Dive Into Isolation: Repairing the Wreck Alone

Self discovery is, by nature of the words, discovery of oneself. In “Diving Into the Wreck” Adrienne Rich uses language to portray the theme of discovery through isolation. The first stanza use of the line “I put on” establishes the narrator as both powerful and alone with them completing this dive. The narrator then continues the permeating sense of isolation with the following line

“I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone”.

The beginning of line 8 once again uses “I” but contrast the narrator with Cousteau, a famous diver, making their solo trip in contrast sound difficult and non glamourous. However while Cousteau has an “assiduous team” the line break separates Cousteau from his team a making him alone in this poem even among his team. The end of the stanza once again emphasizes the narrators isolation with “but here alone” contrasting her difficult self discovery with Cousteau extravagant dive. While Cousteau has a team he is alone where the narrator being alone can be seen as humbling in contrast.

Then as the narrator begins her dive to explore the wreck she continues with her usage of I as follows “I came to explore the wreck”, ” the thing I came for.” Her exploration of the wreck can be seen as her exploration of her own trauma and self and how she alone can accomplish the self discovery needed. She alone examines the ship in careful detail.

When the narrator does switch from using I it is in describing her new form after her self discovery.

“And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
above the wreck.”

The use of we comes after the narrators description of themselves have changed and rather than represent we as a multitude of others it is used to transcribe their identity. We is neither female or male as the narrator transcends these concepts in their isolated self discovery.


4 thoughts on “Dive Into Isolation: Repairing the Wreck Alone”

  1. The idea that exploring the wreck is a metaphor for isolated, personal exploration as reflected by the change in pronouns is really interesting. Similarly, Rich’s poem “Dialogue” (which I wrote about) could been seen in a similar light. After reading your post, it reminded me of the use of pronouns in both poems and how they both are using them to explore the narrator’s identity. There is an interesting contrast though between them. Based off your reading of “Diving into the Wreck,” the individual, “I,” is vital to the narrator’s personal journey, as that is the primary pronoun used while we the reader follow the narrator through their journey. “Dialogue” also uses “I” but in the context of looking back at a different version of the narrator. It’s interesting how the pronouns used can tell a lot about where someone is on their identity journey.

  2. I really enjoyed your how you wrote about the the narrators aspect of self discovery. I believe the “self discovery process” is eventually something that everyone goes through in order to self identify. By stating “and I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair steams black, the merman in his armored body, Adrienne blends two stereotypical representations of a man and woman. My so what question is did Rich choose to describe the new self (long hair and a strong body) as a way to mock the stereotypical western societal gender norms for men and woman?

  3. Adrienne Rich’s seemingly sporadic (but obviously deliberate) use of pronouns in her poems, I think, signifys that the narrator contains multitudes within them, like you mentioned, and to limit that to one gender would be to leave the shipwreck alone and go nowhere near it – to just stay on land where it’s safe. On the other hand, whenever Rich uses “we,” specifically in “Diving Into the Wreck” and “In Those Years,” it feels like she is addressing the LGBTQ+ community and acknowledging their struggles and traumas as well as her own. She is encouraging everyone who has ever felt like more than one thing to go and discover themselves.

  4. On one hand, the diver is alone. She states, “I have to learn alone / to turn my body without force” (41-42). But on the other hand, the pronoun “we” would imply that she sees a multitude of people within herself. While you make the distinction that “we” does not change the diver’s physical isolation, it might be worth exploring the ironic implications of this alone/not alone dynamic. This may produce some interesting analysis in the context of the the lines, “We are, I am, you are… the one who find our way / back to this scene” (87-90).

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