Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"Living in Sin" is a poem by American poet and essayist Adrienne Rich. The poem is highly vivid and uses descriptions of daily life, mostly still life, to articulate the poet's sentiments regarding love and relationships. The perspective of the poem comes from that of a housewife. The detailed observations of furniture and household items depict the domestic life of a woman seemingly trapped in that sort of existence despite wanting more emotionally.

The poem is also about the illusions, or perhaps delusions, people have about relationships and life in general: that one's ambitions and desires will be served to them by a cosmic force, and that everything will fall into place without exerting effort. Halfway through the poem, however, the speaker realizes that this way of thinking is incorrect. She realizes that the fine household materials and the effort she puts into making sure her domestic life is in order is part of the illusion she has constructed. This self-deception is a form of defense mechanism to protect herself from the pain of the truth—the truth being she is not truly in love with her husband and her husband does not truly love her. Instead, she is just like the fine furniture and clean porcelain in the house: an object that exists for a single purpose and one that becomes "worthless" when neglected.

Despite holding these objects in high regard at the beginning of the poem, the speaker realizes that she has become trapped in a social bubble where symbols of status are more important than the most basic human emotional needs. In a sense, the objects in her house mirror her own fragility and value. In fact, she shows more love and care toward the house than her husband shows toward her. This realization, although painful, helps her understand her self-worth: that she deserves more than an existence as a glorified personal maid for her husband.

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