‘The Deliverer’ by Tishani Doshi is an emotional poem which incorporates ideas and issues surrounding adoption and the gender of babies, particularly in the Indian state of Kerala. Doshi was born in India in 1975 into a family with a variety of cultures; her mother is Welsh and her father is Gujarati (Gujarat is a region in Western India). She is also a well known as a dancer and journalist, with these skills enabling her work in a range of countries around the world, including the UK.
This poem is part of the set of prescribed poems that could be included in the Edexcel English Literature exam, meaning that it is important to study, understand and revise this poem. This poem was an examined poem in the 2016 AS Level Exam. Click here to see all the prescribed poems from the ‘Poems of the Decade’ collection.
Interpreture gives ‘The Deliverer’ a difficulty rating of 4, meaning that it is deemed to be a relatively difficult poem. The meaning is somewhat challenging to understand, particularly without an appreciation of the context of the poem, and the structure is also difficult due to the variety of breaks and transitions in place and time.
The title comes across in a relatively matter-of-fact way by using “The” as a determiner, lacking a personal tone which could have been achieved “their” or a similar word had been used. While there is a specific profession or role being indicated, it is still relatively vague, with readers likely questioning the context is surrounding this delivery. Once a reader has finished reading the poem, they may re-consider the title, at which point it could become even more confusing. This is because the “deliverer” could be seen as either the woman who gave birth, the adoption agency, or another person altogether. This ongoing ambiguity would be very effective at making a reader feel complicit in events, making this poem highly effective and memorable.
One of the most notable aspects of the structure in ‘The Deliverer’ is the way in which the poem is broken up into different sections through subheadings. The two written subheadings are used to identify different locations, a convent in Kerala and an airport in the United States. The use of these locations is important, particularly the way in which they contrast each other. While airports represent global connections, technology and a mix of cultures, a “convent” would in many cases be seen as the opposite of this, as a traditional location focused on an individual religion. There is also the way in which distance is shown through the selection of “Kerala” and the “USA” to show how this ‘delivery’ has been transported such a long way. In other examples, asterisks are used to visually break up the poem and provide additional emphasis for the transition to the United States, with some readers perhaps likening them to the formatting of receipts or announcement boards, which could be a way of demonstrating this as a dehumanising process.
The initial consistency of end-stopped lines at the end of each stanza helps to make the breakdown of this pattern at the end of the poem much more noticeable for a reader. This can be interpreted as representing the continuing cycles of this dire situation with each birth and each new generation, with no completion or true end available. Each line of the third and second to last stanzas end in a comma, allowing a controlled increase in the speed of reading, which helps to evoke a sense of urgency and may even encourage a reader to take action.
The simplicity in terms of sentence length also helps to increase the likelihood that a reader feels complicit in events, as the sentences are generally short and each line is also short. This could be interpreted in many ways, either as increasing the cyclical feeling of the poem, or demonstrating the tragically short life that many girls have due to the preference for males in this society. In addition, the use of words with only one or two syllables helps to make the poem feel more personal and less planned, with the narrator telling things ‘how they are’ and reliving events they have personally experienced, rather than constructing them out of their imagination.
Verbs are often a key part of a poem, particularly in their way to bring movement and action, however the unusual choices in ‘The Deliverer’ are very effective at creating strong emotions in a reader. This is mainly due to using verbs that are unusual for the given context, for example descriptions such as “toss the baby” and “squeeze out life” which shows an uncaring attitude and would likely make a reader feel uncertain and worried about the situation that these children are being born in. This would be very effective for readers, particularly for those that are mothers or parents and have first hand experience of having children.
The tone of the poem lacks emotion, with use of language such as “is” and “was” to create a relatively formal tone in this context, and one that could also be seen as uncaring. However, this tone is also important at ensuring that there is a lack of judgement in the poem, particularly through the lack of additional description, so as to avoid directly encouraging a reader to take one particularly opinion. This decision helps to ensure that a reader can make their own moral judgement of the situation, which is extremely effective at making the poem even more memorable for the typical reader.
As with the tone in ‘The Deliverer’, the lack of figurative language in general also helps to ensure that the imagery remains simple and realistic. It could be argued that figurative language is not required whatsoever due to the vivid images which would be evoked through the regular descriptions and factual imagery. If there were to be a range of metaphorical language for example, this could take away from the raw emotion that this poem generates and make the very real issue it considers seem more remote and less real to a reader.
“Abandoned at their doorstep.”
The emotive use of “abandoned” would be very striking for a reader, particularly due to the word being physically noticeable due to its length, and the contrast to the existing semantic field of mothers and children up to this point. The use of “their” also helps to insert a gap from everyday life, but when coupled with a regular “doorstep” this makes the situation seem familiar but also distant.
“Sees how she’s passed from woman // To woman”
Some readers may notice the use of sibilance at the beginning of this line with the repeated ‘s’ sounds, which creates a sense of danger and has negative connotations. This would be very effective for a reader because the poem so far has already been negative, so the potential for it to describe even more upsetting situations would be unwelcome. The break of the repetition of “woman” also helps to encourage the view of the child as a commodity, but an unwelcome one, further making a reader feel sympathy.
“Trudge home to lie down for their men again.”
“Trudge” has a range of negative connotations but most importantly it communicates a sense of unwillingness. The reference to “their men” encourages the view that there is a form of trade or commodity in people through the ‘value’ of their gender. By ending the poem on “again” it emphasises the negative tone and alludes to this society being trapped in a repeated cycle of these acts, perhaps encouraging a reader to form an opinion and take action.
‘The Deliverer’ Key Themes
- Gender: ‘The Deliverer’ is built around ideas of gender and the differences in viewpoint of ‘value’ in an individual’s gender. Different tones are used, with negative words associated with men and a mix of tones and language used to describe women.
- Society and Culture: The poem highlights how different societies and cultures can place a ‘value’ on gender and sex in gruesome ways, highlighting to a potentially unaware and unassuming reader that severe suffering can still exist when least expected.
- Transgression: The shocking references to murder of newborn babies transgress societal expectations in the most brutal way, demonstrating how different cultures can have such differing views.
Quick Focus Questions
- How could the relationship between the narrator and the poem be described, and in what ways is effective?
- In what ways does Doshi encourage a reader to form their own moral viewpoint of the events described in the poem?
- Is a reader complicit in the events described in the poem? Use examples and analysis to support your answer.
The way in which a reader is encouraged to form a viewpoint of the situations being described is very interesting way to highlight an issue which is often overlooked in society, both in the places that these sort of events take place, or abroad where there may be potential to help. This contrasts with other poems that feature transgressions, such as ‘Giuseppe’ or ‘The Lammas Hireling’, which instead focus more on a character’s own response to the situation. It could also be interesting to compare the transitions in time and place in this poem with others such as ‘An Easy Passage’ or the way in which both ‘History’ and ‘The Deliverer’ feature unusual structures.