Liberated or ConfinedDo you feel liberated as the reader or confined when you read "Girl Powdering her Neck" by Cathy Song?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I agree that the poem is more confining than liberating.  It is describing a woman who is making herself up to become essentially a plaything used for someone else's pleasure.

To me, the most poignant line is the last line in this passage:

She practices pleasure:
the pressure of three fingertips
applying powder.
Fingerprints of pollen
some other hand will trace.

This is very confining.  The idea that what she is doing is only for "some other hand" makes it seem as if she is caged.  She can't get away and be who and what she wants.

So, to me, this is a confining poem rather than a liberating one.

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This is a very interesting question to apply to this poem, as it is possible to read the author's attitude to the beautiful scene she is describing as being profoundly ambivalent. Personally, I see this image of a woman applying make up to herself as being confining rather than liberating, because of the images that are used to describe what is happening. Consider the following examples:

The eyes narrow
in a moment of self-scrutiny.
The mouth parts
as if desiring to disturb
the placid plum face;
break the symmetry of silence.
But the berry-stained lips,
stenciled into the mask of beauty,
do not speak.

It is as if the process that the woman is going through is part of a desire to express herself as she regards her image with "self-scrutiny." Note that her lips look as if they have a desire to "disturb" and "break" the "symmetry of silence." Yet, the beauty is described somewhat ambivalently as a "mask" that renders the "berry-stained lips" speechless. The process of constructing this carefully drawn "mask of beauty" actually robs the agent of speech and sound rather than empowering her to speak and comment upon her life and what she is doing. Likewise the final short stanza, where both lips are compared to "two chrysanthemums" that briefly touch and then draw apart, hint at the desire of the woman to speak, but then the way that she is trapped by the beauty that refuses to grant her liberty. We are left with the image of these two beautiful lips drawing apart, silent and encaged by the beauty that gives the woman such status in this male-dominated world.

Please note however that this is my personal reading. You could reasonably argue that the beauty that this woman creates is what gives her power and respect, but I personally find the images that are used to describe the subject are more restricting than liberating.

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