The Gender Script in “Diving into the Wreck”

The poem “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich is an extended metaphor for the long-standing oppression of women throughout history. In the beginning and end of the poem a “book of myths” (1, 92) is mentioned. This book is where the speaker learned a lot about the history of the wreck she is exploring. The wreck in this poem isn’t a literal shipwreck, but a metaphor for the oppression of women and the damage it has caused. Thinking of the wreck in this context, the book of myths seems to be a script that women are supposed to follow. This script lays out gender norms such as the clothes women should wear and the way they should act.

In the final stanza of the poem Rich writes, “a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear” (92-94). Clearly this book does not mention the speaker or anyone else she is lumping in with her by saying “our names” (94). These people the book fails to mention are women throughout history. This can be deduced by analyzing the way in which Rich describes what was found in the wreck. Not only was there damage down there, but also treasure that was left to rot. Rich writes, “the evidence of damage / worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty / the ribs of the disaster / curving their assertion / among the tentative hunters” (66-70). Clearly there is damage within this wreck, but there is also the shadow of beauty. This beauty is the stories of women that have been stamped down by men and “left to rot” (82). Not only are these beautiful stories forgotten about, but the women’s names are also left out of a book that is supposed to guide them in adhering to societies standards. By saying “our names do not appear” (94), Rich is commenting on how the accomplishments of women are seldom talked about and their names are not mentioned when they should be. This instills in women the belief that they are less important than men and shouldn’t aim too high because they won’t be remembered for anything either way.

Because Rich is discussing how women’s names are often forgotten, it draws my attention to the only name mentioned in the poem. She writes, “not like Cousteau with his / assiduous team / aboard the sun-flooded schooner” (9-12). Jacques Cousteau was a French naval officer and explorer who studied the sea. I think it’s important to note that the only name Rich mentions in this poem is his name, further emphasizing her point that women and their accomplishments are often forgotten about while men and their accomplishments are always remembered.

2 thoughts on “The Gender Script in “Diving into the Wreck””

  1. I definitely agree with you concerning Rich addressing oppression in Diving into the Wreck, but I have questions regarding on how you decided her prose was focused around women specifically. Especially because Rich uses gender neutral/gender fluid pronouns when referring to the divers in the poem, and even uses merfolk as a descriptor for those visiting the wreck, which is arguably an even more abstract method of describing the divers gender expression and identity. The cis men that I think your victimizing here definitely have contributed immensely to the societal pressures and unfair stipulations that women worldwide have to follow, but concerning this poem, I want to know where you analysis came from in saying Rich appoints men as being the oppressors.

  2. The idea of the book of myths as both a guide for women to act but not actually contain anything that recognizes women is interesting. I feel the placement of the book of myths at both the beginning of the poem and end have some significance. Also historically myths usually display male heroes rescuing females or sucumbing to females could that be important to this poem? Your mentioning of Jacques is excellent especially because he is a male who is supported and celebrated for his accomplishments where our narrator is alone nameless to discover the wreck.

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