Summary and Analysis of Prospective Immigrants Please Note by Adrienne Rich

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About Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was born on May 16, 1929 in Maryland, USA. Rich’s upbringing was dominated by the intellectual ambitions her father had for her. She went to Radcliffe College and focused mainly on writing and poetry. Her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, was published in 1951 and was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. She married Alfred Haskell Conrad in 1953, whom she left in 1970. In 1976, Rich acknowledged her lesbianism for the first time. Apart from poetry, she wrote several books of nonfiction prose. A significant amount of her work is centered around the rights women in the society. Rich received several awards, including Academy of American Poet’s Wallace Stevens Award. She passed away on March 27, 2012 at the age of eighty-two.


About Prospective Immigrants Please Note

”Prospective Immigrants Please Note” is a poem directed towards immigrants. Being Jewish, Rich probably dealt with what all immigrants have to deal with. In this poem, Rich tries to apprise potential immigrants about what they might have to face if they enter a foreign land, and what they have to gain if they choose not to.

Setting of Prospective Immigrants Please Note

The opening line sets the scene for the rest of the poem. The reader can imagine prospective immigrants, extremely perplexed and worried, trying to figure out what could be the best choice for their future. The reader can imagine these people asking themselves, ‘What happens if I stay?’ and ‘What happens if I leave?’. The poet gives them an idea of what may happen if they makes either of these decisions.

Poetic Devices in Prospective Immigrants Please Note

This 21-line poem does not make heavy use of poetic devices.

Metaphor

A door is used as an extended metaphor throughout the poem. Rich compares the door to the border of a country. When an individual chooses to walk in through the door, i.e. to immigrate to another country, his life significantly changes.

Stanza 1, lines 3 and 4- The phrases ‘go through’ and ‘not go through’ represent relocating to another country and remaining in your own country.

Stanza 2, line 3- The phrase ‘remembering your name’ represents the immigrant’s wish to return to his own country. Upon migrating, he may regret his decision and long for his homeland.

Style of Prospective Immigrants Please Note

The poem does not follow a rhyme scheme. Hence, its style is ‘free verse’.

Summary of Prospective Immigrants Please Note

Adrienne Rich was half-Jewish, and hence was familiar to the complexities of a life in a foreign country. In this poem, Adrienne brilliantly expresses a desire for personal choice and self-determination. Here is a brief summary of the poem:
Rich begins the poem by telling prospective immigrants that they face a choice- to immigrate or to stay in their homeland. She tells those who will choose to immigrate that the risk of them regretting their choice will always pertain. Since these people will now live in a foreign land, they will have to not only blend with the new culture, but also not shed their home culture. Hence, things might look doubly at them. She clarifies to those who will choose to stay that they can still have fulfilling lives. They will get to hold on their values, their social position in their homeland, and they will have the opportunity to die bravely in their own country. However, in the end she paints the plain view that neither of the choices guarantee anything. With every choice comes a risk. Their new homeland cannot guarantee them a good life. It is just another country, and the consequences of either of the choices cannot be foretold before the final choice is made.

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Critical Analysis of Prospective Immigrants Please Note

Every decision has an outcome. “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” takes that idea, and using a door as a vivid portrayal of a new country, presents the possible consequences of migrating and not migrating. Without any pity in her tone, Rich sends out a warning to those considering leaving. The prospect of moving to a new, and perhaps more developed country might appeal to many. Rich cautions the ones who wish to leave that there might be unexpected results. She tells them that they might ‘remember their name’, i.e. they might regret their choice want to return to their homeland. She delves into what life is like for an immigrant. In a new country, an immigrant faces the problem of trying to blend into a new culture, while trying to not let go of the culture he has originated from. He has to try to braid together his new world and the world he has sprung from. Thus, things might appear to look at him doubly- two languages, two homes, two cultures; it’s like having two lives.
Then, she goes on to explain what life can be like who choose not to immigrate. She tells them that it isn’t necessary for them to leave their home country to live a fulfilled, complete and worthy life. While they might miss what a better country has to offer, they will be able to hold on to their traditions, culture and morals. They will retain the position they presently have in the society, without having to worry about building everything up from scratch. She tells them that they will get the opportunity to die bravely in their homelands. Hence, the ones who choose not to immigrate will be able to completely embrace their genesis.
The poet appeals to the immigrants to evaluate both the sides of the door before they make their decision. She talks about the choice that lies in front of them, to move deeper into things or to simply live worthily.

The aftermath, however, remains unforeseeable. The new land may appear to be full of promises, but whether it truly offers a wonderful life to the immigrants is uncertain. What truly lies for the immigrants beyond the door can be found out only after they walk through it.

Central Idea of Prospective Immigrants Please Note

The central idea of the poem is that all choices have their consequences. An individual can choose to bring about a major change in his life (immigration, in this poem) or he can choose to maintain stability (not migrate). Both the actions have positive and negative outcomes. However, he must analyse the possible outcomes of his actions. In the poem, Rich gives the prospective immigrants an idea of what their choices might result in. But, she tells them that the actual consequences are not certain. The outcomes cannot be predicted before the individual makes his choice.

Tone of Prospective Immigrants Please Note

The tone of the poem is very cold and professional. Rich shows no pity in the poem. She remains instructional throughout the poem, providing advice without being sympathetic to the immigrant. It is a tone that simply says ‘All that glitters is not gold’.

Conclusion

Adrienne Rich’s “Prospective Immigrants Please Note” gives a sharp verbal shape to the tough choice a potential immigrant has to make, and how this choice has the power to affect his entire life. It weighs out the positive and negative aspects of both the choices, and encourages the immigrant to make a well-informed decision. It also urges him to be confident and determined about his choice.

Contributor: Palak Gupta


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