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The Role of Musical Devices in Reinforcing the Portrayal of Gender Roles in The Victims by Sharon Olds and The Spinster by Slyvia Plath


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Poetry obviously makes a greater use of the music of language
than does language that is not poetry. – Perrine

  The Victims by Sharon Olds and The Spinster by Sylvia Plath both of the poems are composed around the second wave feminism when the world  especially in United States, the  society is greatly empowered by men domination at that time. The Victims by Sharon Olds is  spelling out the affair, of no  more wanting being oppressed and looked down by male  Sharon specifically uses her father as a representative of male figure, and of the women to awaken their sense of superiority toward men. At the same view, The Spinster by Sylvia Plath is vocally voicing out her rebellion through this piece, of society common negative views of being a spinster, here, Sylvia figuratively depicted the spinsterhood as a matter of active choice, that a woman could be and should be happy regardless the existence of a man by her side and in the midst of misogynist domination, both of the writers try to figure out their stand in society, against the expected set roles of only-around-kitchen the women should -at the very least- be the best at. Portrayal of gender roles on both of the poems greatly reinforced by the use of musical devices, when it comes to this, rhythm and sound collaborate to produce the music of the poetry with two general roles: to reinforce meaning and intensify communication.

The use of musical devices contribute in reinforcing the meaning of both poems  effectively because it indeed helps to evoke the poems sense of purpose, take the use of figure of repetitions, with them being alliteration, syllable (assonance or consonance) and refrain as a means to form an informed opinion. Here are some noteworthy excerptions of figure of repetition from both poems:

“When mother divorced you, we were glad.
She took it and took it in silence

She had taught us to take it, to hate you and take it

We were tickled
to think of your office taken away,
your secretaries taken away,
your lunches with three double bourbons,
your pencils, your reams of paper.” the Victims

The initial constant consonant repetition or alliteration and vowel repetition or syllable are especially important in strengthening the poems mental voice to make the meaning of both of the poems echo even louder. As displayed above, the constant repetition of initial consonant w and t, vowel repetition or assonance e and i and consonant ending  repetition or consonance s in the Victims, help to portray the superiority of her mother after her decision of divorcing her husband, which is they feel glad with it, and her mother even taught them to just ‘take it’ and hate her father instead, with the refrain of ‘took it and taken away’ it creates a solid verbal music to the poem for all the bearing oppressed she had long undergone, here figure of the repetition strengthen, as well, the hatred feeling towards her father, that after a sober and conscious decision of divorcing, it will only liberated their lives, as it says on line 16-17, until we pricked with her for your annihilation, Father, there is a sense of liberation to the sound of it, with the vanishing of their father, as if to belittle his role as well, with all the thought of his kicking out, undeniably, the sentimentality is a successful manifestation of the use of combination between alliteration w and consonance r, the verbal music successfully conveys the authority or supremacy of them over their father.

“And around her house she set
Such a barricade of barb and check
Against mutinous weather
As no mere insurgent man could hope to break
With curse, first, threat
Or love either.”   The Spinster

This goes the same with the Spinster, the constant repetition of consonants from the selected stanza above, with them being nd, h, b greatly emphasize the meaning in the lines, the verbal music in a from of alliteration, create greater echo to the willingness of the persona to set boundary between her and her aspiring suitor  being depicted as an insurgent man, here she strictly protects herself from the outside intervention, mainly from any other men  her last suitor and any other suitors, crowned herself as a proud spinster, being happy with anyone but herself, which is against the common norm of society at that time, for a woman her age to get married or have a partner. Thus, the series of chosen figure repetition help in reinforcing the portrayal of her fierce role as a spinster in the poem.

“She took it // and took it // in silence, // all those years // and then kicked you out
She had taught us to take it,// to hate you // and take it (cacophony)

The white slugs of their bodies// gleaming through slits // in their suits of compressed silt,// the stained flippers of their hands,// the underwater fire of their eyes,// ships gone down with the lanterns lit (euphony)” – the Victims

For caesura, the use of it in both poems, helps in creating a cacophony  a harsh or discordant, unpleasant sounding of sounds and euphony  a smooth, pleasant sounding of sounds. In the Victims there is a shifting from cacophony to euphony, as it is as well initiating a shift in tone from hatred to sympathy toward their father as it is depicted above, the  refrain of “took” in “took it and took it in silence” creates cacophony that emphasizes extra tension to those years of her mother’s silence, as it is  she finally comes to a realization that she has to empower herself and demise all her fear toward her father, that she herself, can stand on her own two feet and play her role  her mother’s feeling is sentimentally felt and contagious to her and her siblings and she did it at last, by kicking the father out. Again, the placing of masculine caesura as a moment of temporal pause in between the words, greatly help the poem to unleash its sentimentality and as well intensify the her feelings.

“With her latest suitor//
Found herself// of a sudden,// intolerably struck
By the birds irregular babel//
And the leaves// litter (euphony)

She judged petals in disarray,//
The whole season, // sloven. (euphony)” – The Spinster

As for the Spinster, the use of euphony remains constant and there is no shifting throughout the lines. It still helps to create verbal music that reinforces the persona sense of her or pride in herself, that despite the fact of being pursued by the latest suitor, it doesn’t waver even a whit of her attention  by the use of ‘intolerably’ that gives a fierce sound of power to her entity. Unlike the Victims, the constant use of euphony, makes the poem rather less sentimentally composed, as no sense of contagiousness, as it is so in the Victim, the we can only sense her high pride or sense of herself but left it with nothing more, whether being a spinster or the life of her as one, lead her to happiness or the other way around, as it ended up with her build of self protection in a form a barricade of barb and check, depicted how strict she is to the outside world, to anyone about to intervene her private area.

With the thoughrough analyzes of both of the poems, the use of musical devices in a form of a figure of repetition in the Victim by Sharon Olds and The Spinster by Sylvia Plath are efficiently reinforced the portrayal of gender role. As both of the personas  the mother and the spinster, are against the common set roles of society at that time that highly influenced by the patriarchal system, given the explanation it is valid to say that musical devices indeed help in reinforcing the portrayal of gender role as  it is supported by the series of relevant use musical devices mainly in form of a figure of repetition, be it alliteration, syllable, refrain or caesura, they greatly help to create a vivid and solid verbal music, that again, help to reinforce meaning and intensify communication.


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