Author (Your Name)

Susan Willis, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. English Dept.


Pat Union

Second Advisor

J. R. Sweney

Third Advisor

Peter Harris


Adrienne Rich, in her first seven volumes of poetry, examines the emergence of a female poetic voice. In the first volume, A Change of World, Rich employs metaphors of rooms to depict the speakers' retreat to interior spaces. In "Storm Warning" the speaker moves inside in the attempt to close out the turbulence of emotional "storms." Her attempt to deny her emotions, depicts the struggle of the intellect over emotional responses. In The Diamond Cutters, Rich focuses on the motivating factors causing the speaker's internal retreat. Rich associates limiting relationships and domestic roles as the primary cause of emotional denial. The speakers, who feel constrained by unsatisfying relationships or limiting domestic roles, learn to repress their emotions in order to survive in their environment. Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law illustrates the affects of repression in poems such as "Antinous." Rich depicts the emotional and physical damage caused by denial, and the inevitable resurfacing of repressed emotions. Necessities of Life, responds to the damaging effects of repression (as portrayed in the first three volumes) by proposing emotional liberation. In "Necessities of Life," Rich metaphorically traces the speaker's emergence from a constrained state to one of self liberation. The speaker evolves from an entity manipulated by another, to her eventual control over her identity. Rich parallels this emergence with her discussion of men and women's inability in communicating their different perspectives. In this volume, Rich introduces the limitations of language which becomes her primary focus in later volumes. Leaflets continues to trace the emergence of the self defined. identity as begun in Necessities of Life. Rich illustrates the possible hazards of an emergence into a world which is unsympathetic to the needs of women. Rich compares her speakers' evolution to the dilemma of the female artist who struggles with her instinct to create and her opposing role as wife and mother. In "Orion," and "Gabriel," Rich associates the female artist's creative energies with a male muse. Just as Rich illustrates the difficulties with women defining themselves, she also depicts the female artists as being under the influence of males. The Will to Change refutes the influence of the male on women's creativity in the poem "Planetarium," in which Rich illustrates the uninhibited creative energies of a female astronomer. Rich also pinpoints the limitations of "male" language in, "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," to be the primary element of constraint for the female artist. With such a realization, Rich begins her quest for a "common language" which will express female as well as male perspectives. Diving into the Wreck explores the inequalities in male and female relationships in the effort to expose the inequalities in language. Rich searches for a situation which will provide equality of the sexes. Because she is unable to find equality in male and female relationships, she explores the notion of androgyny. Androgyny, however, does not pose a realistic solution to gender inequalities. Unable to discover a "common ground" between the sexes, Rich turns to the sisterhood of women and lesbianism; she rejects the male language and literary tradition in order to assert the power of a female poetic voice. Following Diving into the Wreck, Rich begins her search of a female language which will express her unique perspective.


Adrienne Rich, poet, A Change of World, The Diamond Cutters, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, Necessities of Life, Leaflets, The Will to Change, Diving into the Wreck


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