Gender Typing in the Confessional Poetry of Judith Wright Judith Wright (1915-2000), a poet, an essayist, a short story writer, and an activist, represents her hardship, gender-awareness, protest against the imperial outlook of patriarchy and her typical attitude towards men In her confessional poetry. She Is considered the best poet of Australia and is globally recognized for writing poetry in a confessional mode. The poet through her subjective voice portrays a collective condition of women of her society. In many of her poems, she unveils women’s sufferings which chiefly relate to ale domination.
She both explicitly and implicitly expresses her experiences in her poems. The poet analogies herself sometimes with nature and sometimes with the vulnerable condition of the downtrodden people, especially the black. She does not come across any difference between the condition of women, and that of nature and of the black. For her, all are equally tortured and exploited by the socially benefited class, Her poetry Is also the embodiment of her suffering, humiliation, deprivation, suppression and oppression, which are identical experiences of every woman of patriarchal society.
Wright’s Childhood: A Period of Depression and Darkness Judith Wright for the first time became a victim of patriarchal favoritism at her home: “Family has always been the so called feminine’ realm in the paternal colonial scenario of Australia where men are predominantly engaged in explorations and mastering of women” (Ads Men 147). When she was two and a half years old, her younger brother was born and from his birth her position in the family became worthless. She says, “It was his arrival that first set me on the path out of Eden. Fair- haired, brown-eyed, happy and cooed over by everyone. While I was dark-haired. Ninnies-eyed and female, he had supplanted me” (Half a Lifetime 30). The scenario is not a new one in a male-dominated society: [T]he majority of parents wish to have sons rather than daughters. Boys are spoken to with more seriousness and more esteem, and more rights are granted them; they themselves treat girls with contempt, they play among themselves and exclude girls from their group, they insult them: they call them names like ‘pips pots’, thus evoking girls’ secret childhood humiliations. She started writing poetry at the age of six to please and cheer her (Behavior 311) ever-ailing mother.
She was encouraged to write poems by her mother, who was Interested In her daughter’s poems thinking that they would lessen her Illness. The poet was, however, disheartened, for her loving mother died during her childhood. The death of her mother came to her as a bolt from the blue. It brought her an unbearable hard time and at this point she felt completely alienated from the rest of the world. The poet felt guilty as she could not do anything to save her mother who died young, at the age of thirty-seven. Wright writes in her autobiography, Half a Lifetime: My mother’s death came when she was thirty-seven years old and I was eleven.
When at last she died – on a day I can never remember without a shudder for her – the end of my childhood was final. Apart from grief, I had guilt to contend with. I knew I had not been able to comfort her or help her through those dreadful days at all, though I was the eldest and the girl, facts always emphasized when I failed in my duties. In that winter of her death, life had changed forever. (103-104) an eleven-year- old girl to survive and to continue her study, as the woman who cared for her, left her for good. In the above reference the clause “though I was the eldest and the girl” deserves our attention.
The clause raises questions: Can’t a woman get help from the male members of a family? Is it the responsibility of a daughter only to help her mother when she is ill? The poet’s blame on herself delicately shows her family members’ indifference to the illness of her mother. It can be viewed that Wright’s society was careless about women’s sufferings. Its attitude towards women was a callous one. A society based on masculine rule is usually unsympathetic and indifferent to the problems of women. The experience that she gathered from her society compelled her to think that a male-dominated society hardly values women.
After her mother’s death, though for a long time Wright did not write anything, she at one stage started writing poetry again to regain her spirit and to tell the tale of her struggle to the world, “the only thing I had to treasure was poetry and the knowledge that I was going to be a poet” (Half a Lifetime 107). She felt that it is only poetry which “has the ability to connect reason and emotion by a mixture of rhythm, rhyme and image in such a way that we are forced to see and feel things anew’ (Cornwall 3). After her mother’s death, the poet was sent to a boarding school, for her stepmother was impassive and harsh towards her.
Her stepmother took her as a burden on the family. So, she was destined to go to the boarding school. Wright faced gendered attitude of society at her boarding school too. Though her school was a girls’ school, it was modeled and run following the rules of boys’ school. She observed masculine domination at her school after coming across an identical phenomenon in her family. The poet states in Half a Lifetime: For some reason it [her school] was modeled on British boys’ ‘public schools’. Like theirs, its school songs tended to be incomprehensible and masculine. Forty years on, growing older and elder’, then its strange chorus, ‘Follow up! Follow up! Till the field ring again and again . ‘ Hymns, exhortations, sermons, all seemed to be recycled from male-directed models. Scripture lessons, called Divinity, inculcated masculine values; the female gender was seldom used, except in sewing and cooking lessons. Even in these there were no references to exemplary females, though Mrs. Beaten and Coco Chance at least might have been held up as encouragement. Only Miss Young, my English teacher, seemed to regard George Eliot as the equal of Dickens and Thacker. 112) What the poet writes in her autobiography is her first-hand experience. The quoted passage distinctly shows that dominance of male sexism is prevalent in every phase of society. Even the sermons and religious scripture are male directed. Masculine values are overemphasized everywhere. The condition of women who are found useful only for ‘sewing and cooking has also been reflected in the passage. It seems that the phrase ‘sewing and cooking is a tool for dehumidifying women because it emphasizes women’s sewing and cooking qualities only rather than other activities performed by them.
Wright in the above passage also wants to portray that even the trustworthy women who played a significant role in various ways in the socio- economic development of the country were ignored. Besides, the female littérateurs were not equally valued like the male ones of that time. This shows the reluctant tendency of men in terms of acknowledging the contribution of women. The poet institution] and academy men secure consent of the very women they oppress and each institution Justifies and reinforces women’s subordination to men with the result that women internalize a sense of inferiority to men” (Mandela 16).
She in addition came to know that women in her society did not have any opportunity to inherit land from their ancestors. The rules of society only helped them to get some money: “We women of the family could inherit money but the land was not ours” (Half a Lifetime 67). On account of social setup, women were deprived of inheriting any land. Knowing this fact during her childhood was also a shocking experience for the poet. The poet’s father’s gendered mind-set furthermore triggered her childhood trauma.
He was unwilling about her education: “My father was reluctant to consider Sydney, let alone university’ (Half a Lifetime 117). He did not allow her to get admitted into a university. The biased outlook of her father hurt her badly. It might be realized that this outlook is the conventional outlook of every father of a male-centered society, as in a male-dominated society a father gives less concentration on his daughter’s / daughters’ education. However, Wright went against the existing social system by denying her father’s gendered mind-set, and by getting herself admitted into the University of Sydney.
Under patriarchal principles, in terms of marriage of a woman it is a man who takes the decision, not the woman herself, and what is imposed on a woman, she cannot but accept it. During her childhood, Wright had to witness such an incident when one of her aunts (Audrey) was married off. She saw that it was not her aunt who took the decision of her marriage; rather she had to submit herself to the decision of her father. The incident terrified her. She came to visualize her own feminine destiny in the future. In the words of the poet: Once the wedding was over, I began to understand my own feminine destiny. Girls, I now knew, had few choices.
Their future lay Inside, while Outside was a male domain. Not even the Inside in which they had been born and reared would belong o them unless, like my father’s sister Wet, they stayed unmarried and without much status. For the unmarried did not, I gathered, choose to be so; to marry was the proper destiny for women, even those who, like my aunt, seemed to live more or less happily and had their own pursuits of painting and music. Evidently, they were not allowed to have children. They had nobody to order about, no household to rule, and no acceptable role beyond working for others, without independence or money of their own. Half a Lifetime 52) She could perceive that the same destiny is waiting for her in future. So, she decided to leave: “What I loved, then, I would have to leave if I wanted to be free”. (54) Disturbance and Sufferings of Married Life The gendered attitude of her husband made her married a life frustrated one. She observed that male-dominated society is quite categorical, inconsiderate and cruel towards women. In patriarchal social system, neither father nor husband understands a woman. The purpose of this society and that of its masters is to make women submissive and to remind them that they are inferior to men in every sense.
This society believes that “men are without any question, the masters of the oral” (Behavior 352), and surely in this circumstance a woman feels “oppressed and submerged”, for which “she becomes a stranger to the rest of the world” (353). The condition of the poet was not different from that of the other women of the society. In fugue of male-domination, did not understand her, muff will not understand my words when I tell of it / You do not understand me; yet you are part of me” (“Unknown Water” 18-19) though she considered him to be a part of her life, “And I still believe in you, though you will not understand me” (19-25).
The quoted lines put across the agony of the poet. The speaker of the poem even doubts that she Will not be understood’ in the future which indicates quite an uncertain life of the poet. The last line of the quotation raises questions like: Doesn’t it suggest that there is hardly any opportunity for women to be heard by men? Doesn’t it show that men are reluctant to change their mind in terms of feminine issue? In Spanking words, the male-governed world never wants to pay attention to the women’s words.
Even there is no communication between men and women. Communication is Just like a speech act in which there must be two groups; speaker and listener. For her, men never listen to women. Women are always unheard. As a result, the voice of the women gradually becomes feeble. In the last stanza of “Unknown Water”, the poet says, “l am not you / but you are part of me. Go easy with me, Old man” (29-30), which also demonstrate her miserable condition. The last sentence in the quotation ‘Go easy with me’ Old man’ deserves our attention further.
It insinuates that her husband, who she indicates by the phrase ‘Old man’, is not an easygoing person. His treatment to the poet is very complicated. However, the uneasiness of the speaker in this poem may be psychological. It matters little whether the apprehension is physical or psychological; she is overburdened with the ambiguity of life that she has to undergo for her husband’s outlook. The phrase ‘Old man’ has been interpreted in several ways by the critics but what Stephen Harris says in “Narratives from Another Creek” explains patriarchal domination clearly.
For him, “the ‘Old man’ [is] obviously representative of both dominant Western masculine and culturally conservative attitudes” (14). His explanation emphasizes that the dominant masculine attitudes make the world a psychologically torture cell for women. Being a confessional poet, Wright writes about the very intimate experiences of her life, but she finds these experiences are common to every woman of her society, for “… All men are one man at last” (“Insigne’s Leap, New England” 18), and they are alike in terms of their treatment towards women.
Wright comments in Because I was Invited that poetry works in terms of Yelling-experience’ – the poem is a symbol arousing feeling; feeling not simply as subjective response but as a complex and intricately dynamic state of knowing and being” (31). In the poem “The Watcher”, Judith Wright monstrance how women traditionally surrender every aspiration of their life for the sake of love since, for them, love is the embodiment of their emancipation. A woman is always ready to love and serve her husband and she seeks the same things from her husband. The poet writes: Lie quietly; be covered by my love.
I will be rain to fall upon your earth; I will be shade to hold the sun from you. (4-6) The poet metaphorically shows how she will play the role of rain and shade to save her husband from the draught and the burning sun respectively. She wants to comfort her husband by her all activities. She further focuses what she can do to I am the garden beyond the burning wind, I am the river among the blowing sand; I am the song you hear before you sleep. In being these, I lose myself in these. I am the woman-statue of the fountain out of whose metal breasts continually starts a living water; I am a vase shaped only for my hour of holding you. 7-14) The above extract makes it clear that a woman has to forfeit her personal longing to satisfy her husband. She must mould herself based on the pleasure of her partner. She does all to mitigate his hunger and lust and thus loses her individualism. She comes a Woman-statue’ which does not have the power to respond. A statue is watched by everybody and the viewers do whatever they like to get pleasure. A woman is like a statue under patriarchal canon that is watched better say used by men to get the carnal pleasure only.
What is remarkable is that as soon as men get the pleasure, they no longer find it useful. The speaker enunciates that she is a Vase’ shaped for holding her husband, which implies that to hold a man’s love eternally is extremely difficult as he is like the bumble-bee whose task is to seek honey from flower to flower, and once honey is tasted, it leaves the flower. What we see, to what extent a woman loses herself, she fails to achieve the support and favor of her husband because ultimately men are betrayers; they Just seek physical ecstasy.
They need the body of a woman not the mind to fulfill their ‘skin’s lazy hungers’. Wright through the portrayal of her husband’s indifferent and apathetic attitude towards her and her child represents the collective view of every husband to his wife and children. Her anthology Woman to Man is a record of such experience. This anthology is one of the most celebrated and renowned anthologies where Wright exposes her riveter experiences and sufferings very overtly. In this compilation, she highlights the taboos of female sexuality and the vulnerable condition of women during pregnancy.
About birth and pregnancy, she writes in the poem, “Woman to Child”: Then all a world I made in me; all the world you hear and see hung upon my dreaming blood. There hung the multitudinous stars, and colored birds and fishes moved. There swam the sliding continents. (3-8) The poet brings to light that during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, traditionally a woman has to undertake all the sufferings and responsibilities. How such irresponsible and indifferent a man is to the pregnancy of his wife have also been reflected in many poems of this collection.
Wright evokes that a man even does not feel any sympathy for a woman’s horrendous distresses. In “Woman to Man”, it is marked that the speaker of the poem is melancholic, as the male by whom she is bearing a child is not compassionate. She tries to make him comprehend the pain and pleasure that she undergoes while bearing a child and giving birth to it. The very secret experiences of her feminine longings are uncovered when she writes: the selfless, shapeless seed I hold, lids for its resurrection day – silent and swift and deep from sight foresees the unimagined light. 1-5) The child who is still eyeless, selfless, shapeless has been carried by the speaker. It has ‘no name’, “yet you and I have known it well” (8) because “this is our hunter and our chase / the third who lay in our embrace” (9-10). The speaker of the poem wants to make him aware that the seed that is growing up in her womb is their own. For her, as it is the fruit of their union, the duty of bringing it up goes to them equally. She is afraid of that she has to take the undertaking of her child alone, for he husband) is averse to the issue.
Social system in addition reminds her that it is a mother who faces all the problems related to a child’s birth and grown up as well. This shows the vulnerability of a woman as well: Oh hold me for I am afraid. (20) She is afraid of the imminent situation. It is because the total dependence of the child comes upon her. Her husband does not pay heed to her suffering and pain He is totally unresponsive to her inner anguish. The reason is very clear why the poet is concerned. Her urge for assistance goes in vain.
Patriarchal social system makes the laity harsh that all the burdens and complexities are to be embarked on by its mother though a child is identified with the legacy of its father. The purpose of the poet is to reshape the situation, so she implores her husband for his company but the result adds more disappointment to her: None but I shall know you as none but I have known; yet there’s a death and a maiden who wait for you alone. (“Woman’s Song” 13-16) The quoted lines elucidate that the poet’s request for assistance from her addressee makes her disheartened, for he does not respond to the appeal of the speaker.
So, here is none but the poet herself has known the baby. It seems that a woman is only born to breed offspring and to raise them. This is quite a personal experience of the poet but it has a universal relevance. Judith Wright further manifests how social prejudice and restrain redouble the afflictions of a woman. Her distress is tremendous. She is being tortured with pain relentlessly: My days burn with the sun, my nights with moon and star, since into myself I took all living things that are. (“The Maker” 5-8) She endures all the unpleasant phenomena. Her toilsome condition in the family is expressed through aforementioned lines.
She renders that in spite of undergoing an extremely despondent circumstance, a woman tries to remain tranquil in order to bring a positive change in the mind of her husband through love: I am a tranquil lake to mirror their Joy and pain; and all their pain and Joy The binary opposites, Joy / pain suggest the disorderly ambivalent state of her mind. The phrase, tranquil lake’ represents that she is always a shelter for her baby. She faces every difficulty silently for the betterment of her baby. She is to endure terrible sufferings mutely. In fact, in patriarchal society, “women are made to suffer” (Behavior 57).
They are not given any liberty to express their own opinions. Whatever is imposed on them, they are simply bound to do that. The poem, “Pain” also conveys the severity of her pain from which she does not get relief: pain that can only say You have chosen wrong; This is no way to go. (19-20) It is impossible to be free from pain. Pain, because of feminine longings, hostile attitude of her husband, set-up rules and values of patriarchy, becomes an eternal companion for the poet, “what shall we do to save ourselves from pain? ” (24). As a consequence, her attitude towards life becomes pessimistic.
She is fretful about the future of her child. She experiences the oddities of this world, where people are self- centered and the weak are oppressed by the strong. She does not find anything in favor of women under the existing social structure. No man is considerate. Everything is preset in such a way that “[t]he best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity’ (“The Second Coming” 7-8). This is the best place for the worst. Discrimination, deprivation, frustration, and the like are the regular concerns for the weak. The poet being a woman belongs to the weak.
In fact, society establishes such customs, values, and ethics that demean women. As a result, Judith Wright like any other woman is frustrated; psychologically tortured, destined to male brutality, and condemned to masculine ugliness. Judith Wright, throughout her life, sought such love from her husband that has emotional bond, for she believed that love having emotional touch has the healing quality to placate her inner wound, alienation, grief, and suffering. She was, however, deprived of getting such love from her husband. Getting love becomes so arduous that it resembles to winning a foreign land.
This view has been expressed in “The Man Beneath the Tree”: Nothing is so hard as love – Nothing is as strange as love – Love is like a foreign land. (5, 9-10) The cited lines show us how dejected the poet is. Without being loved by her husband, she feels alienated. Her alienation is, once again, explained in the poem “Brown Bird”: Brown bird with the silver eyes, fly down and teach me to sing. I am alone, I will not touch you or move. (1-4) The bird is, here, teaching her to speak out of her loneliness. The ‘bird’ reflects the inner voice of her ‘self by which she wants to signify her isolation to her male- untreated.
This position of women in society is like two peas in a pod as “in women, Medusa” 882). The poet puts in words how women are watched like dummies in the market by men to keep them under their super control. The reason behind their mentality is they are the “Ruler of women” (“Easter Moon and Owl” 9). Men practice colonial ideology and dominate over women. Their colonial tendency is clear in the following lines: Men spy you out with eyes. And they plan colonies. (“Brown Bird” 12, 14) Women always feel inferior due to the orthodox attitude, old customs, traditions and values of a male-dominated society.
Wright in her poems complains the wicked strategy of men by which they take control over women. The poem “Woman in Orchard” can be taken to illustrate such design of men. With the progress of the poem we see that the woman who takes pleasure in the reflection of her body in the pool is warned. It is said that the witches are behind her and she will also be a witch one day. It is because men observe everything and they have set such design under which women are to lose every hope and aspiration of their life. She articulates: Look, look, you fool – who but the man that painted it?
He sees the orchard – woman ND sees the witch behind her casting the old and Jealous spell. Look how he brings the two together in one reflection in the pool – the ugly one you will be, the lovely one you are. The speaker in this section of the poem warns that it is a man who has ‘painted’ the design within which women are to live. Men cast their ‘old and Jealous spell’ to blend both the ugly and the lovely. It is a man who monitors every movement of women and plans accordingly to have power over them. So, a woman is tied up with a hidden chain – the chain of domination.
She is “confined to the narrow room” where she has en given “a deadly brainwashing” (“The Laugh of the Medusa” 877). The lamentation of the poet is identified in the poem “Boar Ring” when she mourns: The song is gone; the dance is secret with the dancers in the earth, the ritual useless, and the tribal story lost in an alien tale. (1-4) In “Rainforest’s”, also Judith Wrights speaks how women are to follow the dream-world of men. Men’s dream is the destination for women. They cannot go beyond it. Wright here too formulates the identical characteristics of men.
She declares: We cannot understand that call Unless we move into his dream, here all is one and one is all and frog and python are the same. We with our quick dividing eyes The forest burns, the tree-frog dies, yet one is all and all is one. (5-12) The poet through various miseries portrays the linked relationship between the human world and the natural one, and explains how one is discriminated by the other. All men – either frog or ‘python’ – are the same in terms of their approach to women. It can be different regarding the implementation of their orthodox ideas over women, but their outlook is, more or less, very similar.
However, Judith Wright wants to be optimistic. She desires to feel that there will be a time when discrimination between men and women will disappear. Nobody will be tortured; no one will die – she dreams. She also dreams that this world will equally be a safe place for all: No one is dying, nobody being tortured, this is the real world and perfectly safe. (“Dream” Loneliness, Frustration, Grief and Anguish: Evil of Her Everyday Life Her poetry is an epitome of the complexity of her life that is replete with loneliness, frustration and grief.
Her poetry shows that like the birds, the poet wishes to lead a harmonious and charming life but u to the patriarchal canon the harmony is threatened and the charm of life is unattainable. Men are responsible for destroying the peace of nature and that of the women simultaneously. The existence of animals, plants and women are now under threat. The poet combines the threat to the other inhabitants of nature with that of her ‘self in her poems very artistically. In the poem, “Birds”, she urges her husband to “be simple to myself [herself] as the bird it to the bird” (20).
Many more poems in the anthology Birds, including “The Peacock”, “Parrots”, “Magpies”, “Dove-Love”, and Rainbow-bird” are suggestions for the representatives of the male-dominated society to learn from natural phenomena which are not exploiting each-other. What is interesting is that it is men who are responsible for creating anarchy and disharmony in both the natural and the female worlds by destroying the prior and by exploiting the posterior. It is true that our survival as a human species largely depends on the ecological balance, equality of right, simple living, constraining greed and valuing others.
Wright opines that devaluation of women along with the natural world which she considers her ‘self must be stopped. For Wright, in a male- dominated world nothing depends on the impulse of women which further illustrates the delimitation of the power of women. Men are the decision makers; they do whatever they like as the poet writes in “Sister”: It is all one whether I deny or affirm you; It is not my mind you are concerned with. It is no matter whether I submit or rebel; the event will still happen. 9-12) The above lines highlight that the poet’s husband is adamant and obstinate to fulfill his beastly desire. He does not bother whether she admits or denies as his beastly attitude is never be changed under any circumstances. There is no value of the poet’s view, as what will happen is fixed. The poet shows how the women are devalued and euthanized. Their every opinion is usually rejected by men. It even matters less whether she rebels or gives up, for what is predetermined by male in patriarchy is an inevitable law.
Women must follow this law. In fact, women cannot change any result is women are forced to cope up with the existing situation for their survival. This is how they are oppressed, exploited by patriarchy. The poet again writes how indifferent the men are to the women: You neither know nor care for the truth of my heart; UT the truth of my body has all to do with you. You have no need of my thoughts or my hopes, living in the realm of the absolute event. (13-16) The speaker speaks how sordid her husband is about the thoughts’ and ‘hopes’ of her own.
But he never forgets to be satisfied with the bodily pleasure. To the poet, men are reluctant to value women’s emotion. She obliquely portrays that men need body which is only necessary for carnal love but women need mind and body both, as they believe that love is the combination of both body and mind. This condition of women induces them feel beaten and abused. For her, women are living in a Wind of ghosts’ when they live in a philanthropic society. Says she in the poem “The Promised One”: I lived in a wind of ghosts; a storm of hands beat at my flesh.
The Lazarus at my gate demanding life, redoubled his demands – (1-3) The poet brings the biblical reference of ‘Lazarus’ who demands her life. According to myth, ‘Lazarus’ is a male whom Christ has brought out from the grave and has given life. It can be interpreted that a man here demands the life of a woman. Women being subordinates in man-centered society cannot voice against any oppression imposed on them. The demand of life is quite symbolically represented by the poet. She wants to disclose the confined condition of her voice in the society.
If a woman is not given any scope to speak and her words are neglected, she feels suffocated and psychologically dead. This is how men, imposing their masculine power over them, mute the voice of the women. Wright’s Feminist Consciousness Wright, an coefficients, in her poems brings a comparison between gender and nature linking anthropocentric and linear thinking to systems of domination and power. She believed that “there are interconnections between the oppression of omen (sexism), the oppression of the Other and the domination of nature (naturism)” (Sinai 10).
To Wright, sexism, racism, class exploitation and environmental destruction are four interlocking pillars on which patriarchal society is built on. She found no difference between nature and women as both are mute and unable to protest directly. The poet perceives that the domination over nature is the domination over her. In Frigid Roomer’s words, “Wright’s poetry of feminine experience whose power came partly from a feminine awareness of land as body, looted Wright as a woman poet into masculinity national framework” (26).