In Gwen Harwood’s Poem, A Small Victory, Harwood finds creativity in sources, myths and traditions. With her opinions of different life experiences, Hardwood ingeniously turns them into poetry. She uses these ideas to challenge the values, attitudes and beliefs that circulate the culture of which the text was produced. These meanings can be deciphered through analysis of the poems, particularly in her use of the structure, stereotypes, antonyms and intertextuality.
In Harwood’s poem, due to her past with music, the structure is a key piece of her poetry. A major factor of a small Victory is enjambment. Enjambment is used when there is an incomplete syntax at the end of a line that allows the meaning to run over to the next line without terminal punctuation. In the reading of A Small Victory the delayed meaning creates tension that is released when the phrase it completed. The tension arises from the mixed messages produced both by the pause and the suggestion to continue provided by the incomplete meaning. Along with enjambment, Harwood uses Caesura. If all pauses were to occur at the line breaks, this would cause the poem to become duller. Moving the pauses so they occur at the line break creates musical interest, again linking with her background in it. Harwood uses this to cause tension between the two characters Gingerbeard and Krote. “A tall man wades out, grinning, to Krote’s side prepared to make a game out of it,” the emphasis on the word grinning and the pause creates a tension within the reader one that would resemble between the feelings between Krote and Gingerbeard.
Harwood’s poetry has stifled the role of woman; her other poems much like ‘A Small Victory’ have established a feminist reputation. She challenges the role of gender stereotypes during the characterization of Krote. He see him become marginalized by the use of words associated with gender stereotypes such as the masculine persona men should have always fighting to be the better man. Harwood creates a tone of sympathy toward Krote as she uses feminine words to create Krote’s masculine gaze as she further isolates him, “Krote waits, Plump and dignified”. This construction of Krote contrasts that of ‘Ginger Beard’s’. “A cheeky brat calls in piercing treble infected with adult mischief,” this line uses humor to pokes fun at gingerbeard’s childish behavior; this is in an attempt to emasculate him, however later in the poem, Harwood describes him as a stereotypical male. These conflicting ideas allow the reader to challenge the boundaries of gender stereotypes and question why this behavior should be tolerated.
This narrative can be viewed as one of bullying and cruelty; Harwood emasculates both characters in different ways but we are more sympathetic to Krote’s character. Gingerbeard becomes egotistical as he starts to overestimate his abilities and from the use of antonyms we can verbally see the tables turn, “A tall man with a ginger beard wades out, grinning” and how it turns to, “Gingerbeard goes trashing wildly.” This is a representation of men during Harwood’s time, overestimating their ‘power’ over each other. Harwood is again being humorous and making fun of men’s egotistical behavior. Although at the same time she is taking into account that not all men should be viewed with the persona of the character ‘gingerbeard’ by her use of Krote’s character. Although Krote ends up winning the race we see in the end, he is still lonely and does not benefit from it at all. “Krote seeks the dressing shed,” he ends up back where he started, invited by mistake and sitting alone, although he won and proved his masculinity, he still managed to lose because he does not fit the stereotypes