Gwen Harwood Essay

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Gwen Harwood’s poetry is very powerful for its ability to question the social conventions of its time, positioning the reader to see things in new ways. During the 1960’s, a wave of feminism swept across Australian society, challenging the dominant patriarchal ideologies of the time. Gwen Harwood’s poems ‘Burning Sappho’ and ‘Suburban Sonnet’ are two texts that challenge the dominant image of the happy, gentle, but ultimately subservient housewife. Instead, ‘Burning Sappho’ is powerful in constructing the mother as violent to reject the restraints placed on her by society, whilst Suburban Sonnet addresses the mental impact of the female gender’s confinement to the maternal and domestic sphere. Harwood employs a range of language and structural devices in order to criticise the stereotypical repressed roles of the female gender. Thus Harwood encourages the modern reader to perceive Australian social structures differently and hence reject the inequitable role of women in modern society. Structure is used in many of Harwood’s poems to challenge the dominant perception of the happy, caring mother. In ‘Suburban sonnet,’ the structure is (obviously) the sonnet, two four line stanzas followed by a six-line stanza. This choice is deliberate as the traditional romanticised love poem jars against the reality presented in the poem. Similarly, ‘Burning Sappho’ challenges the dominant stereotypes of the time however, rather than a sonnet, the poem’s structure is also relevant to the poem’s criticisms, thus revealing a duality in the mother’s actions and inner thoughts. Throughout the day, the mother is constantly interrupted by her supposed ‘duties’ and ‘roles.’ “Scandals and Pregnancies” mediates that the women (a kind friend) talk, however the subject of the conversation presents a typecast of stereotypical gossip, therefore positioning the reader to perceive their conversation as lacking substance. In contrast to this stereotype however, the persona’s thoughts are deeply...
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