Themes

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Last Updated on November 29, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

Abuse

This theme dominates the first chapter, The Hurting. As the speaker relates her personal experiences as a victim and survivor of child abuse, the reader begins to understand the devastating effects it has had on her psyche and her relationships with men—particularly her father. It quickly becomes clear that...

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Abuse

This theme dominates the first chapter, The Hurting. As the speaker relates her personal experiences as a victim and survivor of child abuse, the reader begins to understand the devastating effects it has had on her psyche and her relationships with men—particularly her father. It quickly becomes clear that the abuse is not merely physical and that her abusers are manipulating her emotionally. One of them expects her to enjoy the sexual abuse. Another tells her to shut up and keep all her opinions to herself. All of the men teach her that women are supposed to be less than men, in their opinion. This ties in with the theme of gender.

Gender

One of the most important themes in this collection is the theme of gender. Kaur writes mainly from the point of view of a straight woman who has been taught to believe in the gender binary and in traditional gender roles. She has come to understand that men in general like to subjugate women, to think of them as sexual objects and use them as entertainment. In her experience, women aren't safe, and young women have to struggle to protect their bodies. Later in life, she meets men who are kind and begins to reshape her idea of masculinity. More importantly, she refines her definition of what it means to be a woman.

Sex and Love
 
Kaur makes it clear that sex and love do not necessarily go hand in hand. She writes,

"i've had sex she said
but i don't know
what making love
feels like"

This distinction is an important one. It emphasizes that sexual abuse is never a product of love—no matter what the abuser says—and that sex should be a consensual act that all parties enjoy. Both the physical act of love and the emotional state of being in love are complicated for the speaker, thanks to her childhood sexual abuse. Before she can love another, she must learn to love herself. To do so, she must separate sex from violence enough to understand the difference. Most importantly, she must go on a journey of self-discovery and learn how to define sex and love for herself.

Healing

Healing is one of the biggest themes in the poetry collection. Though the final chapter, The Healing, focuses exclusively on this theme, it appears periodically throughout the book, as when the speaker says,

"i'm learning
how to love him
by loving myself"

Just acknowledging the fact that one is broken is the first stage in the healing process. From there, a combination of self-discovery, therapy, and good relationships help the speaker heal from the abuse. Part of the healing process is unlearning some of the lessons of her childhood: sex is not necessarily violent, love is not always toxic, and women do not have to be victims for all their lives. At the end of the collection, the speaker takes comfort in the fellowship of other women. She understands that her experiences are not uncommon and that women must empower themselves to fight misogyny.
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