Madeleine’s Deconstructive Analysis of “Under My Thumb”

under-my-thumb-kirsten-reifeiss

The famous Rolling Stones song articulates the point that the singer, Mick Jagger, holds a new position of power over a girl, presumably his girlfriend. The basic binary opposition here is dominance and submission, the term “under someone’s thumb” literally meaning to be submissive to someone. The lyrics suggest the preferred binary here to be dominance from the fact that the singer smugly suggests all the ways in which he controls his girlfriend, calling her “the sweetest pet in the world.” He states that she “talks when she is spoken to” suggesting that she is polite and docile to whatever he says, that she “does just what she’s told” again suggesting that she is compliant to any of the singers commands, and that “her eyes are just kept to herself” but that the singer can “still look at someone else” meaning that while the singer ogles other women, the girlfriend sits idly by and neither confronts the singer about this behavior nor tries it herself. Overall, the songs over-arching idea is that of empowerment through a person’s gained dominance over a partner who “once had [them] down” (was once dominant themselves).

While the song is typically understood like the above analysis, the text can be read in more ways than just this one. On a basic level, those that view life through a different ideological mindset than that of male rockstars, such as feminists, may look at this song and not see a person’s newfound pride in the gained dominance over a previously dominant person but a more negative message of a man’s suppressive actions towards an outspoken and assertive woman. The way that the singer refers to his girlfriend as a “pet”, “cat” and “squirmin’ dog” can be seen as very debasing terms when referring to a human being. This shows the singer to be less of a powerful, dominant figure and more of an oppressive jerk.

More towards the actual deconstruction of the text, we may allot different meanings to sentences and words that are commonly accepted to mean only one thing in this song. The lyric, “The girl who once had me down,” might mean a girl who once completely understood the singer instead of a girl who was once very controlling of the singer. This replaces the binary opposition of dominance and suppression with understanding and misunderstanding. The lyric, “The way she talks when she’s spoken to,” may put the focus on how it is she talks (i.e., grammatical structures, accent, etc.) when someone speaks to her, rather than the fact that she responds when someone speaks to her. Again, this does not suggest dominance, but the singer fawning over the girl’s habits. Even when Jagger describes her as “the sweetest pet in the world,” this could be an affectionate form of address meaning that she’s dear to his heart rather than she’s domesticated like an animal. The Stones are British after all! These examples show that it is possible to read the song as a singer’s declaration of love for his girlfriend which undermines the original reading of the lyrics. This supports the general idea of deconstructionism that language is slippery and unreliable, and what might seem obvious to us as what is signified is actually an ongoing chain of signifiers that are based on our inherent ideologies. Therefore, we can never establish a True meaning as the meanings are infinite.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYYTLJ8YHi4[/youtube]

“Under My Thumb”

Under my thumb
The girl who once had me down
Under my thumb
The girl who once pushed me around

It’s down to me
The difference in the clothes she wears
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb

Under my thumb
The squirmin’ dog who’s just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways

It’s down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she’s told
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
Ah, ah, say it’s alright

Under my thumb
A Siamese cat of a girl
Under my thumb
She’s the sweetest, hmm, pet in the world

It’s down to me
The way she talks when she’s spoken to
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
Ah, take it easy, babe, yeah

It’s down to me, oh, yeah
The way she talks when she’s spoken to
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb
Yeah, it feels alright

Under my thumb
Her eyes are just kept to herself
Under my thumb, well I
I can still look at someone else

It’s down to me, oh that’s what I said
The way she talks when she’s spoken to
Down to me, the change has come
She’s under my thumb

Say, it’s alright
Take it easy, babe
Take it easy, babe
Feels alright
Take it, take it easy, babe

4 thoughts on “Madeleine’s Deconstructive Analysis of “Under My Thumb”

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  4. I like this post because it highlights what I see as the main problem with deconstructive criticism, that it is too free. Pretty much anyone can take anything and using deconstruction, they can come up with whatever meaning they want to find in the work and find some way to support it. So it seems to me that deconstruction is more of a way to make a work have a certain meaning then to find a meaning in the work.

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