ENG 111

Fall 2002

 

READING GUIDE:  Adrienne Rich, “When we dead awaken,” selection on reserve in the UTM library.

 

Vocabulary . . .

 

1         Learn what these words mean as they are used in the places indicated.

 

Misogynist (p. 2)

Convention (p. 3)

Propriety (p. 3)

Tentativeness (p. 4)

Exacerbated (p. 4)

Divisive (p. 5)

Precarious (p. 5)

Ambivalence (p. 6)

Formalism (p. 6)

Insatiable (p. 8)

Allusion (p. 10

 

 

2         Notice how, on p. 2, Rich herself defines two words: 

 

Patriarchy

 

revision

 

Note also how she insists on spelling “revision” with a hyphen.  Why do you suppose that is?

 

 

Notes . . .

 

The bottom of page 1 has information about when this selection was written and first published.  As you read, try to decide to what extent the circumstances Adrienne Rich describes are still true today, and to what extent the anger that she expresses over those circumstances is still justified.

 

The introductory paragraphs (in italics at the top of p. 1) explain that Rich first made the remarks contained in this selection at a meeting of the Modern Language Association, which is the professional organization of college-level teachers of literature.  This explains why virtually all of the examples that Rich includes in her essay are of literature and literary figures.  In some cases, the examples will be obscure.  Don’t worry about that.  The important thing is to try to determine the concepts that Rich is illustrating with them.

 

There is a set of examples that will have more resonance with us and that you’ll want to pay close attention to:  in several places, Rich mentions Virginia Woolf—and not in a complimentary way.  What problem does Rich have with VW that Howard Gardner does not?

 

The last full paragraph on p. 4 talks about the patriarchal way that women have been represented in literature—and note that Rich says (in the next paragraph) that this is true whether the literature is written by men or by women.  Hmm.  How does that work?  Rich offers an explanation by way of her personal example, starting with the paragraph that begins at the bottom of p. 4 and continuing, I think, until she broadens out to a conclusion on p. 13.  Within this extended personal example are several points that I would like to ask you about:

 

·          At the top of p. 8, Rich says of the 1950s that “[l]ife was extremely private; women were isolated from each other by the loyalties of marriage.  I have a sense that women didn’t talk to each other much in the fifties—not about their secret emptinesses, their frustrations.”  Feminists generally agree that the 1950s were a big step back for women in the U.S., after the responsibility they enjoyed in the 1940s while the men were away at war.  It might be interesting to ask your grandmothers how they experienced the 1950s.

 

·          The paragraph that ends at the top of p. 9 talks about the traditional role of women versus imaginative creativity.  Rich here is developing an idea that was very much on the minds of feminists in the 1970s; I sense, though, that it’s beginning to lose favor now . . . call it post-feminist, but many women—including professional women—see childbirth as the supreme act of creativity, and child raising as an exercise in imagination.  How about you?

 

·          At the top of p. 10, about the significance of the choice of pronouns.  I’m struck by this:  at the heart of every issue is the language we use to talk about that issue, isn’t it?