Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The themes of Carolyn Kizer's 34-line poem "Bitch" (published within a collection of poems in 1984) include feminism and self-control.

The feminist element in Kizer's poem presents the word "bitch" (adducing the popular dual meanings of "insolent woman" and "female dog") in the opening two lines, and a total of three times within the poem. The context is the speaker's encounter with a former lover, whom she is determined to treat decently (however hard it may be) in this public setting. The bitch "barks hysterically" and also "whimpers," which suggests that the poem is availing itself of the latter definition, though occasion requires that the literal definition must be the former. The reconciliation process is where one learns what it means to the poem to be a feminist (i.e., acknowledging the "bitch" in both senses).

The self-control is the most fascinating and creative portrayal. Presenting her inner self as a "bitch" is a clever perversion of personification on the part of the speaker (and poet). When she encounters her offensive interlocutor, she says, "Now, when he and I meet, after all these years, / say to the bitch inside me, don’t start growling." Using the word "growling" so early in the poem immediately provides ample imagery to suppose that this "bitch" is in fact walking alongside the speaker on four legs, rather than inside of her, emotionally festering.

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