A Work of Artifice by Marge Piercy | Poetry Analysis

a work of artifice

The meaning of Piercy’s poem is simple. It uses metaphor to show how the female gender role can confine women and stop them from reaching their full potential.

“The bonsai tree / in the attractive pot / could have grown eighty feet tall” A bonsai tree can grow to be quite large. But when it’s in the pot it can only grow so big, especially when it’s branches and leaves are being trimmed away at.

This is also true for many women throughout history who were regulated to domestic life. They were kept in a nice, pretty house but it kept them from growing. “Growing” mainly means it kept them from expanding their knowledge and succeeding in the outside world.

The women may have been well-taken care of, but much like the bonsai tree, they couldn’t grow beyond what the “Gardener” allowed.

Again, the bonsai tree gets to live in a pretty pot and the woman gets a pretty house. Because of this many would tell them they are lucky as seen with this line: “how lucky, little tree, / to have a pot to grow in.” But this isn’t true because they aren’t able to choose their own path.

I think the poem is saying that there should be a matter of choice. But instead, women were trained from the very beginning to be confined the home.  In order for them to expand their minds and intellect they need the opportunity to succeed outside of that.

This is why there is a mention of the “Crippled brain,” by limiting the options the brain can only know domestic skills. The poem is showing that women have the potential to go beyond that, and they should have the right to do so.

 

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Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women by Aemilia Lanyer | Poetry Analysis

adam-and-eve

Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women is a poem by Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645) that comes from her work Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum and when I first read it I was fascinated – the poem basically makes an argument that blaming all women for Eve’s sin is silly, and that if she is to be blamed then Adam is just as at fault. She also makes a defense for Eve’s actions.

Lanyer is very bold with this work and that’s what I like about it. She turns societal notions about women upside down by using them in her argument.

Here are some excerpts from the poem:

“Till not your indiscretion sets us free,
And makes our former fault much less appear;
Our mother Eve, who tasted of the tree,
Giving to Adam what she held most dear,
Was simply good and had no power to see;
The after-coming harm did not appear:
The subtle serpent that our sex betrayed
Before our plot had laid”

Here, the speaker argues for Even’s innocence – she was ignorant of the consequences and only offered Adam the apple out of love for him.

“But surely Adam cannot be excused;
Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame.
What weakness offered, strength might have refused;
Being lord of all, the greater was his shame;
Although the serpent’s craft had her abused,
God’s holy word ought all his actions frame;
For he was lord and king of all the earth,
Before poor Eve had either life or breath,”

So, basically Adam is more at fault because he should have known better. Still, it could be that the speaker’s goal is to show if you’re going to blame one, you can blame the other. The conclusion should be that either both are punished for their actions or no one takes the blame for what another committed.

“Whom, if unjustly you condemn to die,
Her sin was small to what you do commit,
All mortal sins that do for vengeance cry
Are not to be compared unto it;
If many worlds would altogether r try
By all their sins the wrath of God to get,
This sin of yours surmounts them all as far
As doth the sun another little star

The speaker’s argument turns to discussing how it was men who betrayed Jesus — the greatest sin of all.

“Then let us have our liberty again,
And challenge to yourselves no sovereignty.
You came not in the world without our pain,
Make that a bar against your cruelty
Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
Our being your equals, free from tyranny?
If one weak woman did offend,
This sin of yours hath no excuse nor end.”

Again, this emphasis that men have committed a greater sin – and that if women are to be punished for there’s then men should be punished as well.

This poem is a pretty harsh one but I didn’t really get “punish men” out of it, I got the idea that entire groups shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a biblical figure. I imagine this was a radical idea in Lanyer’s time.

The Rights of Women by Anna Barbauld (Poetry Analysis)

Rights Of Woman Anna Baurbauld

Now, upon first glance Barbauld’s poem might seem like she’s empowering women and cheering them on. Well, she’s not. Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825) didn’t support women’s rights activism and this poem is a response to Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Most can probably sense the sarcastic tone by the end of the poem.

But it’s not fair to view Barbauld as petty right off the bat. She seemed to hold pretty pacifist views and was clearly against war. In fact, writing a criticism of Britain’s involvement in war quickly ended her career. So, she likely wanted peace, not for women to be oppressed. She was, after all, seen as an oddity for being a female writer at the time.

It seems like Barbauld just wanted people to get along. “Make treacherous Man thy subject, not thy friend;Thou mayst command, but never canst be free.” This clearly suggests a fear of the ‘oppressed’ rising up only to oppress the other group. This sarcastic line, says she wanted friendship and companionship to be the end goal. She felt that this wasn’t being worked towards. Instead, one was being painted as the oppressor and the other the oppressed. That sort of thinking can oversimplify a situation too much, so her argument isn’t completely invalid.

However, one could argue that pacifist thinking like Barbauld’s is, unfortunately, only ideal and doesn’t work with human nature. But either way, Barbauld’s argument and beliefs are worth listening to.

Also, despite popularity in her time, Barbauld largely fell into obscurity. That was until her and many other female writers were re-discovered by feminist scholars. Irony?

The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani | Book Review

world without princes

Agatha and Sophie’s story isn’t over after all and they return to the School for Good and Evil. Only now the school is separated by males and females while Good and Evil have joined forces.

First Thoughts: I loved the first Good and Evil book and yeah, I just now read the second book in 2016. This is a pretty strong followup. I can’t say one is better than the other, honestly – they are both good.

Reading Experience: The book is extremely engaging. A “couldn’t put down” type of book without a doubt. One flaw in the first book was it did have a tendency to drag on. A World Without Princes doesn’t have this problem, it is exciting all the way though.

Characters: Sophie, steals the spotlight in this book to me. Her struggle to keep her inner witch at bay made her characterization the most complex. Which is funny, since I found her annoying in the first book most of the time. But here her characterization is wonderful.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Agatha. She was just plain dull in this book. And some of her thoughts and actions almost made me hate her.

Then there’s Tedros, the heartthrob of the series. I’ve never liked Tedros. But I did feel sympathy for him during one particularly dark moment in the book.

Dean Evelyn Sadar, is the villain of the book and the one egging on the gender war. She is a fantastic villain throughout most of the book, although I didn’t care for certain elements of her backstory.

Hester, also has a more prominent role in this book. She’s a great character, I suppose she would fall into the category of ‘neutral evil’.

Themes: Not surprisingly, gender is a prominent theme here. And at times, the way it was handled made me uncomfortable. But I wouldn’t say the book is offensive or anything.

Friendship, is a major element. Throughout the book, Agatha and Sophie’s friendship is on the line. They struggle to trust each other and understand what they truly want. I thought their relationship was handled well. At times, it was frustrating and I just wanted them to love each other. But relationships are never that simple and the book captures that complexity.

Other Thoughts: Sophie is the best thing about this book, she may end up being one of my favorite book characters.

This is a great sequel but the gender stuff may put some people off.

4.5/5

The Awakening by Kate Chopin: An Analysis

TheAwakeningEdna

The Awakening follows pampered wife, Edna Pontellier as she becomes discontent with her life and begins to yearn for solitude and her own identity.

Edna Pontellier is a woman that gets all she asks from her doting husband, Leonce. Yes, Edna is pretty much upper class and spoiled. But she shouldn’t be written off as some pampered woman with insignificant problems since her search for identity is something many could relate to.

Mrs. Pontellier is a spoiled woman but this comes at a cost since she’s viewed as property. Here’s what her husband thinks when he sees his wife has a sunburn: “ ‘You are burnt beyond recognition,’ he added, looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property which has suffered some damage.”

However, Edna is not a wholly sympathetic character. She chooses to marry Leonce who she knew was a traditional man. And she only married him because of her childish need to rebel against her father, who disapproved of Leonce. Edna wasn’t brave enough to become her own person because she knows it comes at a cost.

What Edna is supposed to be is a wife and mother, according to society at the time. But this is not what she truly wants. She’s described as not being a so-called “mother-woman”. The text describes these women as: “They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”

There is a character in the story that represents such a woman and her name is Adele Ratignolle. She’s described as the “embodiment of every womanly grace and charm” Despite being close friends with Adele, Edna isn’t really like her. Her friend embodies everything society and her husband wants her to be.

But Edna doesn’t want to go for the “other” option either. This “other” option is represented by the character of Mademoiselle Reisz. She certainly has her own identity as a brilliant pianist. But here is how she is described: “She was a homely woman, with a small weazened face and body and eyes that glowed. She had absolutely no taste in dress, and wore a batch of rusty black lace with a bunch of artificial violets pinned to the side of her hair”

There’s great significance as her being described as basically repulsive. Reisz is a woman that has abandoned all that society expects of her. In most cases, such women would have been viewed as terrible in some way no matter what talent they might have. And this is Edna’s other option – abandon being a wife and mother and become the hideous woman. In fact, Edna is stuck somewhere in between being Adele and being Reisz. The main problem is that there really isn’t a “middle” option for her.

Edna dabbles in art through her sketching but it never truly amounts to anything. To be a great artist she would have to risk her whole life changing and, possibly, becoming like Mademoiselle Reisz. However, Edna does not have what it takes, as Reisz says she lacks the “courageous soul” that an artist needs.

This is one way that Edna might slightly be like Adele. Adele does play piano but she’s not at all comparable to Reisz. She only plays for her family and for social events and she doesn’t have any real passion for it. This may not fully describe Edna’s interest in art but the point is she’s not serious enough.

Reisz is probably aware of the piano-playing women that fit into Adele’s category. Which is why at one point she shows disgust for the Farival twins (also piano players in the Adele camp) – “ ‘rather pleasant if it hadn’t been for the mosquitoes and Farival twins.’ ” Her disgust probably comes from the fact that girls like the twins set the standard for what a female pianist should be like. Which is someone who plays at social gatherings and for show but never advances past that. Mademoiselle Reisz completely defies this standard of the female pianist.

There is a point when Edna experiences a certain amount of freedom and this is when she swims: “A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been giver her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before” This is an important passage since at the end Edna dies by water.

She swims farther and farther out leading to her death. It was likely suicide too. But this passage also brings up an important flaw with Edna – she doesn’t know her limits, she “overestimates”. Her problem is she cannot plan and figure out the best solution for her life. Instead, she acts on impulse. Yes, she can learn a task like swimming but this is only a small accomplishment for her.

Another reason Edna can’t be truly independent is because she depends so much on men to fill her emotional needs. She obsesses over character, Robert Lebrun who she falls in love with. She also has an affair with a man named Alcee. She craves these men, especially Robert, because she needs them for emotional fulfillment. Because of this she can’t experience true independence.

Although they’re not major characters in the story, Edna has two sons. They also prevent her from gaining freedom. She knows this and that’s why she swims to her death at the end. Adele says to her at one point, “Think of the children” and these simple words have great effect on Edna. The children are a reminder that Edna can’t simply abandon her old life. She has to take responsibility for the choices she has already made. By the end, she shows she can’t since she just swims away.

Regret by Kate Chopin (Short Story Analysis)

farm clipart

 

Regret is about a woman named Mamzelle Aurelie, she stands out among other women of her time since she’s unmarried, childless and owns her own farm. She is seemingly happy with her arrangement but once she looks after a neighbor’s children she has a moment of regret.

Marriage and children. Something society expects everyone to do and have. And, for women, these two factors nearly define their entire existence. Well Kate Chopin often looks into this issue with her writing.

And in “Regret” the reader is introduced to the quintessential independent woman, Mamzelle Aurelie. Unlike the women of her time she doesn’t obsess over marriage: “Mamzelle Aurelie had never thought of marrying. She had never been in love. At the age of twenty she had received a proposal, which she had promptly declined, and at the age of fifty she had not yet lived to regret it.”

Women often had to receive their identity through marriage and children. But Mamzelle, on the other hand, finds it through other things such as: “the fowls, the few cows, a couple of mules, her gun (with which she shot chicken-hawks), and her religion.”

However, no matter how independent someone is there’s perhaps a deep desire for some kind of close companionship and family. This desire gets triggered when Mamzelle looks after a neighbor’s children. They’re a nuisance at first but then: “It took her some days to become accustomed to the laughing, the crying, the chattering that echoed through the house and around it all day.”

Yes, she grows to like having children around and is saddened when they leave.

So what is the text saying? That Mamzelle’s independence is fake and just like most women supposedly do she desires to have little children of her own?

No, I doubt that is the point of the story. Despite her independence, Mamzelle is still human. And human beings feel loneliness. Yes, the main character is having a moment of regret but she knows she must live with her decisions she had made in in life.

Which is why she is described as “crying like a man”. Men are often expected to face responsibility and deal with their problems on their own. Since Aurelie has took on a “masculine” role she must do this as well.

The end sentence of the story states: “she did not notice Ponto licking her hand.” Ponto, is her dog and represents a piece of the farm. Her not noticing the dog could mean that, for a woman, almost nothing can replace the joy of children.

However, I don’t think this is the case. The hand lick is simply a reminder that Mamzelle must go back to responsibilities (the farm) as a man would be expected to do. The moment of regret will pass, and as expected of the men, she must get back to work.