What is the theme and message of the poem "Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!"?

The poem "Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!" revolves around the story of a wife's reaction to her patronizing husband, who wants to keep her firmly in her place. The poem's message, however, is that, to become her own person, a woman must be true to herself and break out of roles set for her by others.

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Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem “Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!” is quite unique and interesting. It tells something of a story. The woman speaker begins with a line that seems a bit teasing but actually has a seriousness underneath it. Apparently, her husband has taken her book. She wants it back and offers a kiss instead.

Yet the speaker wonders if her husband is a friend or an enemy when she recalls his patronizing comment: “What a big book for such a little head!” He clearly thinks that women shouldn't be reading such big, complex books. He seems to perceive his wife as a silly, little woman who should be more interested in her new hat than in reading.

So the speaker gives in. She shows him her new hat and pouts a bit. She will still love her husband “and all of that,” but she will not tell him what she thinks anymore. She will not try to hold intelligent discussions with him, for that isn't what he wants from a woman. She will be what he wants, sweet and soft, but she will also be crafty and sly. He will not see her reading, but she will continue to do so. She will continue to think and have opinions and learn and expand her mind.

The speaker knows, however, that this kind of relationship cannot last long. She may seem like the ideal wife in her husband's eyes, but in being so, she is not allowed to be herself. It is a situation she will not always be able to tolerate. So on some “sane day,” she will be gone. He will whistle, and she will not be there for him to patronize.

This, indeed, is the message of the poem, that a woman must be herself and be true to herself. She can act like someone else wants her to only for so long. Such a split in her character will not be sustainable. The poem also revolves around the themes of a woman's “place” in the eyes of some men and a woman's desire to break out of the roles set by others and become who she is as a person.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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The theme of this poem is the female speaker's anger at having her intelligence belittled by her husband. She wonders if he is her "enemy" or "friend" for having said to her,

What a big book for such a little head!

The speaker goes on to say that rather than continue to be hurt by his contempt, she will hide her intelligence and her real thoughts from him. Instead, she will play the empty-headed role he expects. She will show him her "newest hat" rather than talk to him about books. She will become "sweet and crafty, soft and sly." By this, she means that her sweetness and softness will not be real but ways to manipulate him. She will be the "pattern" or stereotype of the sweet, submissive wife. However, she also warns him that she will not stick around in this kind of marriage. One day, he will find her gone.

Beyond describing a particular circumstance that angers a particular woman, the poem becomes universal in describing the widespread, searing anger intelligent women in that time period felt towards men who wanted to belittle and reduce them to stereotypes. It acts as a cautionary tale or warning to men everywhere not to underestimate women.

The poem is a sonnet with an abab rhyme scheme and a rhyming couplet at the end. It uses simple words to express the speaker's emotions—words that perhaps even a man like the speaker's husband can understand.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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