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Regarding the poet, Adrienne Rich, “Rich insists the traditional and proper roles of...

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kc76384 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted May 16, 2012 at 3:52 PM via web

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Regarding the poet, Adrienne Rich, “Rich insists the traditional and proper roles of good wife and housekeeper are a woman’s funeral preparations.” Respond to this quotation as it applies to the author's life.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 16, 2012 at 7:15 PM (Answer #1)

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Of Adrienne Rich it has been said...

Rich insists the traditional and proper roles of good wife and housekeeper are a woman’s funeral preparations.

A knowledge of Rich's unusual journey through life will shed light on this perception. Rich's parents were both educated and accomplished—her father a "renowned pathologist" and her mother a concert pianist. Rich grew up during a time when societal expectations placed a woman in a home: first with her parents, and later as a wife and mother. The woman as an individual was never advocated in the 1930s or 1940s. She attended Roland Park Country School, which was a...

...good old fashioned girls school [that] gave us fine role models of single women who were intellectually impassioned.

(Note she does not mention married women, similarly "impassioned".)

As expected of women in the 1950s, she married—a professor at Harvard. She notes:

I married in part because I knew no better way to disconnect from my first family [...] I wanted what I saw as a full woman's life, whatever was possible.

Rich hints at a desire to be independent, however she also followed a path into marriage and motherhood where she would remain for some time before she would "find herself" and ultimately upend all of the social expectations and role models with which she had been raised.

Since her final year in high school, Rich has enjoyed an amazingly fruitful and "renowned" career as a poet. She has been honored on many occasions for her poetry. Her writing and life have paralleled each other as Rich has changed in her personal life. In poems published in 1963, she examined her "female identity," reflecting on her experiences "as a wife an mother in the 1950s. She said...

The experience of motherhood was eventually to radicalize me.

During the Vietnam War, Rich became "heavily involved in anti-war, civil right, and feminist activism."

Rich personal life altered dramatically: she began to reject the stereotypical social roles of women in American society. Eventually, her marriage would end. Rich was by now closely associated with other feminist authors, including Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. It was in the 1970s that Rich "began her lifelong partnership with Jamaican-born novelist and editor Michelle Cliff." And so emerged her altered views on her own sexuality.

In 1976...

Rich acknowledged that, for her, lesbianism was both a political as well as a personal issue, writing, "The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs." 

Rich's writing would address themes of sexuality and question society's need to suppress such lifestyles. Langdell (author of Adrienne Rich: the moment of change) noted that it was works surrounding this change in her life that displayed something of a "rite of passage" for Rich, and a "new relationship with the universe".

With this background, it is easy to see why Rich would view a traditional role of women in the home as "funeral preparations" if she were doing so only to fulfill a social expectation. Rich would mostly likely espouse the idea that a woman first must know who she is—learning this through self-evaluation; she should find out what is important to her and pursue those things ardently. Rich's viewpoint of a woman's role in society would seem to indicate that there is no such thing—except that which a woman creates for herself. Living for someone or something else, she might say, is as good as being dead.

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