Diving into the Wreck

by Adrienne Rich

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 415

In "Diving into the Wreck," the narrator dives into the ocean to find a wreck; likely, this is a symbol for her actually delving into the history of women and trying to find the truth about the damage that the patriarchy has done to them.

At the beginning of the poem, Adrienne Rich's narrator explains her preparations for diving into the wreck. She says:

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber

It's clear that she doesn't expect the dive to be easy. Her diving suit is armor, which means she expects that she needs to shield herself. She brings a knife. She brings a book of myths—which, in this case, are probably histories written by men that ignore the contributions and problems of women. She brings a camera so she can capture images of what she sees and bring them back with her.

Rich explains that she came for "the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth." In other words, she wants to find the actual history of women and how it affects women in the present day. She doesn't want to see the accepted histories; she wants to see the truth.

When she finds the wreck, it changes her. For the first time, she addresses herself as something other than a woman. She accepts an androgynous duality in herself, saying:

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.

She's part of the place now—and part of everyone who came before her. She's able to go into the hold of the wreck where she finds the women whose stories haven't been told. She says their "drowned face sleeps with open eyes."

Once she sees everything there is to see, the speaker addresses the reader and says:

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

The reader isn't in the book of accepted histories and has to find the wreck to better understand themselves. They can dive into the same wreck, face the same evidence, and piece together their own understanding of themselves and the people who came before them, but they also have to prepare themselves in the same way that the speaker did.

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