‘The Choosing’ by Liz Lochhead is a poem which depicts the importance of the choices one makes in early phases of life. In this specific poem the main theme revolves around how wealth, family, different opinions about life and where a girl stood in the 80s influenced one’s choice; hence the title of the poem is ‘The Choosing’. In the poem the author compares her life to her best friend’s life. In their childhood days they were equal in almost anything they did including their appearance, behaviour at school, level in education and even houses because they were expected to be like that.
As life moved on different decisions were made and the two girls had developed totally different characters. As the persona exposes the options that were available to the author it seems that she is purposely trying to ignore them in many different ways. Knowing that the girls did not embrace these characters themselves the persona becomes aware of the importance of one’s ability to make a decision independently. The author reveals her message using a variety of poetic devices including visual imagery, stereotyping, tone, paradox, poem structure, figurative language and also made use of framing.
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This could also have been all a matter of ‘choosing’. In the first stanza the author mainly compares her childhood days to her best friend’s. She used a number of poetic techniques including visual imagery and stereotyping to make a clear comparison. Such use of techniques stimulates the reader’s senses by evoking their own childhood memories because it has been presented in a way the reader can easily relate back to. For example in the line, “we were first equal Mary and I”, this creates a sense of equality, friendship and friendly rivalry.
Further on in the stanza, the composer writes “with same coloured ribbons in mouse-coloured hair and with equal shyness”, it is a stereotype used to enforce the fact that they are equal or same. The author makes use of such imagery and stereotyping to relate it to the main theme and show that girls in the 80s were generally ‘programmed’ and did as convention said rather than choosing their own ways. The use of visual imagery and stereotyping encourage the reader to develop and understanding in their mind about how girls in the 80s were overpowered by the opposing gender.
Stanza two elaborates more on the similarities between the two girls. The author changes the tone of the poem towards the end of the stanza to emphasize a change in life. Verse one of stanza two reassures of their friendship, “best friend too Mary and I”. It reassures of their friendship because by now the persona had begun to doubt their friendship due to the fact that they were rivals. Up to this point in the poem, the tone is peaceful, calm and friendly as it symbolises how the young girls are joyfully progressing and are unaware of the difficulties and challenges which are yet to come.
The tone of the poem changes as the reader approaches verse six and seven, “and my terrible fear of her superiority at sums”. The author changes the tone to a fiercer and more fearful one as it reflects on the theme how the young girls are changing, and supports it with her selection of language. The reader can see a clear change in the young girl’s lives when looking at the fact that primary aged students who are still learning about ‘sums’ are using words such as ‘superiority’. This change gives a clue to the reader on how they are developing, changing and facing new challenges in life.
The third stanza informs the reader how the girls came from families with different beliefs and notions towards life. The author demonstrates this through the use of paradox. A statement which seems contradictory but has a deeper meaning, in the case of this poem it allows the reader to quickly differentiate between the two girls. The author looks back at their childhood memories and remembers where they used to live and described it as, “the same houses, different homes, where the choices were made”.
This line is an example of a paradox and is the most significant and meaningful line of the whole poem as it gives the reader an insight on how the choices were made. They lived in the same ‘houses’, another meaning for house is camera and we can associate that meaning with the fact that on the outside everything seemed to be the same just like looking at a picture. However, different homes meant that they were brought up and influenced by different people with different notions about life.
So linking the two statements, “same houses, different homes”, it is known that the families of the two girls decided their future, “where the decisions were made”. This enables the reader to easily link back to the main theme and know that girls in the 80s usually did not have control over their lives. Moving towards stanza four, the author shows how wealth and different opinions about life influence ones choice. This stanza also highlights the fact that in the 80s decisions were made by the most dominant person in the family, a male or it can be known as modern type of patriarchy.
The author uses a stereotype to emphasise on how her friend’s father was a typical ‘backward’ thinking man. The author was not sure why her friend had to leave, but had a clue that her father moved to a place where it was more affordable to live. We know that by the line, “I don’t know exactly why they moved, but any way they went. Something about a three-apartment —and a cheaper rent”. This line refers back to the main theme as it shows how money influenced the family’s choice.
It also indicates of the idea how females at that time were usually unaware of what is happening in the house as it was the male’s role, the reader knows it by the fact the author’s best friend did not tell her where or why she is leaving maybe because she did know at all. The author described Mary’s father as, “Mary’s father, mufflered, contrasting strangely, with the elegant greyhounds by his side. He didn’t believe in high school education, especially for girls, or in forking out for uniforms”.
The author used a stereotype to create an understanding in the reader’s mind of how Mary’s father was the very ‘harsh’ and ‘tough’ kind of man back in the 80s. She then states that he did not believe in high school education for girls or spending on worthless uniforms which emphasises how different notions about life influenced one’s choice. The fourth stanza leads to the understanding how a modern type of patriarchy was still practised back in the 80s which left the women without a choice of their own.
Up till this point in the poem we know that the girls with similar childhoods had separated due to the family’s decisions’. In stanza five and six the author sees Mary and starts to compare herself again and tries to blissfully ignore the reality. The author makes use of figurative speech such as metaphors and a lot of descriptive language to emphasise on the results of the decisions which were made in the early phases of life. The second line of stanza five, “I am coming from the library-”, suggests that the author’s parents had chosen a scholastic path for her.
Whereas Mary’s parents had chosen a ‘family’ life for her and we know that when the author describes her as, “her arms around the full-shaped vase that is her body”. This is an example of a metaphor, it indicates that Mary is pregnant and therefore has a husband. It is clearly visible as to how the author might have preferred a different path than what she has now but she is blissfully ignoring it, by her choice of words there is a slight indication that the author wanted to live like Mary and have what convention called a ‘family’ but then she blissfully ignores that and says, “not that I envy her really”.
At the beginning of stanza six she reinforces the idea that she is ‘ok’ with her life or more like she has to live with it now anyway because she didn’t have control over her life at the very beginning. Through-out the poem author used free verse and created a frame to convey her theme through to the readers along with the indications within the stanzas. The author used free verse to highlight on the fact that girls in the 80s didn’t have their own planned out life which they knew about, rather someone else was controlling them and everything was unexpected.
We can also see this within stanza four where Mary didn’t know she was going to leave but when time came she vanished without knowing. The author framed the poem so that her main theme stays very clear, looking at the title ‘the choosing’ it is expected that the poem is about someone make important decisions in life. Within the poem that is proved correct to a certain extent but as the reader approaches the last two lines, “and wonder when the choices got made we don’t remember making”, it shows how the poem is about modern patriarchy. Where back in the 80s women were controlled by men and how those choices influenced their lives.