The Secretary Chant Essay, Research Paper
In this poem Marge Piercy?s speaker evokes a concrete vision of a woman who has lost her personal identity to her job. Her bold and descriptive use of metaphors allow the reader to envision a woman who is living her life vicariously through her career. Ms. Piercy successfully uses paradox, personification, and the pun to bring the
character alive. With the use of metaphors, both implied and explicit, the reader can deeply empathize with the central character of this poem.
From the first line of the poem the tone is set for the reader. It is not so vague as to use a simple simile, but a strong manifestation of the idea of the speaker as an actual personification of a material object. She does not say "My hips are like a desk",
she says "My hips are a desk" (line 1). Throughout the rest of the poem, personification of the woman as nothing more than a piece of office equipment is expressed with striking realism.
In the first six lines of the poem the speaker describes herself in salient detail. Each of her body parts are placed with an obvious piece of office equipment. This allows the reader to form a solid picture of a woman sitting at her desk performing the daily drudgery of a secretary. She does not see herself as a real woman but a woman whose hair is"rubber bands" (3), whose"breasts are wells of mimeograph ink", (5) and whose "feet bear casters" (6).
The secretary is so entrenched in her job that she describes her "head as a badly organized file" (8). To furthur describe how badly organized the file of her head is (or her mind) Ms. Piercy reiterates that fact in line 9 and 10 by saying "My head is a switchboard / where crossed lines crackle". With the use of two lines both describing the mind and thoughts of the secretary it is successfully conveyed that the secretary really is confused and overburdened by the demands of the job.
Further examination of the personification of the secretary as a piece of office equipment is seen in the use of onomatopoeia as a metaphor. "Buzz. Click" (7) and "Zing. Tinkle" (14). With the use of these descriptive sounds the machines would traditionally make, the symbolism is more aptly expressed to the reader.
Often times the secretary or office assistant are seen as nothing more than robotic extensions completely devoid of human qualities. "Press my fingers" (11) is an instruction to her boss explaining exactly how she is to provide a function as if she
was explaining how to operate any other piece of office equipment. Like any secretary she would have to organize an office and explain to her boss where things were to be found when she was out of the office. "From my mouth issue canceled reams" (16).
She is clearly telling her boss where he would find the used paper and closed files but the pun intended is that whatever she tells her boss is ignored anyway.
By the time the reader gets to the end of the poem the secretary is fully developed as an inanimate machine, "Swollen, heavy" (17). She has given up trying to be human and has resigned herself to the fact that she has been taken over completely by the machines that surround her. Metaphorically speaking, with the use
of metonymy, the secretary, now as a machine herself is "about to be delivered / of a baby Xerox machine" (18-20), thus perpetuating a species of human machines.
In the final four lines, the secretary decries that "I wonce was a woman" and that she needs to be "filed under W". She is again giving instructions to her boss that she now serves no real function as a woman and should just be filed away and forgotten. In this way, Ms. Piercy develops the paradox in which a person who once
performed a vital function maintaining an office is now completely useless.
The writers metaphors are drawn from everday activities seen in every office. Through the use of explicit metaphors describing a secretary as piece of office equipment the poem has created a fully developed picture of how little value we place on humanity in the work place. By using the full range and depth of rhetorical figures, Ms. Piercy has given fresh insights into the average work day of women who provide vital administrative assistance.