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Feminist Outlook in Poetry: Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

One important American poet Adrienne Rich was published her poem Diving into the Wreck in 1973. The key factor of this poem is that the second wave of the Women’s Movement began in the United States during the 1960s and Rich contributes to the flames of movement with her written account. Knowing as an American feminist too, she underscores gender equality, women liberation and a statue of a woman in society. She rejects the etiquettes like ‘mother’ or ‘wife;' on the contrary, she defends that every woman has a right to define their own volume to enclose the balance between ‘self’ and ‘other.' With the power of poetry, she rebels against patriarchal society and defends not only women but also any kind of group which excluded from society.

Mrs. Herbert Carpenter, bearing an American flag, marches proudly at the head of a parade for women's suffrage on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1914.

The poem starts with describing preparations for diving; the real aim of diving is to reach a shipwreck. Although the wreck is used symbolically, it evokes seeing the hiding meaning of this metaphor. Firstly, she starts to ‘’read the book of myths’’ in order to see the previous script, which is written by the male gaze. Then she takes her camera and knife, and contrary to Cousteau -- who dives into the sea with the accompanier -- Rich emphasizes she will be alone during the exploration. The speaker of the poem rejects those myths, preferring to dive into the water to take her own journey. As she goes down into a wreck, she discovers her subconscious identity because throughout time society dictates women to conform to cliché constructions, like the clothes women must wear, their behaviors into the society, their responsibilities towards family, certain jobs should do by them, etc. Those myths represent old-school ideas, and the speaker wants to prove the contrary. This is not way a journey of loss but of discovery and healing, and she dives to see the truth behind the myth.

Adrienne Rich during her student days at Radcliffe

‘’ First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.’’

These lines explain how she has to deal with all of the unknown paths by herself. However, her mask is so powerful to overcome impediments that she encountered during the discovery. By saying ‘’the sea is another story,’’ she wants to show the status of women is more than the assuming truth. The sea represents women’s heart, soul and desires, and as she's reaching to the wreck she highlights those elements with the help of inquiry. By learning to stay alone, she emphasizes how important to be independent and overcoming problems on her own. She becomes a voice who struggling to find a place ‘’in the deep element.’’ In there, Rich fills up with courage because the uncertainty of the sea whips her feelings to explore the more.

‘’This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he’’

Once she reaches it, the wreck turns into a new metamorphosis that consists of both ''she'' and ''he''. There is no difference between becoming two of them. She indicates women can be the same status as men. Their presence and accomplishments must be considered by society. They are forced to suppress their fecundity in all places where they can prove their talents towards the patriarchal society. Becoming both mermaid and merman makes them stronger against the barriers that are put down by manhood. The intertwining of both genres opens up a new door for women who endure staying silent against their own personalities. The wreck is a symbol of forgotten women history throughout the time, and their emotions, wishes and unconscious acceptance bring out with the help of diving.

‘’ We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.’’

Those lines prove that she gathers every kind of differentiates into the one pot, ‘’we’’ turns into the symbol of unity. Even if they had been erased from the ‘’book of myths’’ their endeavor to create and write again ignite all of the abrogated facts about womanhood. This exploration gains a new meaning which is a revival of women’s power and destruction of the inherited dogma. Rich advocates non-binary norms which, according to Aida Manduley, is ‘’someone who does not identify as a man or a woman, or solely as one of those two genders.’’ Thus, certain insisting towards womanhood is melt to submerged power of non-binary. The necessity of rewritten history turns up by means of ‘diving’ and with the contributions, poets like Adrienne Rich Women’s Movement has been becoming strong day by day and literature always keeps its importance and stays an inseparable part of the feminist movement.

Women's Strike for Peace and Equality, New York City, Aug. 26, 1970.


Ray, Mohit Kumar& Kundu, Rama, Studies in Women Writers in English, Vol. 3, Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, (September 1, 2005)

Rich, Adrienne, Diving into the Wreck, retrieved (September 22, 2021)

Weiss, Suzannah, 9 Things People Get Wrong About Being Non-Binary, Teen Vogue, retrieved (September 23, 2021)

T.C. Dokuz Eylül University, Ake 1003 Introduction to Literature, Lecture Notes, 2018

Image Resources

Women's Strike for Peace and Equality [Photography]


Author Photo

Aylin Usta

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