Marge Piercy is an American poet, novelist, and social activist. Her writings have often focused on feminist or social concerns. After her first failed marriage, Piercy lived in Chicago where she remembers those years as the hardest of her adult life. Piercy wanted to write about women she could recognize, working class people who were not as simple as they were supposed to be. (Marge Piercy. 9 Nov 2011. http://www.margepiercy.com/main-pages/biography.htm>)
In the poem, a woman is angry at the way her husband is treating her. In general, women don’t like being treated like second-class citizens and put in the position of just being a housewife and kept in the kitchen. Husbands used to pay attention to them but now the wives feel ignored and unappreciated, as demonstrated in the lines: “Look, she says, once I was roast duck on your platter with parsley but now I am Spam.” Burning dinner is their way of rebelling against their husbands and the boring job of cooking dinner.
The first line demonstrates that she’s talking about all types of women: “All over America women are burning dinners. It's lamb chops in Peoria: it's haddock in Providence; it's steak in Chicago: tofu delight in Big Sur; red rice and beans in Dallas.”
Piercy’s last line in the poem: "Burning dinner is not incompetence but war," is her way of saying, “ENOUGH! I’ve had it!” The woman is declaring a war on her husband and society for taking advantage of women and not giving them a more fulfilling role. The poem was written in 1976, when the feminist movement was in full swing. The overall tone of the poem, anger, reflects the thoughts and feelings of women at that time. And probably even today.
The structure of “What’s that Smell in the Kitchen?” is free verse. The poem does not rhyme and is not written in iambic pentameter. The rhythm or cadence of varies throughout the poem. Metaphors and symbolism are used to maximize the effectiveness of the poem.
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