Anne Sexton was a poet and a woman, but most importantly, she was an outcast. Subjected to nervous breakdowns and admitted to a neuropsychiatry hospital, Sexton must have been all too familiar with the staring eyes and the judging minds of the public. Just being a woman in today's world often can be enough to degrade a person in the public's eye, let alone being labeled as a crazy woman. But Anne Sexton did not let society remain unchallenged in its views. She voiced a different opinion of women through poetry. In Anne Sexton's "Her Kind" the speaker of the poem embraces society's negative stereotype of modern, liberated women and transforms it into a positive image. Two voices, the voice of society and the voice of the speaker, duel about the issue of the stereotype of modern women. Like Anne Sexton, the speaker in this poem is an outcast woman.
Basically, the speaker of "Her Kind" is outcast because she is powerful. Traditionally, society expects women to lead sheltered lives. Women are to be obedient, quiet, and timid. They are viewed as gentle and kind, not "dreaming evil" (Line 3). The modern, liberated woman completely shatters this tradition by courageously speaking her mind and living an independent life. She is empowered as she seeks education and a stable career instead of a domestic life. Since the modern woman does not fit the traditional label, "A woman like that is not a woman quite" (Line 6). Society would view this line of the poem as a negative slam on the modern woman and paraphrase it by saying, "She's not quite right in the head; therefore, she does not belong here in civilization."
Society appears to recoil from the idea of a powerful woman. Male dominance becomes threatened, and men are faced with a loss of control. As a result, the male dominant society casts out the modern woman and tries to squash the change in power. This task may be accomplished by physically removing the liberated woman from the population or by mentally blocking her from acceptance so that she feels isolated. In fact, society has actually done both. During the crazy witch trials of the European Inquisition in the late l6th century, heretics [one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine] and witches were tortured and killed. Those women who were called witches may have been no more than women who were different from society's expectations. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that the modern woman is stereotyped as a type of witch. Anne Sexton's "Her Kind" employs the persona of a witch to show that modern women are outcast in society.
In the first stanza, the speaker establishes herself as a witch by saying, "I have gone out a possessed witch" (Line 1). By describing herself as 'twelve-fingered" (Line 5), the speaker emphasizes her disfigurement and label as a witch because twelve fingers are symbols of sorceresses. Yet, the reader can understand that she is not actually a witch; rather, the witch is merely the persona used to exemplify the role of women in society. The three verses in "Her Kind" do not describe three different types of women; instead, they elaborate on the persona of the witch. Two different voices deal with this persona throughout the poem's three stanzas.
One voice, the voice of society, expresses the opinion that witches, or modern women, are evil. But since there is only one speaker in this poem, society's voice is present through the speaker's mimicking of public opinion as though agreeing with it. She says, "I have gone out a possessed witch," (Line 1) but she is only sarcastically repeating how society must have said, "She has gone out a possessed witch." She is the modern woman who is not the timid, obedient female; instead, she is "not a woman, quite" (Line 6), and she is "dreaming evil" (Line 3) and "out of mind" (Line 5). Plus, she is a "lonely thing" (Line 5) because she has been outcast.
This idea of society casting out the modern...