the Desire for Suffering in Grahn’s “A Common Woman: IV” and Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck”

While initially reading “IV. Carol, in the park, chewing on straws,” by Judy Grahn, I envisioned the woman of focus within the piece, as disinterested with her life, putting on a persona to please others. After re-reading and pairing it with Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck,” I believe both speakers in each poem, ironically, have a desire to face hardships, in order to grow and reach a sense of purpose. In particular, the narration is in third person, therefore it directly shows not only an outside perspective of Carol but also her inner monologue. This is ultimately examined in lines 13-21, where the speaker states,

On weekends, she dreams of becoming a tree;
A tree that dreams it is ground up
And sent to the paper factory, where it
Lies helpless in sheets, until it dreams
Of becoming a paper airplane, and rises
On its own current; where it turns into a
Bird, a great coasting bird that dreams of becoming
More free, even, than that—a feather, finally, or
A piece of air with lightning in it (1).

Grahn gives the reader an insight in this specific excerpt, where Carol’s deepest desires are unveiled. Line 13 begins her inner monologue as she dreams of becoming another, in particular, something that is inanimate. The tone of the speaker in line 13 is almost nostalgic, yet in line 14 it is drastically different. She then wishes that she was “a tree that…is ground up.” The switch of her tone from holding a positive connotation to a more gruesome one is quite shocking. From this immediate juxtaposition, I believe that Carol has an inclination towards death and suffering. Furthering this desire for suffering, in lines 15-16, it states, “And sent to the paper factory, where it lies helpless in sheets.” However, I do not firmly believe that this desire for suffering results in her ‘end,’ but instead, her personal growth. Directly shown in the following lines, the speaker shows Carol’s longing for change and growth. It states, “…until it dreams of becoming a paper airplane, and rises on its own current. Not only does this line show her desire for newness, but also her ability to be independent. By having the paper airplane form and be able to “rise on its own current,” Carol will not be at anyone’s disposure. The final three lines of the excerpt are riveting, as the speaker explicitly shows Carol’s longing for freedom and her ultimate means to do so. It is stated, “…where it turns into a bird, a great coasting bird that dreams of becoming more free, even, than that—a feather, finally, or a piece of air with lightning in it.” The overarching transformation of a tree to a feather heightens the amount of change Carol wants to have within her life. The smaller changes within, of tree to paper, paper to paper airplane, airplane to bird, and bird to feather, show the hardships and steps of changing, enveloped within the larger transformation.
Rich’s narration of “Diving into the Wreck” is similar, as the speaker gives the reader an insight into a wreck she discovers, and ultimately keeps going back to. In my blog post prior, I made a connection between the wreck itself and the speaker’s feelings regarding the wreck. I believed that the ‘wreck’ meant the speaker’s past and that the speaker wants to use the wreck as a learning experience for growth.

In the seventh stanza, Rich states,
The thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty (102).
If the reader were to assume that the ‘wreck’ means the speaker’s past, then the disregard for the story of the past only heightens the speaker’s distaste for being stuck within the past. Through the metaphor of “the drowning face always staring,” the reader can infer that the past is always lingering. By positioning the face “towards the sun,” this demonstrates how the speaker has the ability to use the past to their advantage. However, this has not been done yet and the reader can assume through Rich’s explanation of this image, being “the evidence of damage.” Both Rich and Grahn depict their speakers as longing for change and ironically, wanting to face hardships along the way, in order for their ultimate growth.

One thought on “the Desire for Suffering in Grahn’s “A Common Woman: IV” and Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck””

  1. I think connecting “Diving Into the Wreck” with Carol’s poem helped explain Carol as a person. You made a good connection in that they both use suffering as a way to grow and change. This reminded me of our earlier reading of Heather Love’s “Feeling Backward…” where it discusses the dilemma between remembering a painful past and moving on from it or overcoming the past and escaping its legacy. For Carol and “Diving Into the Wreck” they chose to remember the past and its hardships as a way to move on and grow from it.

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