In the poem "Snaps," how does Espaillat challenge traditional claims of gender, calling for subversive awakenings?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Snaps," Espaillat presents conventional images of womanhood in the first two stanzas of her poem and then presents the defiant stance of the girl behind her outward poses. For example, the poet describes the girl's "white middy" and the "light on your featureless expanse of chest" in the snapshots in the first stanza. In the second stanza, the poet writes of the girl's "gold cross against the clean sweater." These images symbolize purity and innocence, as does the metaphorical way the girl places her hands in her "lap's small bounded nest." The metaphor of the girl's lap as a nest likens the girl's sexuality to a contained space. 

However, after the first two stanzas, the poet challenges traditional gender norms and calls for subversive awakenings by writing about the "strain" behind the girl's appearance in her old snapshots. Beneath the innocent and obedient exterior the girl presents in the photographs, she has a "sharp tilt of the jaw" and a "small thrust of hip and shoulder." These defiant body movements symbolize the girl's unwillingness to totally conform to gender norms--either physically or emotionally. Instead, the girl is willing to defy "Mama's touch that bent you to the law." Her mother's touch is a symbol of the physical and emotional ways her mother attempted to force her daughter to conform, and her daughter's subtle resistance to this touch stands for more than just physical resistance but also an awakening to the ways in which the girl can be free and can literally and figuratively step out of restrictive gender norms.