Diving into the Wreck Summary and Analysis by Adrienne Rich: 2022

Adrienne Rich- Adrienne Cecile Rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland on May 16, 1929. In 1951, she graduated from Radcliffe College and was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize by W.H. Auden. Having taught in a number of colleges before, in 1970s she started to be an active voice in the women’s liberation movement. Having two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half dozen of prose as her treasure, she was a widely read, widely anthologised & interviewed, and extensively taught, for decades, among the most influential writers of the feminist movement. Known as one of the best-known American public intellectuals, she was a feminist theorist whose work has been of crucial importance in shaping the women’s movement over the last few decades. Her work has been confrontational in nature, so to say, in treating women’s role in society, and in her discussions on racism and Vietnam War. Winner of numerous literary awards, including the 1986 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the 1992 Poets’ Prize, the 1997 Wallace Stevens Award of the Academy of American Poets, she once was noted to have refused to receive as an individual the National Book Award for Poetry, instead accepting it on behalf of all silenced women. She also refused to accept the National Medal of Arts in 1997, in similar radical fashion. In 2012, She won the Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Poetry Prize. Suffering from long-term rheumatoid arthritis, she eventually died on March 27, 2012.

Setting of Diving into the Wreck-

“”Diving into the wreck,” a title poem in the Adrienne Rich’s collection Diving into the Wreck , was first published in 1973, and later in 2002 in Norton Anthology of American Literature. The poem reflects the time period when the Women’s Movement, that began with the 1960s, became a major political force and had a significant influence on the American society. With the incentive to expose the patriarchal ideology that naturalises the oppression of women through its stereotypical representation of women as weak/vulnerable, seductress, obstacle, sexual object of the male’s desire, a procreating device and so on, she penned down the poem, which reflected her interest in feminism, taking the form of a heroic quest. The speaker, most probably the poet herself, searches to reclaim, to discover what has been forgotten, lost or unexplored. The term “wreck” could mean the social biases that see the woman as only the “Other” of the male, an adjunct to the male, whose identity is never separate but is always subsumed under that of the male. The term could also imply the very civilisation, that is ruined by the stereotypical beliefs about gender and the gender roles. This can be considered in tune with the feminists’perspective which notes that Sex is biological, while gender is a social construct. With no necessary link between gender and biological sex, Masculinity and Femininity are essentially coercive categories that sketches the differences between men and women. In Simone de Beauvoir’s famous  statement, a woman is not born: she becomes, is made a woman. And the poet attempts to discard these false confinements being laid by the society, through her writings.

Poetic Devices in Diving into the Wreck-

Free Verse:
Being written in free verse, the poem does not comply with the traditional pattern of meter and rhyme i.e. there does not exist any particular structure as such. The free verse poems, thought to be modern form of poetry, serve as a representation of spirit of political and social upheaval and rebellion that characterised the decade- seen in terms of women’s position in the society. The poem is written in ten stanzas, which ranges from seven to twelve lines, in length. The lines can be seen with varying lengths, as short as two syllables and as long as twelve.
The metaphors that persist to keep a holding effect upon the reader’s mind are those of the ‘deep sea diver’ and the ‘sunken wreck’. The very title of the poem introduces the terms “diving” and “sea,” that which have a remarkable profundity, making the reader have his or her own directions of meaning and inferences drawn. The first metaphor represents the attempt on the part of the speaker, an individual or personal quest, to explore one’s own life- the life of a woman. The other metaphor, “Wreck,” being a layered image could imply at the same time the source of successes and failures; it can be seen as the history of all women subjugated in a patriarchal society and culture; and simultaneously the source of myths about male and female sexuality which shape our lives and roles at present.

Summary of Diving into the Wreck-

The poem ” Diving into the wreck” takes a feminist approach to analyse the journey of a woman, the speaker here, from a state of unconsciousness to consciousness, in respect of her identity. Having an understanding of the subjugation being faced by the womankind, the speaker decides to undertake a journey, which would help her understand the sources that have led to this status of women. Descending into the sea, she surveys the underwater scene, and observing the swarming marine life therein, she realises that she must focus her mind on the proposed purpose of her dive and should not forget it. She makes an effort to examine the extent of the damage being suffered by the wreck, and thereby find the valuable remains in the process. In the proceeding stanzas, she explains her real purpose, that is to find the exact condition of the ship, which may differ from what has been read or heard by her earlier. She discerns that the conventional wisdom about the ship may only be a myth. Before arriving at the wreck, she had pictured the sculpture of a female face that was carved on the old sailing ship’s prow, and upon this had thought about the damage that the wreck would have undergone in all these years, underwater, with just a skeleton of its form remaining. Finally having arrived at the wreck, we see her imagining herself as a mermaid that can take either of the forms of male or female. In this form- the imaginative androgynous shape, she travels all around and enters its hold. She again refers to the female face on the prow, and is ultimately seen to find the ship’s cargo of precious metals inside decomposing barrels. Besides this, she finds the worn-away residuum of other parts of the ship’s equipment, including log and compass. The concluding lines of the poem affirms that such exploratory journey should be undertaken, whatever the motivation for such might be, for the introspection brings one closer to one’s true self, self-development and self-growth. This journey could be seen as a search for truth, the real truth as opposed to the truth that has been carried on since ages of history.

Critical Analysis of Diving into the Wreck-

Since the poem recounts the suppression and subjugated position of women, the speaker herein could be assumed as a female. She is attempting, being in a schooner out at sea, to dive into the ocean so as to search for a wreck underneath. This very journey of diving which she is about to undertake can be seen both as external and internal. At this moment, she is not a silent observer on the shore of the river, implying here the object to suffer at the hands of male’s patriarchal force, but rather is on the river. She is now ready to encounter life, having chosen to go through the door of life-changes. She is trying to explore her own psyche, and thereby the psyche of womankind, that symbolically means an exploration of history and society that have been a source to objectify women image. The very title could be seen as the complex use of an image of rebirth. This time her tools are carefully chosen: she has “read the book of myths,/ and loaded the camera,/ and checked the edge of the knife-blade.” It is necessary to know the old stories before embarking on a journey to change them. This journey is undertaken by her to record the sources of “our” origin, and hence there has been the usage of the camera. The knife is less obvious, until one remembers the poet’s frequent earlier warnings- that the journey is dangerous. And as the narrator descends, the water is seen to turn from blue to green and ultimately to black. The effect of ” blacking out” is visible, that signifies the unconscious; but it can be noted that the unconscious remains in control. As she begins to move in this way, she learns that “the sea is not a question of power,” but rather an all encompassing “deep element” which should be learnt or understood to enable her succeed in her exploration, in attaining the knowledge of the sources for subjugating force, and thereby making her identity survive. She explores the wreck and records for us, her experiences. But no questions are answered here, for the answer would have to be found in one’s own introspection, in one’s own understanding.

Central Idea of Diving into the Wreck-

The Search for Truth: The poem is implicitly about the exploration of the innermost self of the speaker, the inner most strengths that had been suppressed under societal constructs. Besides this, it can be considered to be an exploration into the understanding of speaker’s mind, heart, and experience of life, something that had remained unexamined since time before. It is a journey from the conscious state of mind to the deeper subconscious realm, that had remained repressed and distorted by the own self and under the pressures from cultural norms.

Tone of Diving into the Wreck-

The poem takes an advisory tone, beginning from the unsatisfied acceptance of the status being lived by the speaker to the quenched exploration of the self.
Conclusion- The poem is a journey from the unrealised quest to a satisfied thirst- a thirst to have an understanding of the true self of oneself, to have an introspecting power to enable the individual- here, the female speaker, have an intellect to combat the patriarchal subjugating norms and practices, thereby uplifting the position of womankind.

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