Critical Analysis of The Bangle Sellers:
Naidu’s poetry is best known for her use of imagery and contemporary Indian themes. Among her other poems, this poem stands out as a social message that not only discusses the lives of Indian women but also the lives of bangle sellers. Although the poem focuses extensively on the stages in the life of women, it portrays the lives of the bangle sellers as well. Not once is the poverty or the hardship of their vocation mentioned in the poem save the ‘shining loads’, which denotes the heaviness of the bangles. The bangle seller employs a joyful voice which makes us forget that their livelihoods depend on the sale of these bangles. The women in their lives are all portrayed as happy, probably because the happiness of the bangle-seller relies upon the happiness of these women. In a nutshell, their livelihood depends on these bangles and thus, they must be presented as tokens of happiness.
The poem progresses step by step as if it is passing through each phase of the life of a woman with her. The first stanza relates to us the premise of the poem. The second stanza focuses on maidenhood. By maidenhood Naidu means virginity. Thus, the colours chosen by her represent purity like the blue and silver mist of mountains, shades of pink of yet to blossom flowers or the clear dew drops on new born leaves. This has connotations to new beginnings and the promise of life. The third stanza talks about a woman who is about to become a bride. The colour chosen in this group is a lively yellow that represents the hope she has for her future and also her happiness. The imagery used here is energetic and lively like corn fields bathed in sunlight. The second part of this stanza portrays the love a new bride has for her husband. Naidu chooses the apt colour scheme of reds and oranges. The ‘flame’ Naidu talks about has sexual connotations to it. It is a euphemism for the consummation of her marriage with her husband. The fourth stanza talks about the pride of a woman who has lived girlhood and bridehood and motherhood and earned a position as a matriarch. It is the phase in her life when her struggles have borne fruit. Therefore, this stanza has the air of royalty and pride etched in it. That is why the colours chosen to describe the bangles for a matriarch are purple and gold. The specks of grey add the touch of maturity that comes with age.
However, critics have questioned Naidu’s portrayal of women in stereotyped boxes in this poem. Her poem discusses only three categories in a woman’s life-maidenhood, wifehood and motherhood. On one hand, the poem fails to recognise other areas of a woman’s life, where women have an independent identity, one which is free from restricting labels made by a patriarchal society. Even when Naidu talks about a woman bearing children, she mentions only boys. Perhaps, the role model for this poem was a specific woman she knew. But on the other hand, she writes a poem that has strong sexual connotations. It is also probable that this is an ironic take on the lives of women during the time she was writing this poem. Naidu was instrumental in encouraging women empowerment. She encouraged women to get involved in the freedom movement against colonial rule. She herself was a big part of the movement and became the President of the INC. it could have been her way of speaking out against patriarchal constraints in ironic terms.
Stanza-wise Annotations of The Bangle Sellers:
‘shining loads’- this denotes the weight of the shining bangles
‘rainbow tinted circles of light’- another way of describing the multi coloured bangles the bangle-seller is carrying
‘lustrous’- radiant; bright
‘meet’- fit for; suitable
‘cleaves to’- sticks to
‘limpid’- transparent; see-through
‘luminous’- emitting light
‘tinkling’- a sound made by bangles or any glass objects when struck against each other lightly
‘blest’- archaic way of spelling ‘blessed’
‘cradled fair sons on her breast’- this means that she has bore her husband sons whom she has nourished herself
‘fruitful pride’- the pride that comes with an achievement or the fruit of one’s struggles.
Poetic Devices in The Bangle Sellers:
‘rainbow tinted circles of light’- this is an instance of a metaphor. The colours of the bangles are likened to the colours of the rainbow. And the light reflected by the bangles gives it the appearance of being made of light.
‘silver and blue as the mountain mist’-this is an instance of a simile. Here, the colour of the bangle is compared to the mist of mountains.
‘some are flushed like the buds that dream…stream’- this is an example of an imagery. Some bangles are likened to the flushing(pinkish) buds that seem to be sleeping on the banks of a woodland stream.
‘some…leaves’- imagery. This represents some of the bangles by comparing them to the transparent glory of the new born leaves.
‘some are like fields…corn’- This is a simile. Here the comparison is made between the yellow corn fields bathed in sunlight and the yellow coloured bangles.
‘some, like…desire’- This is also a simile. The red bangles here become symbolic of a new bride’s love and desire for her husband.
‘tinkling…tear’- The tinkling of the bangles is compared to a young bride’s laughter and the luminosity of the bangles is likened to her tears. Thus, this is a simile.
‘cradled fair sons on her breast’- the imagery here shows that she has borne sons and nourished and cradled them close to her breast. It denotes that she has diligently performed her duties as a mother.
Rhyme Scheme of The Bangle Sellers:
The poem is made up of 4 stanzas, consisting of 6 lines each. Each stanza is divided into a quatrain and a couplet. The rhyme scheme the poem follows is aabbcc.
Central Idea of The Bangle Sellers:
The central idea of the poem is that the bangles are representative of a woman’s life and each colour or type of bangle represents each stage of an Indian woman’s life, from puberty to midlife.
The Themes of The Bangle Sellers:
The stages of an Indian woman’s life are represented through the colour of bangles in this poem. Each colour represents each stage she crosses. Silver and blue, or pink -maidenhood; yellow- morning of her wedding; red or orange (fiery shades) symbolises her bridal night; purple and gold- motherhood and matriarchy.
Naidu incorporates nature and the various hues of nature to represent her subject matter. She covers all kinds of colours to present emotions like hope, happiness, desire, love and pride. The after effect is a rainbow encompassing the different emotions felt by a woman in each passing phase of her life.
Although it is only alluded to in innuendos, the patriarchal ideology lurks beneath the surface of the poem. The women are described as either happy ‘daughters’ or ‘wives’. Every phase she passes is referred to by a man in her life, father, husband, sons. The woman in this poem is fit into boxes that limit their existence to being a possessed object of patriarchy. Even if this poem is ironic, it still discusses the ideas propagated by the patriarchal society.
The Tone of The Bangle Sellers:
The tone of the poem is joyful and lively. Each stanza has a certain tone. The first recalls the cry of bangle-sellers who travel on foot to sell their products. The second and third stanzas have a profound sense of happiness and lively energy. The tone of the last stanza is dipped in pride and a sense of fulfilment.
You may also want to take a look at this video playlist to learn more about this poem in an Audio-Visual format!
Ultimately, this is a poem as much about the bangle sellers as it is about women. It talks about the mutual happiness of the two as they are interdependent. The bangles are symbolic of women and their happiness. Similarly, the happy women can ensure the sale of more bangles, thus, becoming the symbols of happy bangle-sellers as well.