Cultural Metaphors in Jenny Lim’s Poem
Being female is somewhat of a paradox. On one hand, being a woman means belonging to a group, one category based on sex. On the other hand, women might not have anything in common with the people in this group other than they define themselves as a woman. Wonder Woman, a poem by Genny Lim is a poem about women all around the world going about their daily lives. The poem’s speaker examines and criticizes the different women she sees walking down the street. Through the duality of the title of her poem, imagery, anaphora, and metaphor Genny Lim exposes the divisions in the category of being a woman and explores the definition of womanhood through what makes women alike.
The duality of the title of the poem requires the reader to consider its meaning and advances the readers understanding of the poem’s message. On the surface, Wonder Woman, the title of Genny Lim’s poem could allude to the star-pgled comic book hero, who is generally considered a feminist character, although she does wear sexualizing clothing. Or the title could simply refer to the point that the poem is about a woman who wonders. Throughout the poem, the speaker contemplates the idea of womanhood and wonders about the individual women she observes. This is also shown through the stream of consciousness utilized in the poem as the speaker wonders and thinks about women and their relationship towards each other. As the poem begins, this interpretation of the title is more supported. In the third stanza, after listing women the speaker has seen on the street she writes:
I look at them and wonder if
They are a part of me
I look in their eyes and wonder if
They share my dreams (ll. 19-22)
In this stanza, the speaker wonders about all the women she sees and how they are similar to her or if they share nothing in common with her. In this way, the title introduces the content of the poem as the speaker will go on to question the definition of being a woman.
Throughout the work, Lim uses imagery to highlight the women in the poem’s diversity. She features all the ways in which women look different and share different lives. In the second stanza, the speaker talks about all the women she sees and what makes them unique. This listing of different women gives the impact of just how much multiplicity is contained in the category of being female. The speaker describes “laughing women with wrinkled cheeks and white teeth,” (1ine 6) and “smiling debutantes with bouquets of yellow daffodils,” (1ine 14). This juxtaposition of visual imagery allows the reader to picture these women walking down the street and how different they all are. The imagery has the effect of separating the women from each other and establishing various classes of wealth and experiences among them. Lim also uses imagery in the eighth stanza when the speaker asks why women must “…stand divided/ Building walls that tear them down?” (11. 43- 44) This visual imagery of women building walls between each other furthers the point that gender is not enough to make people stick together and helps directly address the barriers that exist between women.
Genny Lim employs anaphora in order to draw a connection between the women the speaker is talking about. In the sixth stanza, Lim employs anaphora in almost every line. The speaker wonders why there are “Women who have never known a day of hunger,” (1ine 33) as well as “Women who must clean other women’s houses/ Women who must shell shrimps for pennies a day.” (l1. 36-37) Through the repetition of “Women who” at the beginning of many lines describing women with various extremes of wealth and poverty, Lim shows how these people that drew such different lots in life are all connected by their womanhood. Lim finishes her listing of women with:
(women)Who must cook
Who must die
In dreams (ll. 38-42)
This final use of anaphora in the last four lines connects all the previous lines, as these are things most women must face. All women face the same prejudice of belonging in the kitchen, and the challenge of childbirth is one that only women must suffer. This progression of first pointing out women’s differences and then relaying their similarities shows the complexities of people’s relation to their womanhood and what makes women all different but in other ways, they might be the same.
Genny Lim portrays women through the metaphor of a house in the seventh stanza in order to reveal the ways in which women are similar. Lim writes:
A woman is a ritual
A house that must accommodate
A house that must endure
Generation after generation (ll. 48-51)
Lim describes women as a dilapidated house in order to expose the shared suffering that women experience. Through this metaphor, Lim compares a woman’s experiences and body to that of a worn down house. The stanza describes the ways in which the house must endure generations of torment with hidden cries and stretch marks just like women do. Lim’s use of this metaphor towards the ends of the poem after the speaker has differentiated various women, allows her to further connect women through shared suffering.
One of the most significant lines in the poem is ‘A woman is a ritual.’ (1ine 48) It makes the reader question the idea of womanhood and what it means to be a woman. In today’s society, the lines have become a bit more blurred. When people can no longer rely on sex organs or appearance; what is the definition of womanhood? Here, through the duplicity of the title, imagery, anaphora, and metaphor, Lim provides an answer to that question. That the defenition of a woman is simply being a woman.