Alice DunbarNelson's poem, I Sit and Sew - Essay Example

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The poem "I Sit and Sew" is an archetypal example of a poem which contrasts traditional women's roles with those of men. A poem that depicts a 'typical' woman's act of sitting and sewing, the text indicates the forced passivity and frustration of a woman in war-time, who is unable to do anything to alleviate her desire to do something constructive instead of being made to sit passively.
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Alice DunbarNelsons poem, I Sit and Sew
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Download file to see previous pages Like the tasks of sewing, washing, cooking, etc., the rhyming couplets of a poem echo the 'scheme' of tasks that a woman must perform day in and day out, without reprieve. The refrain, although it is identical each time, does not rhyme with any other line or exist as part of a couplet. This seems to indicate that although it is a repeated emotion that the narrator feels very often, it is nevertheless not repetitive like the chores she has to do. Its repetition instead indicates that it is a powerful emotion that she feels again and again, an emotion that does not find an outlet and remains bottled up inside her.
The first stanza contains a striking juxtaposition of the "useless task" of sewing with the tasks that men have to perform, which are instilled with grandeur and dignity, and are located in the public/political sphere, whereas the woman is confined to the domestic/personal sphere of existence:
The lives of men are played out against a grandiose backdrop, suggested by words such as "panoply," "martial," and "grim-faced." In contrast, the woman is obviously relegated ton being one of the "lesser souls" who cannot participate in the all-important tasks of war and politics. The word "pageant" in stanza two may be compared with the word "panoply" in the first stanza. While the men are out creating history, women seem to be destined to play pre-determined roles in a pageant or masquerade which does not allow them to determine their own identities, but rather to passively sit back and accept the roles that a patriarchal agendas has created from them; they are defined by someone else's ideal of what they should be like.
The first stanza also indicates that women's tasks are full of passivity. The verbs that are used to describe women's actions - "sit," "sew," "aches," etc - are all passive verbs that can be performed while staying in the same position. By contrast, the "martial tread" of men suggests that they are constantly moving forward. They are active while women are passive. Curiously, the appearance of men is described in considerable detail - their faces are grim and their eyes are stern. The woman, contrastingly, is not described at all in terms of her facial expression. It is as if the poet wants to present an external view of men, and an internalized portrait of a woman's thoughts and actions.
It is clear that this is a woman's monologue, and that she is only capable of seeing herself as a fragmentary creature; it is only her hands that are described, and only in terms of being "tired." This stanza opens and closes with the refrain, suggesting that the woman's life is circumscribed on every side by reminders that she is supposed to remain passive. The opening lines of the next stanza suggest a burst of passion when the woman says fervently that her "heart aches with desire," but this fire has already been quenched by the "but" that immediately precedes it in the last lines of the previous stanza, reminding her that her task is to sit and sew, to remain passive and obedient.
In the second stanza, the tone changes quite dramatically. Whereas the first stanza describes the actions of men in terms of a grand and ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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