The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window Themes

Joy Foster

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A 1982 trip to Chicago and a visit to the Chicago Indian Center with its one small room and an old battered rocking chair triggered the poem “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window” and its sad story. The image of the rocking chair stayed with Harjo, who imagined a woman, rocking for her life. She said, “I kept feeling her there, standing behind me urging me on.She sat down on the edge of my memory and refused to move.”

The poem’s ambiguous and open ending reflects the poet’s belief that women, perhaps especially Native American women, must always retain hope. Despite the ravages of patriarchal oppression over hundreds of years, these dislocated and lonely women are, in Harjo’s words, “alive and precious.” As she hangs from the window, some voices from the sidewalk scream for the woman to jump. Others cry, sympathetic with her tortured life and current dilemma. She sees women “pull their children up like flowers and gather/ them into their arms” in a protective gesture of family unity. Whether this sustains her or only makes her long for her own community, readers cannot be sure.

In a radical move toward breaking the silence about dislocation of Native American women, Harjo skillfully invites the reader to face the chaos of displacement, spiral down into its center, and emerge transformed by the experience. Recognizing the healing qualities of memory, the poet describes its gifts well for those who may not...

(The entire section is 448 words.)