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Analysis: Self in 1958 by Anne Sexton

Topics: Woman, Wife, Husband, Symbolism, Individual, Modernism / Pages: 6 (1384 words) / Published: Feb 19th, 2014
Self In 1958

As one begins to read “Self In 1958”, the first thing that comes to mind is the “picture-perfect” life and “perfect” woman of the 1950’s. The life of the woman was identical to a barbie doll, who had a faultless image and wore all American, fashionable clothing. The poem takes place in the year 1958 when a majority of Americans lived similar lives and faked their happiness for the outside world to fit in. But on the inside, the “perfect” life wasn’t so “perfect” for many. In the modernist poem, “Self In 1958”, Anne Sexton wrote the story of a woman who had to pretend to live the flawless life of an American housewife in the 1950’s. The woman felt trapped in the world she lived and did not like the idea of the conformist lifestyle she had to live. She felt as if she could not be herself. Through her work, Sexton introduced the style of modernism in her poetry by being among the first authors to write about the cultural trends and changes in a society in her writing. In “Self in 1958”, by Anne Sexton, the story of a housewife living the conformed life of being a perfect wife is told, which brings out the modernism characteristics of symbolism, dehumanization and the corruption of society through the texts and the truth behind the fake, superficial life many were living.
The author of “Self In 1958”, Anne Sexton, was a woman who felt victimized by the expectations she had to live by in the world she lived in. Sexton began writing poetry as a way to relieve the pain she lived with. She suffered from depression, which led to her eventually committing suicide. On her birthday at the age of 46, Sexton took her own life. Today through her writings, people learn and read about how Sexton expressed her pain and feelings. Some may look at Sexton as a mentally unstable, insane woman, but it cannot be denied she was a poet who made lasting art. As you begin reading, the modernism characteristic of symbolism is the first thing to jump out at you. The poem starts with stating, “I am a plastered doll” (2). Here, the author symbolized the plastered doll as the main character of the poem and how like a doll, she has to possess being the “perfect” wife for society and her husband. As a woman in the 1950’s, she was expected to have impeccable, unblemished features along with wearing the latest, most fashionable, conformed clothing styles.
Next, in the third and fourth line of the poem, the author uses the eyes and smile to symbolize that her motions were almost mechanical, “ With eyes that cut open without landfall or nightfall,/ Upon some shellacked and grinning person” (3-4). The doll’s “landfall or nightfall” symbolize the opening and closing eyes of the doll, on command. Sexton symbolizes the mechanically opening and closing eyes on command as her freedom. Sexton is telling the reader that the housewife had no freedom, she had to do what was expected and what was commanded for her to do. The “grinning person” symbolizes a fake smile, which she had to wear on her face everyday no matter if she was happy or not. The grin upon the doll’s face symbolizes how the woman had to always fake a smile and happiness. Even if things in her life were going wrong, she had to pretend that they were not and she was living the superb life her husband was giving her. The second recognizable characteristic in “Self In 1958” is dehumanization. The poem, “Self in 1958”, shows many examples of how in the mid-1900’s many women were not respected and lived the lives they were expected to do live, which involved doing housework and being the “perfect-looking” wife for their laboring husband. The author wrote, “I have hair, black angel,/ back-angel-stuffing to comb,/ nylon legs, luminous arms/ and some advertised clothes” (7-10). She has to look flawless and like the perfect housewife. She looks like and also wears the “advertised clothes” of a conformed, artificial wife of the 1950’s.
Likewise to the first quote, this quotes shows another example of dehumanization in Sexton’s work, “...And have no evidence of ruins of fears.” (35) This shows the conformity the society brought. Everyone pretended that their life was perfect and nothing was bad. They acted like they had no fears or ruins. This is something that is impossible. Every person has fears, at the time, all people pretended to be perfect and to cover up and hide their flaws. Anne Sexton is telling the reader that one must value their individuality, it is important to do what’s true to you and what you want. In the poem Sexton makes this statement: “Am I approximately an I.” (6) Here she was questioning her individuality. She was saying that she may not even be considered an “I” or an individual because she must do what is expected from the society she lives in. In the poem, even the woman’s eating habits are expected to be in a certain way, “They pry my mouth for their cups of gin// And their stale bread” (5). The woman must eat what all women ate at the time. They were expected to drink a cup of gin with stale bread. What she ate was not based off an individual choice. Most of the housewives action were what was expected of their husbands, who dehumanized their wives in order to the husband’s convenience. Along with symbolism and dehumanization, this poem also shows the modernism characteristic corruption of society. In the time of 1958, society expected women to live at home and do all the housework for their employed husbands. The main character felt like she was imprisoned in her own home. She was expected to look good and act happy, pretending she lived the perfect life. She was conforming with the rest of society. No woman could do what she wanted or express themselves. The woman in the poem did not like how society expected women to be. “ Self in 1958” it reads, “Someone plays with me” (31). This is talking about the woman as a doll. Someone is playing with her, making her do the woman’s work of the time. Having to cook, clean, and fake happiness, the woman did not feel like she’s living her life. She was only going through the motions and what is expected from society. A few lines down Sexton writes, “I am walled in solid by their noise…” (34). Sexton is telling us that she is trapped and must obey the commands she receives from her husband, and more so the society they live in. At the time, all women were looked at as more of property of their husband, they were not allowed their own opinions and individuality. As one continues to read, “Their warmth? Their warmth is not my friend!” (37). The author is talking about all the other woman who pretend to act like they are interested and care about her. All women act superficial and fake because they are supposed to like everyone. Similarly, the next quote is like the previous two of faking happiness, “ Who should smile” (42). Here she is saying just because the woman is expected to smile is wrong. She should smile for her own happiness, we should not let society dictate our happiness. In conclusion, the 1950’s was not a time for woman to speak her mind or be an individual. The idea of woman not have respected significance in the world bothered Anne Sexton. The idea of the conformity that they had to live in was challenging to many women, including Sexton. The accustomed belief that women’s only jobs were to tend to a home and please their husbands made it hard to be an individual. Eventually as time went on, woman began to gain respect in the work field, at home and most importantly by men. In 1958, Anne Sexton wrote a very truthful, authentic poem of her true feelings of being a housewife in the 1950’s. In her poem she used symbolism, showed examples of dehumanization and lack of individuality, and the corruption of society at the time and how woman deserved more respect and needed to value their individuality more.

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