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Miss Gee by W.H. Auden Analysis


Miss Gee, in the anthology unit for English AS, is a poem about a stereotypical women in the late 1930s that tragically dies of cancer. However, the poem can be seen as a comic which I will highlight why later. Below is a complete analysis of Auden's poem Miss Gee stanza by stanza to help make it easier to read. It is important to understand that Auden is an entirely different poet to Robert Browning with the like of The Patriot and Pied Piper of Hamelin. I don't think you can compare them much but only contrast if you choose to. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.


Structure

The poem uses the old blues standard form which means the poem is to be sung. Therefore, in musical terms, Miss Gee adopts a 4/4 (four crochet beats to a bar) time signature. It is a ballad following quatrain rhyming (ABCB). The rhythm is prosaically three beats. It is in 4/4 because at the end of each link is a rest. Miss Gee is in stress verse. This means that the rhythm has been produced through stresses on certain beats instead of the syllables.


Title - 'Miss Gee'

Straight away, from the time this poem was created in 1938, we learn that he wrote this poem before he went to America in 1939. The 'Miss' suggests she has a lack of relationships in her life which we will later find is true (and is unmarried).

Below the title have the words (Tune: St James's Infirmary). This is an old blues standard poem which pre-dates (is before) Miss Gee. It is a morbid song about death and is about the black and working class tradition. Therefore, the poem 'Miss Gee' is meant to be sung to a song about the black and working class. This provides a comic juxtaposition to the prim and proper of Miss Gee who is middle class. The form is old blues standard for Miss Gee.

Stanza 1
  • 'Let me tell you a little story' is a conventional opening of a blues song (it is the equivalent of 'once upon a time'). This ties in with the comic juxtaposition.
  • She lives on a middle-class terraced street being 'Clevedon Terrace'.
  • With her door number being 'Number 83' suggests she lives down a long road and is an anonymous person.
Stanza 2
  • There is a use of alliteration on 'slight squint' making her sound even more unattractive. This may be one of the reasons why she is unmarried.
  • 'she had no bust' meaning she had no boons and flat chested again portraying her as unattractive.
  • The whole stanza is a description of her appearance where she seems everything but attractive.
Stanza 3
  • This stanza (as well as stanza 4) describes her dress sense and the type of clothes she wore.
  • A 'grey serge' is a heavy course woven fabric. To describe as a 'costume' makes her dress code seem ridiculous and surreal how unattractive she is in general.
  • There is a repeated line from stanza 1, 'She lived in Clevedon Terrace', which is common in blues.
  • The fact that she lives in a 'small bed-sitting room' suggests she is middle class and not rich: she lives in a one flat room.
Stanza 4 
  • Her appearance is getting more unattractive from her dress code, 'purple mac', and, 'green umbrella'. It is clear that purple and green don't go making her dress sense terrible.
  • 'a harsh back-pedal brake' - The bicycle is like her personality. When any excitement comes into her life, she puts the brakes on. When she goes fast with excitement, she breaks. This makes her come across with a boring personality.
Stanza 5
  • It is made clear she is a Christian as she knitted for the 'Church Bazaar'.
Stanza 6
  • A voice is heard for the first time being Miss Gee.
  • She sounds hopeless from the way she 'looked up at the starlight'.
  • With Miss Gee being on 'one hundred pounds a year' makes clear she is on a low salary or has a low inheritance. Many women in this era did not work and just lived of the interest earned from an inheritance left from their family.
Stanza 7
Stanza 7 introduces the concept of Miss Gee dreaming. She dreams she has a purpose to her life. During the 1930s, the public were interested in a psychoanalysis named Sigmund Freud. While in hospital in 1930, Auden read Sigmund Freud's book 'A textbook of psychology in doggerel'. Freud believed that many illnesses and mental illnesses spring from sexual repression. Miss Gee's dream is a dream where she is fulfilling her wishes. One of these wishes is clear that she is in love with the vicar, 'the Vicar of Saint Aloysius / Asked Her Majesty to dance'. Through the use of capitalizing the 'H' and 'M' makes Miss Gee feel she is more important.

Stanza 8
  • Pathetic fallacy is used with 'a storm blew down the palace'.
  • In her dream, she is biking through 'a field or corn' which can be seen to be her fatality.
  • A 'bull' appears in her dream which can represent one of two things (AO3 interpretations). It could represent the cancer that killed her. But, you must have read the poem to understand this. For first time readers, they will associate the dominance and power of the bull to male sexuality. Therefore, it represents the male sexuality that she wants. This makes clear Miss Gee suffers sexual repression from analysing this recognisable Freudian dream.
  • The bull charged at Miss Gee in the dream with a 'lowered horn' representing the use of a phallic.
Stanza 9
  • The bull 'was going to overtake'. Using the representations the bull has, this means the cancer was overtaking her and killing her.
  • The 'bicycle' and ''back-pedal brake' is mentioned again making her go slower and the bull further away in front of her in the dream. This makes clear that her boring personality was a catalyst to the cancer and her death. If she didn't have the back-pedal brake, it would have been harder for the bull (cancer) to overtake her and kill her.
Stanza 10
  • There is a passage of time from the use of mentioning 'Summer' and 'Winter'. This is basically the same as saying 'years go by'.
  • Her sexual repression is made clearer through the use of describing her appearance again, 'With her clothes buttoned up to her neck'. 
Stanza 11
·         Stanza 11 has Miss Gee going to Church 'sat down in the side-aisle / She heard the organ play'.
·         The line of the stanza 'At the ending of the day' created a sense of foreboding: death.
Stanza 12
  • Miss Gee is trying to use religion to help to suppress her desires such as her love for the Vicar 'Lead me not into temptation / But make me a good girl, please'. Therefore, we hear Miss Gee's voice again.
Stanza 13
  • There is another of passage of time, 'The days and nights went by'.
  • A strong visual simile is used, 'Like waves round a Cornish wreck', making the comparison that Miss Gee is like a wrecked ship with the waves crashing in on the years.
  • The sexual repressive line, 'With her clothes buttoned up to her neck', suggests she hasn't changed at all since the last stanza where this line appeared.
Stanza 14
  • Here, she goes to the Doctor and there is now a fear she might have a serious illness.
  • This stanza creates a sense of bathos where we feel pity for Miss Gee but it’s funny at the same time.
Stanza 15
  • The doctor implies that the illness is bad through the way he looks at Miss Gee twice, 'looked her over / And then he looked some more'.
  • The fact he walked over to his 'wash-basin' suggests that he can't do anything to help as he's too late to help. This makes the passages of time even more significant to the poem.
  • A second voice is heard being 'Doctor Thomas'.
  • A sense of bathos is created in this stanza too.
Stanza 16 
  • This stanza is located at the Doctor's home now where he is 'sat over his dinner' talking to his wife.
Stanza 17
  • This stanza describes the nature of cancer.
  • Cancer is personified to a 'hidden assassin' giving the illness a lot of power. This reduces the changes from the reader's perspective that Miss Gee will recover from this illness.
Stanza 18
  • 'It's as if there had to be some outlet / For their foiled creative fire'. The doctor believes that Miss Gee's sexual repression caused her cancer.
Stanza 19
  • It was common in the 1930s to have a servant, 'His wife she rang for the servant'. This makes clear they are wealthy.
  • She asks her husband (Doctor Thomas) to not be so 'morbid'/dark at the dinner table.
  • Bathos is used again alongside colloquial language, 'she's a goner'.
Stanza 20
  • There is a repetition of the strong visual simile of the Cornish wreck, 'She lay there a total wreck'.
  • 'With her bedclothes right up to her neck' is like an epitome of Miss Gee. She could never be the women she wanted to be because she was suppressed.
Stanza 21
  • Stanza 21 features Miss Gee who has passed away. This stanza evolves around an autopsy of her body.
  • This whole stanza emphasises how tragic her life was that she's laughed at as a corpse, 'The students began to laugh'. 
Stanza 22
  • Stanza 22 features the surgeon, Mr Rose, telling the students not to laugh as it's a big cancer, 'We seldom see a sarcoma / As far advanced as this'.
Stanza 23
  • This stanza describes the use of Miss Gee's body as a medical experiment. 
Stanza 24
  • The final ignominy for Miss Gee is to be hung from a ceiling, 'They hung her from the ceiling, / Yes, they hung up Miss Gee'.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

14 comments so far:

  1. thank you, its great help :)

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  2. thank you that was great :)

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  3. I literally love you for posting this- thank you so much!!!

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    Replies
    1. Your very welcome! Any more questions, feel free to ask!

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  4. Thank you so much for this. It's really been a great help, sorry please do you any sample amswers to an AQA exam As narratives question?

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    Replies
    1. I'll try and do one soon after my exams!

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  5. What are the elements of irony and satire in this poem?

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  6. It's ironic in the sense that she is more use to people dead (examining her body) than she was alive. The poem has more irony in it than satire but if you had to pick something out, it would be between possibly the relationship Miss Gee has with the Vicar which, of course, Vicars can't have (although it's never really a relationship but Miss Gee daydreaming sexually about the Vicar).

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  7. Your just amazing thank you!

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  8. >>
    which, of course, Vicars can't have
    <<
    Why not? This is Church of England, not Roman Catholicism. The clergy can marry.

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  9. I would like to know the larger significance of this poem. What is the poet's purpose in writing this poem? Is he trying to highlight a societal issue?

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    1. It could be if you back it with evidence. It could also highlight tragedy which could relate to what Auden experienced during his time as a medic when at war?

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