Friday, September 30, 2011


Housewife, by Anne Sexton

Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin; it has a heart,
a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day,
faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah
into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That's the main thing.

What immediately struck me about this poem was its connection to The Awakening. Edna very deliberately "divorces" herself from her husband's house, which is clearly a way for her to separate herself from Mr. Pontellier. He associated the house with Edna's duties as a wife—to greet visitors, to care for the children inside, to generally care for. Her decision to "marry" the pigeon house separates herself from this role. This is so distressing to Mr. Pontellier that he makes up this whole "renovation" excuse to prevent anyone from learning of Edna's decision. Of course, the line "men enter by force" denotes forced marital sex, which we may remember from the scene where Leonce prowled back and forth on the porch waiting for Edna to "come in."

Analyzing the poem by itself, I think it's interesting how the title has this dual meaning--"housewife" and also house=wife. While women "marry houses," they also become the house in some sense. Both remain the property of the husband in most cases. The various parts of the house correspond to the organs of a woman's body. The wife on her knees who scrubs the floor of her house is simultaneously "washing herself down." The wife, in this context as property of her husband, is entirely submissive to the wishes of her husband. If he wishes to enter her "by force," he may. She is "on her knees," suggesting both domestic and sexual submission to her gender role.

I find the reference to Jonah to be interesting. I'm familiar with the story but I've never thought of reading it in a symbolically sexual way. Sexton makes a connection between sex and childbirth, as men through sex are drawn back into the place, the person, they came from. This brings Sexton to her final conclusion that women are their mothers--that the ordeal of childbirth is much like that sex, suggesting some kind of violation. But how exactly was Jonah "drawn back," as in returning, into the "fleshy mother," or the whale? I though it just swallowed him whole and then spat him out. Perhaps men are like Jonah in reverse, first coming in through sex and then leaving through birth.

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