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Analyzing a poem from a feminist critical perspective often involves examining how symbols, images, and metaphors reflect the oppression of women under a patriarchal system of domination.
In Marge Piercy's "A Work of Artifice," the bonsai tree is a symbol of the physical and social conditioning that women receive. Just as a bonsai tree is pruned constantly in order to keep it small and contained, women are physically altered to conform to an artificial ideal of beauty, which likewise leaves them stunted, damaged, and vulnerable. The poet alludes to the Chinese practice of foot binding, which crippled women's feet in the name of fashion.
The physical act of grooming is also a metaphor for the way women are groomed to perform certain roles in society. The gardener in the poem claims that it is the bonsai's "nature to be small and cozy" and that it is "lucky" to be cared for so lovingly. Similarly, women are taught that their roles as wives and mothers are biologically determined. They are told they should be glad they have husbands to support them and don't have to work outside the home. Just as the bonsai tree could grow much larger and live outside the confines of its pot, however, women, too, can grow and develop differently and perform any of the jobs traditionally held by men.
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