The Kray Sisters – Carol Ann Duffy

Length: 746 words

The poem begins with “there are the twins” in italics, to show it is an outside voice saying it. This shows that they have a reputation and are well known. Duffy also uses cockney rhyming slang throughout, (frog and toad, mince pies, Vera Lynn) which gives it a voice and identity. The amount of rhyming slang used decreases as the poem goes on, which could be a device to show how the twins have changed and gone up in the world. Savile row suits are also mentioned, giving the twins a masculine edge, until their “thr’penny bits” are pointed out, showing that they are not compromising their femininity.

In line 7, “London, London, London Town” emphasises the twins’ love of London, and gives the line a wistful, reminiscing tone, which makes us wonder what happened to them. In the next few lines, the imagery is luxurious and expensive “back of an Austin Princess, black, up West to a club” and gives the impression of a busy and sociable lifestyle. The second verse is a flashback to the twins’ childhood. The first verse finishes with the word “Nice” and the second begins with “Childhood”.

This shows that they enjoyed their unconventional childhood living with their grandmother, “who’d knocked out a Grand National horse, with one punch, in front of the king. ” This echoes the story of a suffragette who threw herself under King George V’s horse in 1913. It then says “She was known round our manor thereafter as Cannonball Vi”. This is the second point where reputation is mentioned, which further emphasises its importance. Also, their grandfather was known as Jimmy “Cannonball” Lee. The sister’s relationship with their grandmother is like the Kray twins’ close relationship with their mother Violet.

Duffy then says “By the time we were six, we were sat at her skirts”. By using the word “skirts” she is further reminding us that these are the female twins, and the line also shows that they looked up to their grandmother. They heard the “stories of Emmeline’s army”, which refers to the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and her fight to get women the vote. This tells us that the imagined sisters were not brought up to be ladylike and gentle, but to believe that they were equal to men, which is a theme running throughout this poem and the whole collection.

Duffy then goes on to describe the suffragettes as “diamond ladies” showing that they were hard and beautiful, and that the twins consider these admirable qualities. The internalised rhyme in the next two lines, “salt of the earth” and “died giving birth” shows us the close knit nature of the East End community. In the poem, the twins’ mother dies giving birth to them. This could be a reference to the absence of the Krays’ father during their childhood. Duffy then refers to the twins’ ambitions as a “vocation”, a word usually reserved for a more caring profession.

This could be to show us that the twins themselves are caring, as the poem implies later on, “there was none of this mugging old ladies or touching young girls” “We wanted respect” gives us the nature of the twins’ ambition, and they want it for traditionally male activities “entered a bar, handled a car”. Duffy goes on to describe how they were “trudging for miles, holding the hand of the past, learning the map of the city under our feet”. They are learning their way around their future territory.

Duffy mentions “Vita and Violet” as “pin-ups” of the twins. Vita and Violet were lovers in London in the early twentieth century whose tempestuous relationship caused a scandal. “We were soft when we should have been hard” shows that they see being soft as a weakness. “two of them getting Engaged; a third sneaking up the road every night to be some plonker’s wife” outlines their derogatory attitude towards men, and things that would generally be seen as respectable, are seen as unacceptable by the twins.

A boyfriend’s for life, not just for Christmas” paraphrases the well known RSPCA slogan “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. This further degrades men by comparing them to animals. The names of their clubs are also disrespectful to men “Ballbreakers, and Prickteasers” “Word got around” is another reference to reputation, and word of mouth success. “any woman in trouble could come to the Krays, for protection” further promotes the image of them as tough but caring for other women.

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