It has often been difficult for women to exploit their potential. This is mainly because of the discrimination and injustices that they have faced for so long. Some writers suggest that since both women and men are equal, patriarchy should never exist. Adrienne Rich is one such writer. This paper reviews, both stylistically and thematically, Adrienne’s essay: ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision’. Adrienne’s essay consists of a review of poems that she wrote at different periods of her life. Through the essay, Adrienne seems to demonstrate her transformation despite having lived in a highly patriarchal society.
As she begins the essay, Adrienne uses the traditional writing style to reveal how much she has often been affected by the environment that surrounds her. She starts the essay in the way of man. She asserts that it is “painful” and “disorienting” (1087) to imagine that millions of women in the world have always had to try hard to please man. However, as Adrienne continues, she breaks from this kind of style and comes up with a fresh mode of thinking. She seems to question some of the features of the very society that has brought her up. Consequently, Adrienne vents out her annoyance at this society which oppresses women. She then counsels women that they should not be “average women” (1094): that they should embrace writing poems and literature on their own. The main argument that Adrienne seems interested in putting across is that the woman contributes to her own failure by failing to awaken her conscious self. Instead of whining, Adrienne suggests that it is time for women to creatively stop men from dominating them.
It is interesting to note that Adrienne’s essay heavily alludes to Ibsen Henrik’s play ‘When We Dead Awaken’. Ibsen’s is a play about the significance of living meaningfully. This idea could stylistically be related to that of Adrienne who urges women to exploit their potential and live lives that are meaningful in spite of the fact that they are women. Adrienne candidly puts it that “the victimization and anger experienced by women are real” (1093). This suggests that time for change is nigh. Just like Ibsen, Adrienne is of the idea that the woman must stop working in the “persona of a man” (1091), and rediscover her ultimate self. This is probably the only way to awaken her potential in writing genuine poetry.
Transformation is a major thematic concern that Adrienne explores in her essay. She pleads with women to awaken their consciousness by using the image of “fresh eyes” (1088). To demonstrate that change is inevitable, Adrienne goes on to speak about “a new generation of women” (1094) which is heading towards some “new space” (1095). Through such strong words, Adrienne implies that man is no longer going to boast of having subjugated the woman. This is probably because the woman has already found a refuge where man cannot reach her: the world of writing. She is now transformed and in her own world. Adrienne’s concluding remark is that "creative energy of patriarchy is running out, leaving only its self-generating energy for destruction” (1096). The implication is that man is no longer the one calling the shots. In fact, he should brace himself for a revolution which is to be staged by women.
In conclusion, Adrienne believes that the woman is well placed to fight for her rights and as such, should not hesitate to do so. She highlights the matter of chauvinism and the importance of change. Her style is undoubtedly the best in dealing with these issues. She finally states it strongly that it is only the woman who can fight for her freedom in the patriarchal society. Only then, according to Adrienne, can the woman be treated with fairness.
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