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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319

"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.

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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.

The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542

Adrienne Rich’s “Living in Sin” is a twenty-six-line single-stanza poem that effectively captures the stark contrast between a young woman’s romantic notions and the bitter taste of daily realities once she acts on those notions.

Told entirely from the woman’s point of view, the poem begins in the past, with the vision of how she thought her life would be living with the man she loved. The first two lines effectively convey her naïveté, her simple acceptance of a fairy tale version of her future once she has accepted his offer to come and live with him. The last two lines picture her waking up both literally and figuratively to the painful awareness of what the future holds.

The intervening twenty-two lines present a graphic account of her transition from daydreams to nightmares. Through devotion to her romantic fantasies, the young woman fails to anticipate the trials and disillusionments of daily life. Because she is in love, she imagines that commonplace cares and chores such as cleaning and cooking would not be part of her world. Her small apartment “would keep itself;/ no dust upon the furniture of love.” Her vision of a studio with “a plate of pears,/ a piano with a Persian shawl” seems taken from a painting or a scene in a romance novel rather than from real life. Even once there in her new life, it seems a betrayal of her fantasy to wish things were different, “half heresy” to resent the dripping faucet and the filthy windows. However, the harsh “morning light” dissipates her illusions; the reality of her situation becomes apparent. The light “coldly would delineate” the unpleasant particulars of a morning after: the cheese scraps, the “sepulchral bottles,” and the insects in her cupboards.

Rich makes it clear that the young woman’s unpleasant physical...

(The entire section contains 1389 words.)

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