the others. These sadistic men also carry on with their cruel torture. Pretending to shoot someone is sick and twisted as they only did this to provoke a reaction, “until I heard the click. Not yet. A trick”, this internal rhyme adds to the dramatic tension shown through the short sentences which is undoubtedly scaring the poor woman.
Duffy uses the repetition of “After” to indicate that the world goes on, that peoples lives do not pause die the one horrific tragedy, the have no choice but to live through this. She also juxtaposes everyday events with this to reinforce it, “after the immense suffering someone takes tea on the lawn”; the formal nature of “tea on the lawn” is calm compared to the ugliness that is war.
The final stanza in this poem goes back to the narrator reminiscing her past life and last moments. She asks the question “Sister, if seas part us, do you not consider me?” this appears to be a plea, to not be forgotten even though the barrier, which is life, separates them. Although she is dead her memory will still strive. There is reference to “psalms” which shows that even thought the inevitable was going to happen – their death – they still kept faith and hope, which probably kept them feeling brave and defiant, they still had something to believe in. It was psalm number twenty-five which was given reference to, “Turn thee unto me with mercy, for I am desolate and lost.” I also think that this means that the narrator’s spirit and souls is lost with all the others who were killed in the Holocaust, and that she is saddened because this tragedy should never have happened.
Carol Ann Duffy tells us the significance of the Second World War through many techniques including theme, imagery and the narrative stance. She shows the frightening reality of the Holocaust by giving an account of a woman’s last dying moments and how life went on as normal for millions of people world-wide. I found the treatment very convincing since the war was not glorified in any way, it was told as the harsh and disgusting thing that war is. Not one I would wish on anybody.