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Here is a general summary followed by more a specific line by line breakdown.
Plath’s personification of the mushrooms can be seen as a way of expressing the plight of women in the 1960’s. The ‘perfectly voiceless’ fungus represent the silent but growing majority of women, hidden in darkness, gradually, quietly pushing until they ‘inherit the earth’.
The mushrooms are sinister in their steady power as they ‘shoulder through holes’. The first person narrative further enhances this. Plath makes excellent use of assonance and para-rhyme to express the calm assurance of the ’bland mannered’ mushrooms: seemingly unthreatening, ‘asking/Little or nothing’ and yet compelled to multiply, grow and take over. Their fertility also identifies the connection with women. The final line ‘Our foot’s in the door’ is ominous and threatening in its tone.
Stanza 1 – narrator ascertains that the change will happen overnight and uses pararhyme in whitely/discreetly
Stanza 2 uses assonance to establish the growing process toes/loam
Stanza 3 repetition of us and not being seen gives a sinister edge
Stanza 4 oxymoron of soft fists emphasises calm strength as the mushrooms push through
Stanza 5 explains that though seemingly without senses, the mushrooms are strong
Stanza 6 again they have power despite being ‘voiceless’ and they keep pushing through the poem. Enjambement connects this to the next stanza
Stanza 7 the lack of attention and nutrition (typical of women) is not an obstacle
Stanza 8 Repetition of ‘So many of us!’ becomes sinister and has power in the exclamation
Stanza 9 repetition of ‘we are’ followed by objects to be used/consumed explains the current position of the mushroom
Stanza 10 expresses that the movement is ‘in spite of ourselves’ : inevitable
Stanza 11 Explains that the takeover will be swift ‘by morning’ and contains the Biblical phrase ‘Inherit the earth’. The final line is a sinister warning that this has almost begun.
What are your questions about the poem? Are you having trouble with vocabulary, how she wrote it or the imagery?
Vocabulary and context are the most chellenging pieces of poetry for me. DOn't try to figure out what the poem meant to Plath. What does it mean to you? Make sure you understand first what she is saying:
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air."
To understand what she is desrcibing, you must first know
what she means to 'take hold on the loam.'
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