"The Exchange" by Alicia Ostriker, Poem Analysis in a Free Essay

Published: 2019-09-30
"The Exchange" by Alicia Ostriker, Poem Analysis in a Free Essay
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Poem Literature
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1391 words
12 min read

This is one of the popular works of Alicia Ostriker. It is excellent and wonderful work. The poem begins in a modest way and has no pretensions or vain displays. It is almost real; not figurative or metaphorical and she pays careful attention to details. It is almost like a composition consisting and containing original events and things. The poem has a smooth flow and it is more of a drama that combines elements of tragedy and comedy, especially what happens in marriages. The poet, among other things, points out the terror and desire of marriage.

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The structure of Alicias semantically and pragmatically coherent, fitting in the context because it focuses and expounds more on the strength and power of the theme. The poem has five stanzas and each one tries to build the whole theme and flow of the poem. Throughout the poem, Alicia uses imagery, symbolism and alliteration.

In the first Stanza I am watching a woman swim below the surface; Of the canal, her powerful body shimmering,; Opalescent, her black hair wavering; Like weeds. She does not need to breathe. She faces The poet gives the reader a vision of the woman. She uses great imagery to try to paint how the woman is and to describe her appearance. She describes her hair to be black and her body to be sparkling and is reflecting light with a glittering luster. We can visualize the woman and see that she is beautiful. Her hair is swaying back and forth, flickering. I believe the poet wants us to visualize and have a mental picture of the woman and her beauty. She wants us to grasp that fully and that is why she emphasizes on her physical appearance.

In the second stanza, Upward, keeping abreast of our rented canoe; Sweet, thick, white, the blossoms of the locust trees; Cast their fragrance. A redwing blackbird flies; Across the sluggish water. My children paddle.

The poet now shifts to explaining the surrounding. She describes the environment and the surroundings. We learn too that the poet has children and they are on a canoe paddling. The scenic is very beautiful and everything seems calm and there is a sweet fragrance, a very pleasant smell coming from the locust trees around. A small songbird with spotted underbelly flies nearby and the water is slow in its motion. The writer wants us to fully visualize the environment and the surrounding. I believe that Alicia decide to portray the two scenes so as to be able to understand the other stanzas as they connect to one another.

The third stanza If I dive down, if she climbs into the boat; Wet, wordless, she will strangle my children; And throw their limp bodies into the stream.

Skin dripping, she will take my car, drive home.

This is a dramatic change in Alicias personal opinion and emotion about the woman. She is now depicted as a dangerous woman who is capable of committing murder. That she is capable of killing the poets children, throwing their dead bodies into the stream and take their car and drive to their home. She is depicted as an emotionless woman and she ought to be feared and avoided, she is cold hearted.

In the fourth stanza, When my husband answers the doorbell and see; This magnificent naked woman, bits of sunlight; Glittering on her pubic fur, her muscular; Arm will surround his neck, once for each insult, The poet introduces her husband to the picture. After the woman has killed the children, she goes to their home and the husband is surprised. The poet, however, continues to paint the picture of how the woman is beautiful and her beauty is manipulative. She goes and strangles the husband for the times she has insulted her wife or mistreated her. The poet shows that the society is a male dominated society but the woman is rising above that and she attempts to establish her own authority and rise above everything.

In the final stanza, Endured. He will see the blackbird in her eye; Her drying mouth incapable of speech,; And I, having exchanged with her, will swim

Away, in the cool water, out of reach. In this final stanza, the woman is setting herself free and the poet gives a comparison as to that of the bird. The poet has two personalities; one is trying to free her while the other is submissive to the social norms of the society

Themes emerging in the poem


In The Exchange, Alicia challenges the notion and idea of marriage. She exposes the existence of the mythic construct of the marriage script, on that dictates that the main and chief source of the ultimate fulfillment is marriage and devotion to the husband and the children. She opposes the idea that womens destiny is just marriage and she tries to empower women to get out of those society shackles which have enslaved women in our society. She opposes the idea that women are only destined to find fulfillment in their marriage to men and that their biology restrains them to only that.

Women as bodies

Patriarchal writing, including poetry, has frequently constructed womens bodies in negative and disempowering ways. This most often takes the form of representing women as only bodies (without minds) or only as objects of male sexual desire. Both of these perceptions are the result of myths about bodies and gender. For example, in popular culture, women are subjected to powerful pressure to be decorative. This implies that men are seen as effective in accomplishing tasks, while women are relegated to the (optional) sphere of the merely aesthetic. The poet has examined and subverted the patriarchal association between women and corporeality. She tries to demonstrate how this analogy functions to trap women in artificial inferiority, since the womanly body is perceived as inferior to the manly mind. She also examines the ways in which women are required to conform to certain male-defined standards of physical attractiveness.

The sexed and gendered body

The ideal status that is accorded to certain imaginary versions of womens bodies, elevating them to the status of myth, is compounded n the poem. That other bodies are more better and more beautiful than others. In the context of these competing value systems, the body takes on an important role in womens self-concept and understanding of themselves. The poet insists on and celebrates womens sexuality, flying in the face of assumptions about women having no sexuality (for example, the stereotype that a womans sexual role consists only of receiving a mans desire)

However, the poem does not follow the initial insists on and celebrates womens sexuality, flying in the face of assumptions about women having no sexuality (for example, the stereotype that a womans sexual role consists only of receiving a mans desire)

And I, having exchanged with her, will swim Away, in the cool water, out of reach.

The speaker feels cut off from herself, split between the contradictory pull of the others desire for her and her own desire

Reversing roles

This poem, whose tenor is possibly the closest to a Western cultural articulates a multi-layered reversal of gender norms: The poet is rooted in her own body and sexuality, as indicated in her lustful fantasy, and the poem subtly encourages the reader to believe that she is well able to live out this fantasy. the poem gives the lie to the notion that a woman can indeed, should inspire men without having any needs of her own. It also empowers women to assert their own needs for care and energy, rather than always playing supportive roles.

The poet refuses to just stand around looking beautiful and providing inspiration but she subtly and pertinently, reminds the reader that women still shoulder their traditional responsibility for the home.


By interrogating and subverting gendered myths of compulsory heterosexuality, the sexual script that holds marriage up as womens destiny, and the nature of womens bodies, the poets whose work I have explored in this article opens up discursive spaces for the creation of new and empowering scripts for women. These scripts do not entrench womens weakness, irrationality or dependence on men for emotional security. Rather, they emphasize womens agency and choice, while also probing the relevance of Western myths about women and gender.

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