Women are often required to be good wives, mothers, nurses, teachers, breadwinners, and housekeepers at the same time. All of them deserve gratitude and praise, but women’s work is often invisible. In her poem “Woman’s Work,” Julia Alvarez discusses the domestic role of women and their input in the family. The author tells the story of her mother and how her role as a housewife has influenced the poet’s future life. Julia Alvarez depicts her mother’s domestic role and recognizes that it has influenced her life as a woman working at home. In her poem, Julia Alvarez urges not to devalue the female role of a housewife since it is both art and great work.
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Only a woman can create comfort and coziness in the house. She knows how to arrange things beautifully, where to put a vase, and how to make the bedroom a pleasant place. The author, who is also a daughter and a speaker, starts her poem with a rhetorical question: “Who says a woman’s work isn’t high art?” (Alvarez 1). The woman maintains cleanliness in the house, which affects all family members. Thus, she provides inner comfort and harmony for family members. Only a woman knows the wisdom of cleaning the house so that all troubles would go away, and then she fills the space with love and harmony. Whatever a woman does, provides for her family, is a mother, gives children knowledge or sympathize, she is worthy of respect and recognition.
The author’s mother concentrated all her attention on housekeeping and making a house a perfect place to live in. The words “Keep the house as if the address were your heart” emphasize that all the mother’s love and care are embodied in the housekeeping. The woman’s work is truly sophisticated which makes it a kind of artwork. The author helped her mother do household chores when she was a child. She was annoyed by working a home while her friends were playing outside: “We’d clean the whole upstairs before we’d start
downstairs, I’d sigh, hearing my friends outside” (Alvarez 5) Staying at home and doing housework made the author unhappy and, becoming an adult, she expresses her dissatisfaction and annoyance about the underestimated women’s work. When her mother says a woman’s work is a “high art”, the daughter calls it “hard”: “Doing her woman’s work was a hard art” (Alvarez 6). However, despite the author does not like this role, she recognizes her mother is a skillful housewife, and her work must be respected.
Julia Alvarez uses many literary images to make the reader’s imagination draw the picture of a woman who keeps the house in a perfect state. She uses vivid descriptions to portray the art of housekeeping, for example: “She scrubbed the bathroom tiles”, “She’d shine the tines of forks, the wheels of carts, cut lacy lattices for all her pies” (Alvarez 10). The reader can get the picture of a careful and loving woman who takes care of every corner of her house. The author aims to make the reader understand how hard and precious this art is.
Recently, one can often witness a certain devaluation of the role of a woman as a housewife. It is important to remember that the role of a housekeeper is important and valuable for the family. Therefore, a conscientious wife and mother should not be neglected. However, despite their hard work in so many fields, many women rarely receive praise for everything they do. As Julia Alvarez shows, women’s work is both an art and a huge work, so it must be appreciated.
Alvarez, Julia. Homecoming: New and Collected Poems. Plume Books, 1996.
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