Explication Of Pastan
’s “Marks Essay, Research Paper
The Use of Tone and Metaphors in Pastan’s “Marks”
Linda Pastan’s poem “Marks” is unusual because it addresses the frustrations of a typical
housewife. Few people consider being a wife and mother a full-time job in itself, and it is not
uncommon for a woman who plays both of these roles to feel overworked and unappreciated.
What is unusual about Pastan’s poem is the way she effectively conveys these sentiments by the
use of metaphors, tone, and informal diction.
The speaker’s attitude is one of indifference, and this is made apparent by the metaphors she
uses to compare her family’s regard for her duties as a wife and mother to school grades. The
poem opens with, “My husband gives me an A for last night’s supper, an incomplete for my
ironing, a B plus in bed. My son says I am average…”. There is no emotion used in these lines, as
if the speaker wishes to convey to the reader that she is so tired of serving others that she does
not have time to consider her own personal feelings. She may believe that she is constantly being
evaluated, and the fact that she makes an effort to care for her family is not always good enough.
In a school setting, students usually strive for perfection through their grades, and sometimes a
student who has worked very hard still does not achieve the grade he or she wanted. This raises
the question, what do grades really measure? Obviously, good intentions or the amount of work
done are not all that is measured. Thus, these metaphors seem to suggest that the speaker feels
she will be taken for granted by her family no matter how hard she tries to please them.
The tone of this poem is established by the way the lines seem flat and void of emotion. The
speaker simply states the facts the way she sees them, with no reference to her feelings or
thoughts. Most of the words are dull and ordinary, much like the attitude of the speaker. Pastan’s
choice of informal diction is effective in comparing the differences of the lifestyles led by
housewives versus the lifestyles led by other women. The last line of the poem (“Wait ‘til they
learn I’m dropping out.”) leads the reader to assume that she has evaluated her lifestyle, and has
decided to change it. The fact that she is “dropping out” could have a variety of meanings. She
could decide to seek employment and start her own career, or she could be making a more radical
change, such as leaving her family altogether to start a life of her own. There is even a possibility
that she may remain a housewife, but change the way she caters to her family. Despite all of the
possibilities, Pastan’s true intention is to convey to the reader her speaker’s plans of making
changes in her life to satisfy herself, not anyone else.
“Marks” is an unusual poem not because of its subject matter, but because of the way it
addresses its subject matter. Pastan’s use of metaphors to develop comparisons of her speaker’s
family relations to school grades is effective in showing the speaker’s attitude of indifference. The
use of informal diction is helpful in establishing the dull, ordinary tone of the poem, and also
further develops the character of the speaker. This poem presents readers with ordinary
circumstances, yet it gives them a different way of viewing them. It suggests that maybe a grade
of A should be given for effort more often.