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Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail
Transcript of Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail
He came home afterward to find his wife had dumped the remnants of the TV set: 'When I returned home my wife had deposited/What was left of the television into the dustbin'.
This poem is unusual in that it takes the form of a newspaper report.
The report concerns a woman who is put on trial for smashing her family's television set.
Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail
Aim: To critically examine 'Wife Who Smashed Television Gets Jail'
What grabs your attention in relation to the title?
Do you think T.V. plays an influential role in our family lives?
Is TV a source of conflict in Irish households?
What is the role of women in Irish society?
What common them has been explored in the poetry of Durcan so far?
Does it relate to this poem? Explain.
The poem reports how the woman's husband testified against her, telling the judge how 'She came home, my Lord, and smashed in the television'. He was at home with the children watching a violent detective series called Kojak: 'Me and the kids were peaceably watching Kojak'.
Midway through the episode, his wife returned from the local pub and 'marched' anily into the living room. She seemed enraged by the fact that families spend all their time watching television rather than engaging in conversation. She threatens to smash the television if he doesn't turn it off: she 'declared/That if I didn't turn off the television immediately/She'd put her booth through the screen'.
He refuses to do so and she makes good her threat, using her boots as a hammer to smash the appliance: 'I didn't turn it off, so instead she turned it off...And then she took off her boots and smashed in the television.'
The husband responded by taking their children to his mother's house so they watch the remainder of Kojak.
What aspect of Durcan's style of writing can be pointed out here?
'When I returned home my wife had deposited/What was left of the television into the dustbin'.
She despises how television has taken over modern life. Television sets, she suggests, have infiltrated family life and now the role of the parents and spouses: 'I didn't get married to a television'. Where family members once interacted with one another, now they 'interact' with their television sets, sitting there dumbly and passively as they absorb show after show and advertisement after advertisement.
In her opinion, the family would be better off spending time in the pub together rather than watching television. Pubs are places of human interaction, where people chat and play games like bar billards: 'We'd be much better off all down in the pub talking/ Or playing bar-billiards'.
After this speech according to the husband the wife returns to the pub: 'Whereupon she disappeared off back down again to the pub'.
The report switches from relating the husband's testimony to describing the reaction of the presiding judge, Justice O Bradaigh.
The judge is unimpressed with the wife's behaviour.
What comparisons can you draw here between the poem and the poet's life?
The judge suggests that television sets should be considered members of the families that own them: 'As indeed the television itself could be said to be a basic unit of the family'.
The judge deems that any wife who shows a preference for bringing her family to the pub rather than watching television is a 'threat to the family'.
ANd because the family is the basic unit of society, she might also be said to threaten society as a whole.
He decrees that any wife who displays this preference for the pub in such a violent manner must serve time in prison.
He sentences her to an unspecified period in jail, with no chance of appeal.
Is this a fair outcome?
This poem highlights the negative impact technology can have on family life. The wife laments how increasingly families sit stupified in front of the television rather than spending time interacting with one another. The old traditions of eating together, of sharing news and opinions are all long gone.
TV addiction has permeated society to an extraordinary extent. The husband's reaction to his wife's astonishing attack on the TV set is to simply rush off elsewhere so he and the kids can catch up on the rest of Kojak. The older generation too seems vulnerable to the insidious addiction. We see this when the husband declares: 'My mother has a fondness for Kojak, my Lord'. No wonder then that the wife takes such extreme and aggressive action against the offending apparatus.
Does technology affect family life?
Both the wife and judge take the view that television sets have become almost members of the family.
Without us really noticing it, TV's have begun to provide the companionship once provided by parents, siblings and spouses: 'I didn't get married to a television/ And I don't see why my kids or anybody else's kids/Should have a television for a father or mother.'
The poem, then, presents a conflict between human interaction on one hand and machine interaction on the other.
We see this especially when the wife declares she'd rather have her children in the pub than have them sitting in front of the television set.
Pubs may be slightly disreputable places that are often considered inappropriate for children, but at least there people engage with each other, whether it be through conversation or through playing games like bar billiards.
Themes - Marriage
Durcan's poetry often presents a gritty and realistic view of marriage, yet, surely the relationship presented in this poem is the most dysfunctional of all.
The wife comes to feel so ignored and marginalised that she's provoked into the action described in the poem.
This is surely martial breakdown. Yet, to amke matters worse, the husband presumably reports the wife's actions to the police, testifies against her in court and effectively gets her locked up.
The Strength and Power of Women
Durcan's poetry is full of strong and impressive women. Yet, among these heroines, surely the wife who smashed the television stands out. This is a woman who is not afraid to rebel. She has been ignored in favour of the television for long enough. She has watched TV destroy family life across the country for long enough. She responds with her own small but unforgettable act of rebellion. It's unsurprising then, that she is compared with Queen Maeve, who in Irish legend was the fierce and powerful ruler of Connacht, and equal of any king.
Ireland and irish History
This poem presents Ireland as an oppressive place, especially towards women. Women must function as loyal and obedient wives who look after the household and tend to their husbands needs. Any women who rebel against this role will be regarded as a social menace and dealt with severely by authorities.
Tellingly there is no mention in the report of the wife's testimony. Perhaps the judge felt her husband was the only one worth listening to and was happy to convict based on his evidence alone. Or perhaps she did speak in her defence but the journalist felt her words were not worth relating. Either way her 'silencing' reflects the marginalised status of women in Ireland at the time.
The bias against women is perhaps also suggested when the husband describes how the detective Kojak shoots a woman who just happens to share his wife's name. We are left with the impression that this is a world where women are controlled and oppressed, and where necessary in a violent manner.
The poem's most notable feature s its presentation as a newspaper report. The title for instance is written in the style of a newspaper headline, while the body of the poem mixes quotes and reports. The last six lines skillfully capture the clipped, neutral style of the court reporter.
This poem is rich in the surreal humour that often flavours Durcan's poetry. We see this in the wife's assault on the television and the husbands equally bizarre response to rush around to his mother's house. There are also several quirky details like the husband's mother also being a fan of Kojak and the wife's enjoyment of billiards.
Durcan uses a bizarre scenario to make a serious point, attacking both the destructive influence of television and the oppression of women in the Ireland of the day. The poem may be zany but it is also a powerful piece of satire or social criticism.
A sense of voice
The husband is clearly used to speaking in an informal manner but throws in more formal words for the judges benefit. He also frames his wife's outburst with emotionally charged language, designed to make her actions seem violent and unreasonable and uses words like 'marched', 'smashed', 'declared', 'disappeared'.