Women have suffered a lot of injustices since time immemorial. Adrienne seems to suggest that the woman has often been considered as a second-class citizen and has had to try extremely hard to please the man. This is despite the fact that both men and women are equal and should be treated as so. This paper thematically and stylistically reviews the essay: ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision’, by Adrienne Rich. The essay comprises poems that Rich wrote throughout diverse times in her life, probably as a way of demonstrating the transformation that she has gone through in the patriarchal society.
At the beginning of the essay, Rich demonstrates the impact that her surrounding environment has had on her by using a traditional style to write. She begins her essay in “the man’s way” (1086). However, as she goes on, Rich seems to break from this domineering traditional style and come up with her own way of thinking independently and questioning various aspects of the society. In the process, she ends up venting out her anger at the society that deliberately limits the woman, especially in the confines of marriage. As a result, the essay candidly advises women to stand up for themselves and stop being “average women” (1094) and “luxury for man” (1091). According to Rich, time for discrimination is up and it is upon the woman to courageously embrace her real self and “individuality” (1090).This symbolizes the kind of growth that the woman is expected to undergo so that the man stops oppressing her.
The essay’s title is actually drawn from Henrik Ibsen’s play ‘When We Dead Awaken’; a play on the importance of meaningful living. The idea of meaningful living can stylistically be linked to Rich’s idea of living to the fullest despite being a woman. The ultimate goal of the essay is to encourage women to live meaningful lives; just as the ultimate goal of Ibsen’s play, through one of the characters named Irene, is to encourage the living to live meaningful lives lest they be likened to the dead. According to Rich,” the victimization and anger experienced by women are real” (1093) and can no longer be ignored. Time has come for the woman to cease to exist and begin to live. This will definitely make her more creative and ready for change.
In the essay, Rich goes on to explore change as a thematic concern. She uses the term “fresh eyes”(1088) to urge women to wake up and smell the coffee. Change is imminent. She talks of “a new generation of women poets” (1094), which according to her, is on its way to some “new space” (1095): away from the patriarchal society. Perhaps, Rich uses such sentiments to symbolize the new way of thinking that women must adopt. They should not just sit and whine. They need to take drastic actions that will show men that what a man can do, a woman can too. Rich concludes by asserting that "creative energy of patriarchy is running out, leaving only its self-generating energy for destruction” (1096). This means that the time has come, for the woman to show her prowess in various aspects.
Rich’s essay is a kind of a plea to women; to say no to injustices meted against them by the male-chauvinistic society. Rich vividly captures the theme of discrimination against women and the need for change as she believes that the woman should break from the shackles of patriarchal traditions and fight for her independence and freedom. It is only through that, Rich believes, that the world will be a better place, where everybody will be treated fairly.
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