Episode 3:  Poetry Appreciation of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Little Red Cap”

Episode 3:  Poetry Appreciation of Carol Ann Duffy’s “Little Red Cap”

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Mr. David Liang
English Language Specialist
University of London

With an academic background in English Language and Culture, David is familiar with both linguistics and literature. Later he pursued a Master’s degree in English Literature at the University of London. Not only did David acquire a deep understanding and appreciation for 19th and 20th century literature but he also specialised in Orientalism and World Literature. David brings his skills to the classroom to help his students study with enthusiasm. While laying down techniques for students to form robust, unique, and well-supported perspectives, he also guides students to develop their own ideas when reading literature. David is an ideal teacher for IB English A Literature, IB English A Language and Literature.


Carol Ann Duffy started writing poems, plays and songs at the age of 11. Duffy’s mischievous yet playful writing style in which she uses simple words, has allowed her to become a distinctive voice in the British literary community. Her achievements include major poetry prizes in the United Kingdom and selling over one million copies of her books worldwide. Moreover, Duffy was appointed the UK Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2019.

Her critically acclaimed anthology The World’s Wife, consisting of 30 poems, is an adaptation on the male-centric narratives surrounding characters, settings, and tone from iconic mythological stories and fairy tales. What makes her poetry outstanding is her renowned feminist depiction which offers a remarkable new perspective towards the classic stories. Duffy is commonly studied by IBDP students due to her poems’ provocative social, historical, and cultural contrast against the old literatures that they drew inspiration from. With the resumption of IBDP English A Paper 2, students will be required to gain a deeper understanding of the poems, allowing them to write a high scoring comparative essay during the exam. 

This session will introduce the first poem in The World’s Wife, “Little Red Cap”. The poem does not follow a traditional form such as a sonnet or a villanelle. Instead, it is written in free verse, which became a poetic norm during the late 20th century. Moreover, the poem consists of seven stanzas, each with six lines, with most of them forming an enjambment. Since the form is free verse, there’s a lack of meter, again typical for late 20th century poetry. With the lack of meter, Duffy intends to follow no rhyme scheme, but she uses a good amount of internal rhyme and assonance.

Let’s start with the overview of the multiple themes and interpretations of the poem. On the one hand, we can say that this poem is a coming-of-age story as well as an exploration of adulthood and pleasure, which is the conventional way of looking at “Little Red Cap.” For instance, the narrator indicates her transition from childhood to adulthood by starting the poem with “at childhood’s end”. She depicts childhood as a place she leaves behind, creating a new journey into the “woods”. The narrator’s growth into a woman can be seen in her interest in the “wolf” and her exploration of desire. The wolf can be regarded as an older and more mature man she’s attracted to as she states, “I made quite sure he spotted me” while moving towards him. The protagonist wants to be noticed to explore her first encounter with a man and the following adolescent events. This interpretation of coming of age and exploration of adulthood ends with the protagonist deciding to assert agency as a woman and take control of the relationship by “one chop, scrotum to the throat”. The quote illustrates how she is “destroying” the husband’s manhood and agency in the relationship, overpowering his status.

The second interpretation is the notion of defying fate. You may be aware that the protagonist of “The Little Red Riding Hood” must follow a specific path before meeting her grandmother. At the poem’s beginning, the narrator mentions “at childhood’s end”, revealing her curiosity about adulthood. The narrator’s first encounter with the wolf sets her on a predetermined course where she learns about maturity and the loss of agency while being taken advantage of by a man, “the wolf”, when she is still easily influenced at the age of sixteen.

She misinterprets her assertiveness and loss of agency as pure curiosity and simple interest in the man, which leads her to make the mistake of giving up control and accepting her fate. The wolf buys the speaker her first drink while the narrator appreciates his physical attributes, including his “big ears”, “eyes”, and “teeth”. She explains how it is “poetry” where she reads too much into the wolf’s actions as you would when looking at poems. The speaker is romanticizing her first encounter with a man and is swayed by her emotions where she follows him to his “lair” and indulges in adulthood, only to discover that she is captured there for the next ten years.

Consequently, fate has carved a path for her in which she becomes a wife used as a tool for the man’s satisfaction, experiencing “same rhyme” and “same reason”. There is no change in her routine as she is exposed to mundanity each day until her interpretation of the relationship makes her realize her loss of agency. Towards the end, the protagonist defies her fate of being stuck there and reclaims her autonomy by ripping open the wolf from “scrotum to throat”, returning to being “all alone” again.

That’s it for this session and the first poem of The World’s Wife. If you would like to have a deeper analysis and understanding of the poem, make sure to book classes with one of our teachers at NTK.

Thank you for listening!

Content creation: Mr. David Liang

Audio Narration: Arthur

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