Poet and essayist Adrienne Rich was one of America’s foremost public intellectuals. She was born on May 16, 1929 at Baltimore, Maryland , USA and died on March 27, 2012 at Santa Guz in California at the age of 82years. By profession she was a poet, non-fiction writer and essayist. She was called as one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century and was credited with bringing “the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse.”
She was also called a radical feminist. Because through her writings she tries to challenge the roles assigned to women, patriarchy, binary culture, gender issues and also questioned the notion of *Identity* and the *Self*. By questioning those social norms she tries to rewrite the women’s history. She started writing in that period when women’s writings were not taken seriously. Women were marginalized. So, by following the second wave of feminists, she focused on individual identity of a woman.
To reach her goal she tried to define *Self* , wanted to create new meanings, used language in different ways. But one point to remember here is that though she reveals several facts related to women but she also conceals things from her readers. In that case she used symbols and other literary techniques. So, the focus of the paper is to throw light on her idea of rewriting women’s history.
Revision, wilfulness, change: these are familiar themes in the long work of the poet whose first book, in 1951, was called “A Change of World” and her second collection was “The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems” (1955). The early characteristic themes are suffocation, alienation and entombment. The poems are defenses against outer treats and inner doubts. W.H.Auden comments on her early poems as follows——-
These poems…are neatly and modestly dressed, speak quietly but do not mumble, respect their elders but are not cowed by them, and do not tell fibs: that for a first volume, is a good deal.
But her third collection of poems “Snapshot of a Daughter-in-Law: Poems 1954-1962” which was published in 1963 was a much more personal work examining her female identity, reflecting the increasing tensions she experienced as a wife and mother in the 1950’s, marking a substantial change in Rich’s style and subject matter. Beginning with this collection, Rich’s work has explored issues of Identity, sexuality and politics. Her formally ambitious poetics have reflected her continuos search for social justice and her radical feminism.
In 1953, she married Alfred Conrad, an economics professor at Harvard University. She had three children with him, but their relationship began to fray in the 1960’s as Rich became politically aware—she later stated that “the experience of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me.” Rich’s works of the 1960’s and ’70s began to show the signs of that radicalization. Rich’s rebellion against tradition is more powerful for coming late. Rich refuges to blame men or history completely for the suppression of women. From the beginning, in poetry as well as prose, Adrienne Rich has taken up the questions posed of patriarchy. In opposition to patriarchal society, Rich attempts to imagine a woman identified one.
Those who exist in biologically female bodies in a world where only male one are considered “human” must daily deny the most basic facts about their experience. In her poem “Living in Sin”, she talks about a couple in a domestic environment who has come together to pursue a union, which is untrammeled by the constraints of Orthodox family life. The woman, however soon discovers that being in love carried responsibilities that made unequal demands on her because she was woman, while her partner relies on an assumed set of social norms that approve of his indulgence at her expense. As lovers the couple are apparently driven by affection for one another; yet the perspectives with which both of them view things in the relationship are widely varied. For the woman it translates into the assumption of responsibilities considered to be naturally hers because of her gender status ; her partner, on the other hand, takes his companion’s response as a part of the equation. In this poem, the woman is consistently interrupted by the pressures of a domestic routine that doesn’t pressurise her partner at all. So, as like as patriarchy here we can see the hidden question of woman’s identity which is suppressed under her day to day duties.
In “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law”, she raises the question of Identity again. Rich shows us a young woman who begins to realize that her identity is not that of the women she has been given as models: “Nervy, glowering your daughter/ wipes the teaspoons, grows another way.” “Have no patience/ … Be insatiable/… Save yourself; others you cannot save’— these are not the voices of angels, but of monsters, the inevitable accompaniment of growing self-awareness and self-involvement for women.
Again her poem “Orion’s is written in the context of self-search exercise. We can find here the reference to her half-brother— the creative portion within herself. The figuration is designed to extend the idea of feminity beyond the specifics of a given social order. The “Orion” is the force behind her creativity whom she called her “half-brother”—- who is firing and makes her to write poetry
Her personal life influenced her literary career also. In that context we may take her relationship with Michelle Cliff. In 1975, Rich began her partnership with Jamaican born novelist and editor Michelle Cliff which lasted until her death. This relationship brought a turning point to her life and she became a follower of lesbianism, opposing heterosexual relationship between man and woman. Heterosexuality might be understood by her as a patriarchal tool of control over women. “Dream of a Common Language” (1978) marked the first direct treatment of lesbian desire and sexuality in her writing.
Her poetry collection “The Dream of a Common Language” opens with a poem entitled “Power”. The complexities of this power are inherent in the story of Marie Curie , who discovered the vital properties of uranium, and who died from radiation poisoning “denying / her wounds came from the same source of power.” Curie is seen here as being conditioned by the demands of the scientific community and her sense of power is thus related to how she is perceived by her contemporaries and the society.
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