The Bonesetter’s Daughter begins with LuLing’s childhood memory of waking with her nursemaid, Precious Auntie, when she is six years old. Precious Auntie helps LuLing bathe and dress, like they do every morning, then they go to the ancestral hall to pray before breakfast. Precious Auntie, who is mute, uses her hands to tell LuLing that her family name, the name of the bonesetters, is written on a paper and she shows it to LuLing, asking her to remember, before leaving the paper on the altar. LuLing cannot remember Precious Auntie’s family name and begs her forgiveness, calling her mother.
Every year for the past nine years, Ruth loses her voice for a week. She embraces this event as a kind of vacation from her life. As the novel begins, Ruth is emerging from her week without a voice. She and her boyfriend Art are in a rut, his teenage daughters are rude . . . Read More
The definition of protest literature is fluid and varies according to perspective. For example, social critics could insist that protest literature must include a specific political purpose. A feminist critic may look to protest literature to promote (or avoid promoting) a gender bias. The deconstructionist who is concerned only with language and definition and not at all with the author’s intention may well argue that all literature is a form of protest. Whittled to the bare bones, any definition of protest literature must at least include the idea that the author is speaking against something. If we assume that ‘‘Woman Work’’ is written in the voice of a female slave, Angelou has written a poem in defiance of oppression. By essentially dividing the poem in half—the first half listing the speaker’s chores, the second half reconnecting with nature—Angelou defends a woman’s refusal to be only what she is socially allowed to be.
Lines 1–14 of . . . Read More
Rhyme is a technique that often lends a singsong quality to a poem. Angelou’s use of rhyme in much of her poetry is one aspect critics tend to criticize because they believe it makes her poetry sound juvenile.
Angelou’s use of rhyme in the first 14 lines of ‘‘Woman Work,’’ however, is appropriate and underscores the meaning behind the stanza. By developing the stanza using rhyming couplets (every pair of lines rhymes), the poem shows that the work is mundane. That rhyming quality makes the stanza seem more like a list whose items must be checked off every day. The woman’s frustration can be felt as she reels off the list of activities she must complete.
Rhyme is used but more loosely in the four shorter stanzas and not to the same effect. Instead, the end rhyme is a means of pulling together each stanza to present a complete image in the reader’s . . . Read More
Upon first read, ‘‘Woman Work’’ may seem like a poem written about any woman with a family to care for. Lines 11 and 14 clearly change that impression because most women in modern America do not cut (sugar) cane or pick cotton. These two chores indicate that the woman is a slave.
Considered in this light, the reader understands that the bulk of the chores that make up the woman’s day are not self-serving; they are chores she must perform for her master. The children belong to him. The floor that needs mopping in line 3 is probably not hers, since she lives in a hut. The company she must feed? It is probably not hers. Although some of what she must accomplish may be for herself, most of it is not.
Line 12 suggests the woman is a slave. Most people, even those living in abject poverty, would not refer to their homes as huts. The woman in the poem lives in a hut—a small, crude shelter. Most slaves lived . . . Read More
This first stanza of ‘‘Woman Work’’ is the most important in the poem because it is here the reader could infer that the woman speaking is a slave.
Lines 11 and 14 talk about crops that need tending. These are not just any crops, but those grown in the Deep South and traditionally harvested by African American slaves. Cane and cotton were two of the most profitable crops in the Antebellum (pre–Civil War) South, and plantations relied on them for profit. The most economical means of harvesting them was through free—slave—labor.
Once that fact is established, the first stanza takes on new meaning. The chores listed are not necessarily—or even probably—the woman’s own. Whose children is she tending, whose clothes need mending? Is the floor that needs mopping her own? Surely not, since line 12 tells the reader she lives in a hut. Would she be having company? Probably not, but wealthy . . . Read More
After one collaboration, two volumes of poetry, and a memoir, Garrett Hongo is an established voice in Asian American literature. His postmodern style variously utilizes different techniques, voices, sources, and forms. Hongo is more concerned with exploring and voicing his personal experience and the collective experience of Japanese Americans than he is with adhering closely to a regimented style of writing. He is especially concerned with the experience of non-first-generation Japanese Americans, like himself. He is Yonsei, which is fourth generation, and thus his identity is different from that of his grandparents. To Hongo and others in his situation, the issue of identity is not simple. Through Hongo’s poetry, he works through the nuances of this—and many other—aspects of his experience. In ‘‘What For,’’ a poem that appeared in his first volume of poetry, the 1982 Yellow Light, the speaker goes back into his childhood memories to recall what was most important . . . Read More
The speaker of ‘‘What For’’ recalls the things he loved and looked forward to when he was six years old. In the first stanza, he describes his childhood sense of magic: a few Hawaiian words had the power to make it rain and sang through the nautilus like the sound of the sea. The Amida Buddha (the main Buddha in the Pure Land sect of Buddhism) had the power— through the liturgy of a priest—to satisfy the poor with words (mantras) while they offered what little money they had.
Stanzas 2 and 3
In the next two stanzas, the speaker talks about his grandparents. First, he remembers how he looked forward to the war stories his grandfather told while playing hana cards (Japanese cards). He remembers his grandfather playing cards and slapping his cards down with a short martial arts-type yell. Readers may notice that the speaker says he looked forward to his grandfather’s stories, but the . . . Read More
Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666’’ swings like a pendulum between Bradstreet’s Puritan beliefs and her deep emotional turmoil regarding the loss of her home. While it is tempting to try to assess whether or not Bradstreet’s sorrow is successfully mitigated or addressed by her faith, such an exercise would not only be highly subjective, but would also be misguided. It will always be debatable whether or not there is a clear winner in the conflict between grief and faith in the poem; rather, what is most significant is the nature of this battle. The poem’s final lines emphasize the futility of attempting to draw definitive conclusions about any resolution Bradstreet may have been conveying. In these last two lines, Bradstreet divulges her desire for her spiritual beliefs to be sufficient to see her through her life so that she may one day reside in heaven. Of crucial importance here is that Bradstreet ends the poem with a prayer for . . . Read More
‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ is considered a lyric poem. A lyric poem is one in which the poet explores personal feelings and thoughts rather than telling a story. Typically short in length, lyric poems do not necessarily adhere to any formal structure. Modern lyric poems may be written in unmetered, unrhymed verse, or free verse, whereas earlier poems, such as Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ are often more structured. Bradstreet’s lyric does not contain stanzas. A stanza, or a grouping of lines in a poem, divides the poem into sections the way paragraphs divide prose. The groupings typically display a repeated pattern in terms of number of lines and rhyme scheme. Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ does not contain a stanzaic structure, but rather consists of 54 lines of rhymed verse. While not divided into stanzas, the poem contains 27 couplets, or pairs of rhymed lines. . . . Read More
Bradstreet’s ‘‘Upon the Burning of Our House’’ is concerned primarily with the poet’s great sense of loss, along with her attempt to mediate this pain through her faith in God. Throughout the middle third of the poem, Bradstreet offers an emotional itemization of her material losses and suggests the psychological toll such losses have taken. The physical items that have been destroyed by the fire are described as her goods, her wealth, her treasures, and she draws specific attention to favorite items, including a trunk and a chest. She speaks often of such pieces being left in ashes, in ruins, as dust. In addition to listing to the objects she cherished, Bradstreet catalogues the memories her home enshrined. Recounting guests at her table, candles shining throughout the home, stories being told, Bradstreet emphasizes that the loss she is experiencing is significant. She has not merely been left without a few of her favorite . . . Read More