Miss Gee: by W. H. Auden || Summary and Analysis

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Introduction:

      Auden's Poem Miss Gee was first published in New Writing, Spring 1937, and was later included in the Collected Shorter Poems, 1950. It is a humorous poem written in the traditional ballad form. The central idea of the poem is that, repression of the sexual instinct leads to severe physical disorder or aliment, a fact which would not be dismissed altogether by medical opinion.

      The central character of the balad is an over qualified lady who is concerned about showing her modesty externally. She keeps her dress buttoned up to her neck. She has romantic dreams and guilty desires - but she always turns away her face from the loving couples.

      The poem is written in traditional ballad form. i,e with alternative rhymes. The language used in the poem is simple and easy. There is repetition in the poem which is the traditional ballad device.

Auden in his poem In Memory of W.B. Yeats has delineated the character of Miss Gee with the touch of humour and pathos. It is really pitiable to see her as the poet has portrayed her - with sloping shoulder poor bust, low income, cycle with back-pedal brake etc. The total impact of the poem is marvellously comic. She dreamt that a bull with the face of the vicar of the church of Saint Aloysius charged on her in a corn of field. The stanza describing the incident is hilarious:
Miss Gee

Summary

      In the first Stanza the poet tells about Miss Edith Gee who lived in Clevedon Terrace at Number 83.

      The poet describes her in the second stanza as a lady with a slight squint in her left eye, small and thin lips, narrow shoulders and no breast at all.

      In the third stanza the lady is described wearing a velvet hat and clothes made of dark, grey surge. She used to live in a "small bed-sitting room".

      In the next stanza it is said that she had a green umbrella, a rain-coat, a bicycle with a shopping basket and fitted with a harsh back-pedal brake.

      In the fifth stanza the poet says that she visited the Church of Saint Aloysius and did many things for the Church. She did a lot of knitting to help the poor people.

      In the next stanza it is said that she was not happy in her life as no one cared for her. She was so poor that she had to live on one hundred pounds a year.

      Next she saw a dream that she was the Queen of France and that the vicar of the Church asked her to dance with him.

      In the next stanza it is said one day she was moving through a corn field followed by a bull with lowered horn. The face of the bull resembled the face of the vicar. (The bull is a sexual symbol here).

      The poet says in the next stanza that she felt the bull was quite close on her and was going to overpower her. She wanted to be caught and to be over powered by the bull, and slowed down. Next day when Miss Gee went to the Church as usual she was conscious of her sule-conscious mind, i,e the turmoil which was going on in her and to suppress that she buttoned her clothes up to the neck.

      In the next stanza it is said that while going to the Church she passed by couples busy making love. She immediately turned her head away, as she thought that they were committing a sin. Nor did the loving couples asked her to stay.

      In the next stanza it is said that the lady sat down inside the Church and listened to the organ. The choir also sang sweetly. All these things prompted her sexual desires. Next she knelt down and prayed to God not be lead to temptation and be made a good girl.

      In the next stanza it is said that time passed on quickly like the quick movement of waves near the Carnish ruins. She became a diseased woman. Next the poet says she went on bicycle to consult the doctor about the pain inside her body.

      In the next stanza the poet says that she goes to Doctor Thomas. He checked her up thoroughly and asked her why she did not come to him earlier.

      In the next stanza it is said that the doctor says to his wife about the disease cancer. He says that cancer is such a disease the cause of which can not be known.

      The following stanza depicts that the doctor discusses with his wife regarding the disease and calls it a hidden murderer in human bodies.

      In the next stanza the doctor continues that childless women gets it. Men get it when they are retired. If the feelings of individuals do not get the natural outlet, they might become patients of cancer. The doctor's wife did not show much interest in this talk and advised him not to be morbid.

      In the next stanza it is said that Miss Gee was taken to the hospital where she was put in the female ward. She was lying there with her bed clothes up to her neck.

      The poet in the next stanza says that she was put on the operation table and was cut into two. The students began to laugh. Mr. Rose the Surgeon cut Miss Gee in half.

      In the next stanza Mr. Rose turned to his students and asked them to notice the sarcoma in her in advanced stage. Then Miss Gee was taken to another department where the doctors and students studied her anatomy.

      In the last stanza it is depicted that she was hung from the ceiling and a couple of oxford groupers dissected her knee to study.

Critical Appreciation

      Auden in his poem In Memory of W.B. Yeats has delineated the character of Miss Gee with the touch of humour and pathos. It is really pitiable to see her as the poet has portrayed her - with sloping shoulder poor bust, low income, cycle with back-pedal brake etc. The total impact of the poem is marvellously comic. She dreamt that a bull with the face of the vicar of the church of Saint Aloysius charged on her in a corn of field. The stanza describing the incident is hilarious:

But a storm blew down the palace.
She was biking through a 'field of corn,
And a bull with the face of the vicar
Was charging with lowered horn.

      Modern psychology interprets the dream of Miss Gee as a manifestation of her desire to be pursued and assaulted. The contrast between her dress, manners and her guilty desires becomes the subject of Auden's mild Satire. Miss Gee throughout the whole poem has been depicted in a very humorous way but the tone at the end the poem becomes grim. We are led to sympathise with her or take pity on her for her suffering. Thus, the poem is a combination of comic and serious elements. The episode of Dr. Thomas examining Miss Gee and discussing his diagnosis of the cancer with his wife lends a serious touch to the poem and prepares us for the grim, tragic end of Miss Gee. The influence of Freud is clear in the poem. Since Miss Gee does not have a normal healthy personality, her abnormal self satisfies its physical desires in the dream.

      To quote Davison: "Miss Gee is the story of a poor, plain and puritanical maiden lady whose repression of sexual impulse leads to her developing cancer. Auden's belief that physical illness could be caused by sexual repression is openly voiced by the doctor. When read deliberately, the trite language and the slapstick humour are simply very funny. She dreams, for instance, that as she is speeding along on her cycle, a bull, with the face of her vicar, charges at her with lowered horn;

She could feel his hot breath behind her.
He was going to overtake;
And the bicycle went slower and slower.
Because of that back-pedal brake.

      Hilarious stanzas like this one, and the macabre comedy of the dissection of Miss Gee's corpse, set us an aesthetic problem because we are invited by the humour to participate in the mockery, to laugh at the gentle poverty of one hundred pound, a year, at her squinting left eye and lack of bust, at her Church Bazaar knitting and her shocked avoidance of loving couples. We laugh at the repressed old maid and then, as the anecdote proceeds gaily to its grim conclusion, we are made to feel not merely sorry but ashamed. The cruelty we find in the poem is our own cruelty, and Auden's expression of it is therapeutic, not sadistic. This is not the only way in which an artist may present human suffering, but it is an honest way, for it recognises the element of cruelty in our social behaviour. Miss Gee is afraid of normal love, but normal lovers also are too selfish to care. Besides, the dissection of her knee is a symbolic representation of the false values of the modern age.

Conclusion:

      Miss Gee, in this poem has been censured for cruelty and callousness. The influence of Freud is clear in the poem. Since Miss Gee does not have a normal healthy personality, her abnormal self satisfies its physical desires in the dream. John Fuller aptly says, Miss Gee represses her sexuality into guilty dreams about the Vicar, and thus develops an incurable tumour. The balled is not intended to be a psychologically subtle or sympathetic character study, but a direct piece of polemic, rather Brechtain in tone. Our natural desires may defeat us if we deny them. The point about the Oxford Groupers dissecting her knee is that such a pious and sanctimonious movement as Moral Rearmament has a totally irrelevant notion of where the cause of moral distress and unhappiness lies.

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