The poem ‘The Death of Marilyn Monroe’ by Edwin Morgan is, I feel, concerned with a sense of loss and deep sadness which he portrays through various techniques, such as word choice, imagery, sentence structure and the themes of the poem. Throughout the poem, Morgan deals with the issues surrounding the death of Marilyn Monroe, and who he feels is responsible for her death although it appears that she has committed suicide by overdosing on drugs. One way in which the poem immediately identifies the poet’s sense of loss is his unusual sentence structure. In the first line, the poet uses a series of short questions to highlight his sense of loss which leads him to question who is responsible and who is innocent in the course of Marilyn’s death, ‘What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?’
This also shows the reaction of the public and the media to the death of Marilyn Monroe and the circumstances in which the body was found. She was apparently naked. Another example of this unusual sentence is when Morgan uses a series of one-word exclamations, ‘Di Maggio! Los Angeles! Miller! Los Angeles! America!’ These sentences allude to people who were a part of her life, her ex-husbands, and the poet thinks they could be responsible for Marilyn Monroe’s death. He uses the exclamation marks to express his anger at the loss of Marilyn Munroe and it is almost as if he is accusing these people of blame for her death. The poet repeats this technique, ‘Los Angeles! Olivier! Los Angeles! ‘ through this repetition he reinforces this blame he is placing on Hollywood and the people who she has worked with and been married to because they have deserted her at the end when she needed them most.
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He also repeats the structure “That Death…” “That all…”; That the many acquaintances”; “That lonely Uncertainty…” This builds up to the climax of the point he is making that her death was lonely and unnecessary, making us share his sadness that it happened. I feel the most effective piece of sentence structure is at the very end when Morgan blatantly directs the blame at Hollywood for the death of Marilyn Monroe. He does this by directing a series of questions to the Hollywood industry, ‘Los Angeles? Los Angeles? Will it follow you around? Will the slow white hearse of the child of America follow you around?’ This also portrays and combines the two themes of innocence and responsibility with the words ‘child’ and ‘ America’. This shows Morgan feels Marilyn Monroe is the innocent party in her death and it is really the industry to blame. The words ‘white hearse’ portrays a very childlike innocence as it is normally children who have white coffins. This emphasizes her vulnerability.
Moreover, imagery is another technique used by the poet to highlight Monroe’s vulnerability and child-like quality which emphasizes his sense of loss. He uses the metaphor, ‘Crumpled orphan’. This is effective as orphans are usually thought of as children and this again highlights her innocence and therefore his sense of loss at such a vulnerable person being hurt. The word ‘Crumpled’ in the metaphor also shows this as it has connotations of vulnerable and scrunched or screwed up which has connotations of mental instability and shows, he feels, she did not really know what she was doing when she took her life. This metaphor links directly back to and reinforces the innocence and the idea of Monroe as a child in the sentence’ …child of America. ..’ Morgan also uses personification effectively in the poem, ‘That lonely Uncertainty should limp up, grinning, with bewildering barbiturates’.
This personifies her uncertainty about what to do with her life. The uncertainty is portrayed as a sleazy voyeur, preying on her pain and naivety while luring her to her death. The hard alliterative sound of the “b” and the placing of “bewildering barbiturates at the beginning of the line emphasizes her bewilderment and Morgan’s pity for her. Another piece of imagery used well in the poem is a paradox. When he says, ‘That death should seem the only protector’, he actually means and knows that for Marilyn death almost seemed like a welcomed release. This portrays both innocence and responsibility. ‘protector’ shows that she was not very strong, was scared and needed protection and this also shows that the industry she was scared of was responsible. In addition to this Edwin Morgan uses word choice very effectively to highlight his sense of loss and anger almost. The lines, ‘That the many acquaintances, the autograph hunters, the inflexible directors, the drive-in admirers. ..’ has many good examples of word choice in it.
The word ‘acquaintances’ shows the loneliness felt by Monroe. It shows that she had no friends but merely people she had come across or knew of. I feel’ …the drive-in admirers’ shows this best as you get the feeling that all her fans or would-be friends are just watching from afar as if they are in a movie drive-in and this also gives the effect of a barrier between herself and everyone else, in the form of the windscreens of the cars. Two other pieces of word choice which are very effective are ‘inquisition’ and ‘torment’ when it says ‘ …the great camera lights become an inquisition and a torment’. This shows us that all the journalism and questions have become unbearable for Marilyn and that she can not take it anymore. The poet holds the whole industry responsible for Marilyn Monroe’s death as he feels; they have driven her to it. At one point in the poem, he does admit that Monroe herself would not blame others, quoting some words she had said to a friend shortly before she died, “.
All I had was my life. I have no regrets because if I made any mistakes, I was responsible.” She had made her own choices and knew she had to live with that. She lived in the present “What happened is behind. So it follows you around? So what?” However, Morgan does not accept her analysis. He feels her death too strongly and is quite clear who he considers being to blame. The fact that he repeats “Los Angeles” seven times in the course of the poem suggests that as far as he is concerned, although Monroe might have made her own decisions it was the pressures of Hollywood that drove her to them. In conclusion, therefore, ‘The Death of Marilyn Monroe’ is a poem in which Edwin Morgan effectively portrays his sense of loss at her death using the techniques of sentence structure, imagery, word choice and theme.