For example, the myth of Pygmalion is examined in the poem "Pygmalion's Wife," in a manner that makes use of a rich comic sensibility as well as the deconstructionist attempt to revision a myth that undermines the autonomy of the woman. In its many avatars, the Pygmalion myth is the classic example of how the masculine need to construct and mould the feminine is played out in Pygmalion's 'construction' of what, according to him, is the perfect woman.
This 'construction' or domination of the female by patriarchal discourse is deconstructed by Duffy during the course of the poem. This is conveyed primarily through the sense of "play-acting" by the poem's female protagonist. She expresses the idea that she is merely going along with the man's intentions, pretending to allow him to mould her according to his wishes, when she possesses an autonomy that it is beyond his understanding to grasp:
The poem also constructs a sense of contrast between imagery of cold and that of warmth. Pygmalion's 'clammy hands' appear to be cold and lifeless, lacking the warmth and affection on which a mutually beneficial relationship should be based. In contrast, the woman is associated with the warmth of wax, as she says that she "grew warm, like candle wax,/ kissed back,/ was soft, was pliable" (lines 40-42). The wax also has connotations in terms of the fact that she deliberately makes herself "pliable" and allows herself to be "soft" and responsive to a touch that is "clammy" and unwelcome. She "change[s] tack" (line 39) to allow herself to participate in the dynamics of a man-woman relationship. The idea of changing tack, of adopting responses to given situations rather than behaving as one's instincts dictate, suggests a level of falsehood and artificiality. This sense of pretence is reinforced as she describes how she fakes an orgasm:
began to moan,
got hot, got wild,
arched, coiled, writhed,
begged for his child,
and at the climax
screamed my head off -
All an act. (43-49)
The fact that being "hot" and "wild" does not come naturally to her, but is part of a ritualized lovemaking, suggests that the deliberate, reasoned approach to directing her responses is in direct contradiction of the true desires that lie within her. The fact that it is "All an act" indicates that while she is with him, she learns to says the right lines and act on cues, much like a stage actor reciting lines from a script. Everything about the relationship between Pygmalion and his wife goes according to prescribed rules and patterns of behaviour. In this, Duffy presents us with the perspective of the woman who is constructed by Pygmalion. She implies that women often have to live by rules that are not of their own making, in order to carry out successful relationships with men. It is not that they are passive and unable to resist the patriarchal ideology that seeks to define and regulate their behaviour; rather, they assert their autonomy by playing along with prescribed norms within the spaces that they are forced to inhabit.
The idea of what can and cannot be considered "representable" is therefore seen to be a valid concern in Duffy's poem. She also draws attention in the poem to the manner in which a narrative in verse can address the issue of