Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Throughout much of her poetry, Kizer seeks to elucidate the historical and contemporary situation of women in a male-dominated world. She does this not only by noting and representing the destructive characteristics of male behavior and drives but also by calling attention to what, in “Pro Femina” (1964), she calls the independent but “maimed” condition of women. In “Bitch,” this wounded condition of the speaker is everywhere and increasingly present. It is in the title, in which a truly felt sense of belittlement confronts demeaning male name-calling. It is in the speaker’s own representation of her inner self as a “bitch,” one that not only “bark[s] hysterically,” as men posit but also, more profoundly, may “whimper,” even “cringe,” at the most insignificant of kindnesses. It is also in the bitch’s forgetfulness, her easy willingness to remember past adoration and “the small careless kindnesses” in the face of the former lover’s greater self-absorption, boredom with her devotion, and “casual cruelties,” indeed, his “ultimate dismissal” of her.

The conceit of the “bitch” and her behavior provide the poem’s greatest, most obviously self-directed feminist satire. An easier satire lies in the speaker’s masking strong emotion with external pleasantry. While the masking is a common behavior, what draws particular sympathy from the reader is the very existence of the still unresolved, warring emotions. The...

(The entire section is 467 words.)