Madeleine’s Deconstructive Analysis of “Under My Thumb”


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.


“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

Julia’s Deconstructive Analysis of The Road Not Taken

Tyson’s line about the way in which deconstructionist view language was one of the many things that stuck out to me while reading this chapter; “language is not the reliable tool of communication we believe it to be, but rather a fluid, ambiguous domain of complex experience in which ideologies program us without our being aware of them.” I think this is helpful to keep in mind while deconstructing any piece of literature.

I chose to look at Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” for my deconstructive analysis. This is my all time favorite Frost poem. I remember doing an English paper trying to analyze this poem in high school. How I analyzed this poem then does not in any way, shape, or form mirror how I see it now.

Many times this poem is interpreted and celebrated as a happy go lucky, go get ‘um tiger type of way. Its main theme transpires the idea that taking a leap of faith and not always taking the path that others take (nonconformity) is the thing to do. Its like my mom always says, “Well if all your friends jump off a bridge are you going to too?” Again we grow up in a society where if you conform to the “norm” then you aren’t so special, you’re just an everyday Joe. The only real way to live life is to take risks and not to worry so much about the end result. Now that we see the universal interpretation of the poem lets look at it in a deconstructive context.


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference

After rereading this poem a couple of times I found that the underling ideology of the text was the narrator’s inability to be assured in his decisions showing evident doubt and insecurity among voluminous decisions.  In short the narrator wished to take the road less traveled but he was conflicted with the repercussions of his ultimate decision. So how can we see this? Lets look for example some of the words that have multiple meanings. Diverged is a word used twice in this poem, the definition can mean: to differ in opinion, move into different directions, it is even used as a mathematical term. Another word that really stands out is the last word in the poem, difference. Difference could mean a disagreement or a state of being dissimilar. Looking at difference helps us define something by what it is not. Other words that contribute to the overall binary opposition are; stood, bent, sigh, hence and different all accumulate a great deal of meanings that ultimately become a chain of signifiers.

Filled with double meaning and ambiguity, the Frost poem that I once took so lightheartedly leaves me with a sense of wonderment and a little confusion. If taking the “road less traveled” is supposed to make us stand out then why in reality should it give us so much anxiety and feelings of regret?

Karista’s Bridge to the Blog

Earlier in class today we had a long discussion of Deconstructive Criticism and what it entails. First and for most, Deconstructive Criticism is all about the text. It does not have to be a text in a novel, but in anything essentially…even Miley Cyrus who we brought up in class as a very “complicated” signifier. Anything in our world can be turned into text regardless of what it is. It was also mentioned that Deconstructive Criticism is post-structuralist, meaning that language seems to be a chain of signifiers and can be very unreliable. Going on with the whole idea that language is unstable and unreliable, this criticism strongly adheres to that fact that we as human beings are strongly shaped by our own ideologies in our world. An example that was talked about in class today, but also in the Tyson book, was the pioneers discovering the Grand Canyon. These people could not believe how deep it was and the river below, so they sent people down truly believing that they would return. Well not surprisingly to us (but surprising to them), they never returned. Another concept that needs to be mentioned is differance is a combination of deferral, which is that words are truly unreachable and have an almost fake meaning, and difference, which is that one word only has its meaning because of a relationship to another word. Going off of this idea, it brings me to the idea of binary oppositions which is two unstable opposites in which one side seems to be favored more. Lastly, and finally, I want to mention the logocentric idea. This is a Western philosophy that states that there is an ultimate truth no matter what. Well, my favorite part of this discussion is being able to say that is 100% nonsense in the eyes of a Deconstructionist.

Okay so yes there was a lot of ideas and definitions thrown out in class today that have to do with Deconstruction Criticism. But, before I start laying out all of my questions I first want to make clear that even though this theory seems to be very dark and ultimately negative about our world, it is my absolute favorite and I see no problem with it.

I might be a little biased because I really do like this theory, but I am in an introduction to logic class also this semester and I could not help but thinking of this class when we were discussing the logocentric idea. In logic it is said that A is A, and B is B. Well I completely disagree with that and so does Deconstructive Criticism. Am I the only one who thinks this? Let me drive my point home with an example. Lets say that A stands for French fries and B stands for chips. Well if you are in America A is not B, and if you are in England A is not B. This is because of their ideologies. But, my question is do you really think A is not B in this case? Because in America fries are fries, but in England chips are fries right? So, do you agree with me now that our culture is completely based on ideologies and not the actual meaning of a word?

Lastly, do you really believe that this theory is dark just because it states that nothing has originality? Can you think of something, anything, that you might call one word, but another culture calls it something different? If you can do that, then how can you say that our words do not come from our own experiences and beliefs?