ISC Reverie The Dolphins : theme of oppression,control and confinement


The Dolphins

Question: Discuss the main themes of  ‘The Dolphins.    
Question : Discuss ‘The Dolphins’ as a poem that reflects the theme of oppression, control and confinement of animals by man. 

Answer  : Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The Dolphins’ is a dramatic monologue,based on mainly the theme of oppression, control and  confinement of animals by man through the treatment given to the dolphins.

Animals are exploited and abused in many ways all over the world. They are raised for food and clothing, they are used for entertainment purposes and also used as a sample for scientific experiments,even they are killed for recreation activities like hunting etc.

  • Dolphins Confinement /Lack of Freedom

The speaker of Duffy’s poem is a dolphin, who is trapped in an artificial pool, speaks monotonously about its pain,sorrow and crave for freedom. The dolphin gives voice to all those animals, who are captured by man for his profit.  A dolphin who is known to be a friend of human being, is trapped and confined at a small pool, far away from its natural habitat i.e., ocean. It is used to live in a vast area joyfully but in that pool its movements are restricted within the limits of the pool. It is forced to live in that artificial environment which is a torture for that creature. The dolphin says – 

World is what you swim in, or dance, it is simple.
we are in our element but are not free.
The word swim and dance shows its joy and freedom in its natural habitat i.e. in sea. But in the next line, reality strikes hard. The dolphins are in water, where they can breathe and survive but ‘ they are not free’.  They live a carefree life in the ocean but now they are restricted to a limited space in a pool where they can not swim or dance freely. 
They say –
We were blessed and now we are not blessed. “
As they used to live in  vast ocean, they could freely swim ,move and dance, they were the masters of their own will. They were blessed. But now the narrow pool does not give them freedom  and enjoyment. Their movements are also constantly regulated by a man in authority. Now they are not blessed.

And now  we are no longer blessed, for the world will not deepen to dream in.”
   All they wanted was just freedom which they do not have now so they are no longer blessed. Now in this new world which is a shallow pool, it is not deep enough to let them dream of  freedom. They say – 
We see our silver skin flash by like memory of                        somewhere else.”
There were times when they were free in the vast expanse of the ocean and the rays of the Sun used to fall on their bodies making their skin appear silvery. But all these things are a memory of distant past. The reality which was so close to them once has now become “somewhere else. ” This shows dolphins keep thinking about the times when they could freely swim and dance freely.
There is a man and our mind knows we will die                       here.”
The dolphins, trapped captured and controlled by man has lost all hopes of freedom and being confined within the barricades of a man -made environment have realised that their end is nearing. They are silently waiting for their death.

  • Dolphins Oppression

The poem is also based on the theme of the dolphins oppression which shows the joylessness and doldrums of dolphins caused by lack of freedom.
They say- 
“We circle well – worn grooves of water on a single                    note.”
       By indicating the monotony of their existence they say that they have to encircle around the grooves of water on a single note of blowing whistle. This monotony of existence is further compounded by the  dolphins as it tells that when it hears the mournful voice of its companion due to the loss of freedom it’s own heart turns into stone.
“Music of loss forever from the other’s heart which                   turns my own to stone.”

    The dolphin in the poem appears to be a voice for  its  species as well as all those animals which meet the similar fate as the dolphins. The collective voice in ‘we’ shows the relationship the dolphins share with each other. It reflects the pain they have to endure when they are forced to leave their original habitat as well as their companions. They have a strong desire for their older days where they could enjoy life in the company of other of their own kind.

  • Human greed and dolphins’ commercial use

  ‘The Dolphins’ by Duffy shows the poet’s sympathy for animals. The dolphins are confined in an artificial pool, their movements are restricted, they no longer feel blessed as there is a man constantly controlling them. Man for his own monetary purpose forces the dolphins to perform tricks with hoops and each day they are forced to balance themselves on a coloured ball.

      The reference of ‘hoops’,’coloured ball’ and ‘a plastic toy’ is a reflection of  this commercialisation. For human entertainment, animals are forced to perform tricks, they are separated from their families, caged, abused and sometimes whipped and beaten in the training process. They have to follow the man’s order, and in order to survive, they have to obey him, because ” there is a man”, and they will die there.

  • Control over Dolphins and Cruelty by Man
The dolphins are aware of the limits on them by man and its consequences

“Our mind knows we will die here.”
It shows that there is much pressure on these creatures not only physical but emotional and psychological also. Strangling and choking of natural behaviour and impulses can have fatal consequences. For example many tricks which are captive dolphins are trained to perform, such as jumping through the hoops or balancing the balls are “unnatural”. Apart from that the method  used to manipulate  dolphins to  perform the tricks involves with rewards and punishments. The dolphins which act accordingly are rewarded with food while who fail are isolated and ignored.  For highly social animals Ike  dolphins this punishment is a psychological curse.
       Similarly, dairy cows are separated from their newborn calves so that their milk  is accessible to humans, chickens are debeaked or animals such as elephants are trained to perform in circus.
     Thus the poem has given  voice  to the oppression , control and confinement of dolphins. It is a serious reminder to  the human beings that the animals too are a part of nature like us and they also deserve respect and right  to live in this world, free from harassment and harm.


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