Simon Armitage's Hitcher: A few questions....
A few questions/thoughts I have used when discussing this provocative poem.
Consider the subversive aspects of the poem. These might be in terms of the register employed by the speaker as much as the ‘event’ of the poem itself.
1) How far are we wrong footed by the apparent application of the title ‘hitcher’ to the speaker/narrator? Should the title really be the 'murderer’ or is this apparent slippage between victim and aggressor a means by which the orchestration of death is charged with tension? Does the killer need to mirror the predicament of his eventual victim? How far does the clinical clipped style of the stanza (end-stopped) generate a rather awkward and even malignant atmosphere? Do we normally hitch to ‘hired’ cars? If the premeditation is explicit then can we reread the ‘sick-note’ rather differently? Think of the way ‘dis-ease’ can be scripted? Is the speaker ‘familiar’ with this scenario? If so why? Is this his first murder then? Examine the tension between the familiar and unfamiliar in the first stanza?
2) There is something obviously ‘targeted’ about his prey? Again suggesting the killer has ‘seen’ i.e. visualised this scenario before or even killed before? Serial killers do have particular identifying practices / ‘modus operandi’? How far is the target made intimate? Does this suggest that murder is one of most intimate acts of all? If so, once again can we see anything sexual here?
3) Do the clichés of hippy-dom and free spiritedness associated with the 'real ' or literal hitcher create pathos? Or a terrible irony? Does the fact the hitcher’s identity is a cliché or a collection of second hand terms make his death still more ironic as it renders him exceptional? Does it also underline the fact that our identity is founded upon second hand terms?
4) ‘I let him have it’ how interesting is this reference to the infamous ‘crime’ of Derek Bentley who was hanged in 1952 and ultimately reprieved in 1997? Do you think the killer researches murder? Again can we see anything sexual in this utterance?
5) Why is an end stop used after the murder? How far is the casual etiquette of ‘leant across to let him out’ a grotesque subversion of intimacy and care? Why do we see again the compelling identification of the killer with the victim? Remember the last he sees of his victim is ‘in the mirror’? Is this elision between identities an extra addition to the already heavy level of disturbance in the poem?
6) Is there any ambiguity in terms of the identity of the ‘you’ in the final stanza of the poem? If so, is this in keeping with the rest of the poem? The Hitcher after all can and cannot walk home? This would end the poem on the same note of ambiguity as we started?