"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. It seems like 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 days. 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 the water-damaged navigation logs or 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 of those, like the author, who have broken out of that society. They can be something different and something better.
In 1974, Adrienne Rich received the National Book Award for Diving into the Wreck. In a statement written with Audre Lorde and Alice Walker, who also were nominated, she rejected the award as an individual but accepted it on behalf of women, dedicating the occasion “to the struggle for self-determination of all women.” This vision of herself as writing for and in the presence of women has guided her work. Feminism provides Rich with the framework for her vision of transformation for herself and for other women.
Her seventh book of poetry, the collection is, in part, a clarification of her identity as a member of the women’s movement of the previous decade. Receiving critical acclaim from the onset of her career, including being chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Award for her first collection, A Change of World (1951), Rich has sought a position in the male-dominated literary world. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s she became politically active in antiwar protests and the feminist movement. Rich saw her poetic power and political ideology merge, creating a powerful poetic vision that informs Diving into the Wreck. Rich, one of America’s foremost poets, has explored, analyzed, and depicted her own physical, psychic, and intellectual rebirth in her prose and poetry. Although her later works, including her prose text Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976) and her poetry collection The Dream of a Common Language (1978), dramatize the theme of rebirth in detail, the initial exploration of this theme takes place in the collection Diving into the Wreck . In this work, the...
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