Penelope Millay's An Ancient Gesture

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About 100 years ago the surge for women's right began in the western world. Tired of being deemed inferior by society, brave women started a revolution; a revolution that after many won battles, still fights on today. These early suffragists who started it all, brought on a future of strong, independent, and working women whom we can now call our friends and family. One of these pioneers is poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Although not in the front lines in protests and marches, Millay actively recorded the female sentiment of the time in verse (Brittin 123). One concept she wrote about predominantly were her thoughts on marriage and how its patriarchal ideals leave women chained into submission. In her poem “An Ancient Gesture”, Millay uses Penelope …show more content…

In “Women’s Space and Wingless Words in The Odyssey” Judith Fletcher recognizes a hidden trope in The Odyssey in which men with power, such as Odysseus, tell women to leave when important discussions are about to ensue (78). One such instance is in chapter 18 when Odysseus, who is disguised as a beggar, rebukes a group of women for being in what is seen as a ‘man's space’ saying, “You maids of Odysseus... / go to the chambers of your revered queen, / turn your distaffs beside her, be pleasing to her / as you sit in the chamber, or card the wool with your hands.” (quoted in Fletcher 81). We see how Odysseus views women as a commodity that can be sent off to another room to work submissively. Furthermore, Fletcher points out that Odysseus’s heir, Telemachus, does the same to his own mother, who is seen by the greeks as the image of an ideal woman (78). In Fletcher's words, “Penelope judiciously leaves at Telemachus' bidding at three points in the poem, doing precisely what Odysseus commands the maids to do” (81). From this motif we see how women, even queen Penelope, were viewed as inferior: as workers who are only meant to “go inside and work wool” (Fletcher 81). In addition, Fletcher states that Telemachus sending his mother off to work is a part of his journey of becoming a man (78). While grasping the patriarchal …show more content…

From a young age Millay was exposed to feminist ideals in the form of her mother, a strong single parent who was “a constant example of female independence and self-reliance” (Brittin 121). As she grew up in Maine, Millay was highly affected when the boys at her high school disregarded her poetry (Brittin 121). It is possible that this reglect based on gender lit a fire in Millay to explore the patriarchy and the relationship between men and women. However Millay went through the most development when she decided to go to college and become the poet she wanted to be instead of following the status quo and getting married (Brittin 121). Even Millay’s choice of college, Vassar in upstate New York, reflected her feminist views (Boyd 1). In 1915 both a Socialist and Suffrage club were established along with a pageant recognizing the accomplishments of the women of the college (Brittin 122). Once she graduated college she became a renowned poet. At one point she worked for Vanity Fair, a popular magazine, writing her poems (Keyser 65). However her work was not as innocent as one would think. A great example of her subversive is "The Barrel: Showing That to a Woman a Man, Even a Philosopher, is Always a Little Ridiculous, and that to a Man, Any Man, a Woman is Something More than a Nuisance” (quoted in Keyser 66) in which a “a comically

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