Analysis of Karen Press: Glimpses of Women in Overalls

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  • Topic: South Africa, Poetry, Domestic worker
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  • Published : August 29, 2011
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Topic: Analysis of Karen Press’s Glimpses of women in overalls

The title of the poem lends itself to how the poem is constructed. “Glimpses” of four different aspects of the women’s lives are given, in short, image rich parts. Each aspect is given a ‘heading’ as such, giving the reader a clear picture on the context of the stanza(s) that follow. “live-in” is the aspect of how the women live their life with their employers on their property, “off duty” is the aspect of the women in their own quarters, yet not truly their own, the third aspect “one of the family” is how the women see themselves, and are seen, within the employers family dynamic. “Women in overalls” leaves one with the strong image of working women, and as most of Karen Press’s poems are written in the context of the apartheid era, it would be safe to assume that they are black domestic workers. (Chapman, 2002: 446)

The poem is written in free verse and makes extensive use of alliteration and consonance throughout. This is immediately evident in the first stanza with the use of the‘t’. The repetition of the‘t’ gives the reader the image of a cat lightly walking on a hot stove, which lends to the image of the “tin” being “too hot”. Similarly the repetition of the ‘c’ in the last line of the stanza allows the reader to almost feel the “cold”. (Chapman 2002: 446 line 2-4) This first stanza gives the reader some insight into how the domestic worker experienced something as simple as eating, but I feel that it also gives us an inkling on how they experienced life in general. There are two extremes in this stanza; on the one hand the scorching heat, and on the other the cold that causes fat to coagulate immediately. For many black South Africans of that time, that is how life was; working in the heat during the day, and going home to small tin shacks that held no warmth at night.

The second stanza is rich with imagery and metaphors. There is also an example of synesthesia in the line “to seep...
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