’s Revision Essay, Research Paper
In Adrienne Rich’s essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision”, the author writes about her personal experience as a woman writer in a male dominated society. Her essay consists of poems, which she had written throughout different times in her life, to demonstrate the transformation in her writing. As a woman writer in a male dominated society, Rich begins writing in the traditional style, “the man’s way,” but as she continues writing, Rich breaks from these traditional styles to form her own. Like Freire, Rich believes people should break from society and be able to think and question things for themselves. While Freire wants to change the educational system, Rich wants to change writing. Both Freire and Rich want to break from the traditional ways of the past. Rich believes that women need to break from the enduring attitudes of traditions which society has placed upon them. Rich is upset with the limitations placed on women in society, particularly in marriage. It is for this reason that the themes of many of Rich’s poems are advice for women to live life for themselves, listening only to what their hearts tell them. The three poems “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law” and “Planetarium” are analyzed to demonstrate the changes in Rich’s way of writing.
Rich wrote “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” in 1951, while she was a student. At this time in her life she conforms to tradition in her writing, and tries not to identify herself as a female poet. Rich does not identify herself as a female poet by detaching herself from her character and allowing her character to accept the life that man has placed upon woman. Rich’s writing is constrained by man because she allows her character to be oppressed by man and does not make her a conscious being of oppression. In “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”, Rich writes about a woman who does not break from the accepted roles of society. Aunt Jennifer does not have the freedom to live for herself because of society’s expectations on women. The only way for Jennifer to free herself is by making up a fantasy world. The author writes about the universal issues involved in the relationship between men and women, in where woman is a slave to man. Rich writes “the massive weight of Uncles’ wedding band”; Aunt Jennifer is pinned down, the “band sits heavily in her hand”, the image of the wedding band brings a feeling of slavery and fear (608). Rich’s tone in the poem is observant and she makes it clear that she does not want to live a life like Aunt Jennifer’s. In the poem Rich makes Aunt Jennifer distinct from herself by placing Aunt Jennifer into a different generation, breaking any connection between the author and the character. Rich’s writing structure in this poem contains the real life within the fantasy life. The first stanza of the poem is about the proud tigers. The second stanza is about terrified Aunt Jennifer. The third stanza refers to the continuation of the second stanza and then to the tigers. In this way, by starting the poem with the tigers and ending with the tigers, Rich is containing the real life within the fantasy, in reverse of Aunt Jennifer, whose inner life is contained within her outer life. In this poem Rich portrays what can happen to an individual who accepts the fate prescribed by custom. The overall message is that men suppress women.
“Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law” was written when Rich was experiencing herself as a woman. During this time, society believed that women were put on this earth to make a family and take care of them. During this time in Rich’s life, she was very occupied with being a wife and a mother; because of this she did not have time to think or write. She wrote this poem in fragments of time, while her children were taking naps. “The poem was jotted in fragments during children’s naps, brief hours in a library or at 3:00 A.M. after rising with a wakeful child”(611). “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law” is a poem about a woman who is hearing voices that are telling her to resist and rebel but can not obey them. The woman wants to rebel against society but she will not, because society does not accept this kind of behavior. Rich still writes the poem in the traditional way. The woman in this poem thinks about rebelling but does not actually rebel; therefore Rich is still accepting the oppression on women. Until this poem Rich tried not to identify herself as a female poet. She still does not use the pronoun “I”; the woman in the poem is always addressed as “she”. In the poem there is a connection between the character and the author. Rich writes about what she is personally experiencing and how she feels about her life. The voices in the poem are really the woman’s thoughts and the woman’s thoughts are really Rich’s thoughts questioning the views of society on woman. Rich’s questioning of the views placed on women is an awakening of the mind. The character in the poem is being a conscious being, she is questioning how things are. In this poem though, Rich does not the have the courage to let the reader know that the character in the poem is really herself.
The poem “Planetarium” was written after Rich went to a real planetarium and encountered the work of an astronomer named Caroline Hershel. Hershel worked with her brother on discovering comets but was not recognized as her brother was for her work. This demonstrates the domineering grip that man and society had on a woman during this time. Rich wrote this poem thinking of Caroline Herschel and other women who have been oppressed by society. Unlike the other two poems, “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” and “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” Rich does not write in the traditional style. Her poem is written in free-style and it is spaced out. Finally, in this poem Rich becomes bolder and she uses the word “I” to make the character and the author become one person. In this poem Rich transformed the way of writing. She broke away from traditional views to form her own style. Rich finally identifies herself as a female writer and has the courage to write exactly how she feels. In this poem Rich writes about her feelings and thoughts on women breaking from society. She makes women realize what society has done to them. Therefore the poem becomes feminist, the theme of the poem is for women to break from the traditional views of society, which encourages women to think for themselves and to question things.
In her essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision”, Rich uses a “dialogue” with her work to demonstrate the transformations in her writing. There are three of Rich’s voices throughout the whole essay. One of the voices is the critic, the second is the author of the poems and the third is the writer of the essay. Rich criticizes and critiques her own poems to demonstrate the differences in her writing. She transformed language by breaking the traditional views and by writing about man’s power over women. At first it prevented her from writing the way she wanted just because she was a woman. Society did not expect a women to have a job as a writer instead writing was considered as a hobby for women. Rich had been taught that society considered poetry to be “universal” meaning non-female. Because Rich had been taught that poetry was “universal” it was very hard for her to write the things that she wanted too. Rich lost herself to society, becoming a mother and a wife and not being able to write as much as she liked. After a couple of years she divorced her husband and found herself again. As a result, Rich is her own teacher. She taught herself to have the courage to rebel against society and become a conscious being.
Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision”. Ways of Reading.
Ed. John Sullivan. Boston: Bedford, 1999. 601-615.