You are on page 1of 2

Anthony Laskowski AP English 12 12/19/11 2nd Block Poetry Response I read the poem A Work of Artifice by Marge Piercy.

In her poem, "A Work of Artifice," Marge Piercy uses the bonsai tree as a metaphor for women. Using terminology familiar to the hobby of gardening, she sets the stage for a curt indictment of the subordination of women without needing to directly tell the audience to whom she is referring. Indeed, such directness would take away from the power presented in her images. Piercy wastes no time in making the reader aware of the tone her poem is to take with her title, "A Work of Artifice." As opposed to the word "art," "artifice" implies some sort of stratagem or trickery to reach a desired, although dishonest, result. This theme is evidenced repeatedly throughout the poem. Beginning with an eight line description of the bonsai tree, Piercy makes it clear that this miniature tree has been purposely restrained from reaching its full potential rather than having been naturally dwarfed. In keeping with its Japanese tradition, the art of bonsai subjects what would otherwise be a normal tree or shrub to the confines of a small pot and pruning techniques in an effort to limit its growth and control its form. The tree's limitless potential to grow "eighty feet tall" (line 3), contrasts with the fact that it has been restricted to a height of "nine inches" (line 8), by the gardener who prunes it meticulously. It is interesting to note that, according to the Thorndike-Barnhart dictionary, the verb "prune" is defined as to "cut out useless or undesirable parts from." When the bonsai tree being pruned in Piercy's poem is recognized as a metaphor for women, this act takes on an even more sinister aspect. "Pruning" a woman implies that, in reality, a woman is merely a product of "the gardener's" aberrant modifications; in this case, Piercy intends the gardener to be male-dominated society. Just as the bonsai tree is kept from maturing to its full potential, women are restricted from becoming more than lowly maidservants and intellectual infants in the eyes of society. This subordination of women is by no means presented as an overt attempt to disrupt that which would normally develop, but is presented instead as a law of nature. Lines twelve through sixteen show this method of indoctrination as the gardener croons while whittling away at the ability of his captive beauty, be it tree or woman. Deception is clearly employed to convince the tree (woman) that its capacity for growth has been predetermined and cannot be exceeded. At this point, the reader is made fully aware that the "tree" is woman. The phrases "small and cozy" (line 13), and "domestic and weak" (line 14), are all too commonly used when referring to women. Piercy implies that these are the terms which society uses when viewing women and their abilities. In this manner, women are stripped of any belief in their abilities and must resign themselves to living the life set out for them by the surrounding culture. They are comforted in knowing how lucky they are "to have a pot to grow in" (line 16). This "pot" most likely refers to the belief that women should, and are indeed obligated to feel fortunate that men have taken it upon themselves to care for women since they are too weak and unfit to function on their own. In addition to the lack of bodily strength commonly associate with the term, "weak" also implies a lack of authority, mental power, and moral strength, all of which have been incorporated into the stereotype of women. Women are often viewed as vacillating simpletons incapable of

taking charge in matters of any sort. This indoctrination of women as weak domestic servants must begin early in life, according to Piercy. "With living creatures / one must begin very early / to dwarf their growth" (lines 17-19). These three lines comprise the secret of successfully stunting the growth of a woman. A bonsai tree is dwarfed by pruning roots and branches, and by training branches to grow in certain directions by tying them with wire. Likewise, a woman is dwarfed by being conditioned from birth to believe in her inferiority and by being denied equal access to educational, occupational, and social opportunities. Piercy illustrates this by concluding the poem with four examples of ways in which women have been shaped to meet the desired norm. Her first example of "bound feet" (line 20), has its origin in ancient Chinese custom. Women of higher classes in particular had their feet bound, or broken, at a young age so they would appear dainty and feminine. Although this was a symbol of prestige and physical beauty, the custom of binding feet had its drawbacks. Women were rendered incapable of working or even walking, restricting their lifestyle drastically. The second illustration of "crippled brain" (line 21), signifies intellectual subordination made existent not by any inherent inferiority but by the prevalent (though unfounded) view of women as naturally lacking in intelligence. One may also assume that Piercy has taken into account the disparity of educational opportunities for women as opposed to men in her decision to include this line. Third, Piercy gives us a reference to the stereotyped domesticity of women with the line about "the hair in curlers" (line 22). This clearly illustrates social subordination of women and the restrictions placed upon them to be "homebodies" and nothing more--certainly not anything outside of the home. Fourth, Piercy presents the reader with sexual subordination when she refers to "the hands you / love to touch" (lines 23-24), a modified view of women as sex objects. Thus, Marge Piercy has drawn together for the audience four recurrent themes of subordination included in the stereotypical woman: physical, intellectual, occupational, and sexual. Although most people are not ardent supporters of radical feminism, few could find fault with the conclusions reached in "A Work of Artifice." Few, if any, who objectively study history can deny the repression of women. Like bonsai trees, women have been held back from reaching their full potential. The beauty and talents apparent in women are not, therefore, pure and natural, but, as Piercy so vividly demonstrates, merely the artifice of what the gardener has strategically allowed.

Related Interests