Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431
"Diving into the Wreck" by Adrienne Rich depicts a woman diving under the ocean to find women in a wreck. Symbolically, it's the story of Rich diving into the history of women and the injustices and damage done to them in the past. It's about women creating new stories for themselves by learning from the past—especially the part of the past that's hidden from view.
The speaker explains how she has prepared for the dive at the beginning of the poem. She reads a book of myths, prepares a camera, and brings a knife. This means that she needs to understand the history of what she'll find, that she wants to bring back memories or proof of what's there, and that there's a possibility that she'll need to protect herself or fight through barriers. She calls her diving suit "body-armor" and reminds the reader that she, unlike famous diver Jacques Cousteau, is "alone" in her dive.
She uses the ladder to climb into the water and stays in the air despite going lower and lower. She says there's no one to let her know when the ocean starts. She's stuck between her preparations and the place she needs to get to. She does eventually get there, though she says she is blacking out. Her mask, which she put on as part of her preparations, helps keep her alive.
Once she's in the water, she says it's easy to forget her purpose. There's so much there; she talks of those who have always lived there and how they intimidate her. She has to fight against feeling like a trespasser.
She moves closer to what she came for, which she says is "the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth." In the context of diving for the history of harm done to women, she's looking for the actual effects of it that last into the present day. She's not looking for the stories we tell ourselves about the past.
Once she finds what she is looking for, she sees the damage that has been done. She compares women to water-damaged navigation logs and broken compasses. She says that she and the reader—others—find their way to this again and again. They bring the same things—a book, a knife, and a camera—but their names, like her name, don't appear in the book of myths. The book tells the story of both society and those, like the author, who have broken out of that society. They can be something different and something better.