Friday, January 21, 2011

Portrait - by Judith Wright

Page 424
"It was a heartfelt game, when it began-
polish and cook and sew and mend, contrive,
move between sink and stove, keep flower-beds weeded-
all her love needed was that it was needed,
and merely living kept the blood alive.
Now an old habit leads from sink to stove,
mends and keeps the house that looks like home,
and waits in hunger dressed to look like love
for the calm return of those who, when the come,
remind her: this was a game, when it began."

Personally, I found this poem rather depressing. It speaks of the typical stay at home mother who cooks, cleans, sews, and stays home doing the chores of the house while her husband goes out and works. In the beginning, this was good enough for her, as "merely living kept the blood alive." But, halfway through the poem, a shift is presented in which she is no longer happy about what she does; it became an old habit. I think that it speaks to the social issue of women's rights and expectations in society. In this poem, the woman's sole purpose is the home. In the beginning, that is pleasing to her, but later on, you see almost a 'waste of life,' as she is no longer happy with what she is doing. This poem, in my opinion, does a good job of speaking to the stereotypical portrayal of women, and how that vision is not okay.

One literary device that I noticed was the connotation and denotation of the words "game" and "home." I'll start with the word "game." The denotation of this word is an amusement or past time. At first, this game of staying home is presented as "heartfelt" and it provides a sense of enjoyment to what she is doing. This game, however, turns into almost an imprisonment half way through the poem. In the last line, the phrase, "this was a game, when it began," remind us that her duties at home are no longer fun and heartfelt, but rather that she is trapped in a never ending cycle of housework. Games also always have a winner and a loser. Perhaps here, the woman has the job of the loser, and the man, the winner. The word "home" also uses both connotation and denotation to provide emphasis on her misery. The phrase "the house that looks like a home" uses two words-house and home- that have the same denotation, yet very different connotations. House and home are both buildings in which a family lives. However, house provides a cold, objective connotation, whereas home gives a sense of warmth and love. These words were put in the same phrase to show that the home that was created in the beginning of the poem is no longer welcoming her work, but it is not simply what she must do, and she is trapped there.

Another device that strongly helped me to reach my conclusion was personification of the "old habit." The "old habit leads" her to do her duties in the home. An old habit is an abstract idea, yet here, it leads her to do the things that no longer provide her with joy. It shows, in a way, that she no longer has control of what she is doing, but rather that it is controlled by her past actions and choices. The control in this statement has been given to the old habit, which led me to believe that she was not happy with it now as she had been in the past. In the beginning, she moved from sink to stove, but then, the habit moved her from sink to stove. This shows that it is not what she wants to be doing, but it is what she is used to doing, so she does it, without question.

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