September 1, 2010 - M

Poem Analysis: Suicide Note by Janice Mirikitani

The poem, “Suicide Note,” by Janice Mirikitani, is about a young Asian-American female college student who commits suicide by jumping out of her dormitory window.  The last words, thoughts and feelings were recorded in the suicide note she leaves behind. This note, written in the form of a poem, allows the reader to see what induces an individual to take his/her own life. The poem describes the line of thinking of a despaired college girl, who relentlessly feels that she is not good enough. The poem is presented by the author in the form of a suicide note written by the poor girl to her parents. This was a heartbreaking incident that should never have happened in the first place.  So, what is it that pushed this girl student over the edge?  Whose fault is it? Where to place the blame?  Such questions are answered below.

This suicidal girl has a perfectionist streak in her, which compels her to be highly critical of herself. She also seems to have set unreasonable standards for herself. The reoccurring line in this poem, “not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough”, is to emphasize this aspect of her psyche. The poem also mentions how the girl failed to get high grades in exams. This also suggests that her parents were more concerned about the grades she acquires and not truly unconditional in their love for their daughter.

As she stands on the ledge of her building in preparation for death, she remembers how her present condition is similar to that of a sparrow waiting to take flight with wings that are in good shape for flying. She feels that her every shortcoming is like “ice above her river”. Snowfall has begun and she is now unsure as to what to do. It then occurs to her how disappointed her parents would be when they come to know of her failure. That comes out as apologies for her imperfections. These perceived imperfections are due to distortions in her mental outlook, caused by parental conditioning, and in reality are not imperfections at all.

The girl is not able to accept her imperfections and thinks she cannot deal with life. Instead of hoping that her problems would eventually alleviate, she gives up hope and opts for the easier way out. She acts as if she were just a bird that is overwhelmed by a gusty storm. Contrastingly, she feels that men do not have such problems and are stronger to weather any kind of storm, which of course is not true. The truth, which is unknown to the girl, is that men have as much self-doubt at times as women do. The following sentences capture that illusion of hers:

“I would swagger through life
muscled and bold and assured,
drawing praises to me
like currents in the bed of wind, virile
with confidence.”

Everyone feels less than perfect at times, but such feelings are usually dealt with in a constructive way. But the poor girl feels like a failure no matter what she did. Her parents were so critical of her that she automatically sees a dark cloud beside every silver lining. As human beings we all need approval and appreciation from our elders and peers. But the popular consumerist culture that we live in imposes upon us images of extraordinarily built men models and absurdly thin female models, who are projected as specimens worthy of emulation. Such messages can have a devastating effect on the unwary, like the suicidal girl.

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Gender Studies / Literature / Psychology Asian American / Janice Mirikitani / Suicide Note /