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“Woman’s Work” Poem by Julia Alvarez

Alvarez addresses the domesticated lives of women and the conflict over their duties in a household. Traditionally, women were expected to stay at home and perform homemaking roles such as house cleaning and taking care of their families. From the poem, Alvarez refuses to accept this norm because women should also develop careers, revealing that nothing is impossible in this world. House chores such as maintaining cleanliness with young children during motherhood are hard tasks as she puts, “Doing her woman’s work was a hard art” (Alvarez). Despite the complexity of duties and the frustration she faces, the woman still makes the “Home where our heart is”, a place with care and love (Alvarez). Thus, nothing is impossible for a woman, who is represented by the speaker’s mother.

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Although Alvarez disregards the imprisonment she undergoes due to her mother’s homebound heart, she later realizes that household duties are not inherently unpleasant. They, rather, reveal her mother’s pride and insecurity, which her masterpiece (daughter) demonstrates. She states, “And I her masterpiece was smart, was primed, polished, scolded and advised to keep a house much better than my heart” (Alvarez). The speaker became another object or ‘art’ for her mother to show off. This notion furthers the fact nothing is impossible in this world. One can learn for the heart behind the art that they can find joy serving their families wholeheartedly. However, the work becomes difficult and the house turns a prison if people work to seek popularity or improve social statuses.

A number of poetic devices are notable in Woman’s Work. The speaker uses a simile in line three when se states, “Keep house as if the address were your heart” (Alvarez). She is convincing whoever is cleaning the house to do it diligently as if it was as important as their heart. In the fifth line, the poet uses the speaker’s image performing cleanliness while her peers enjoy the summer day outside. A hyperbole is also notable in line nine when the speaker says, “She kept me prisoner in her housebound heart” (Alvarez). Furthermore, alliteration, which refers the repetition of similar sounds in subsequent words has been used in line 14. Alvarez writes, “…was primed, praised, polished…”. These words are character qualities that a woman should demonstrate in a home. She is expected to love and care for their children and families as they serve and keep them nourished. To support the fact that nothing is impossible in this world, the poet uses the traits of a woman demonstrating that she can have a good-looking house but possess an ugly heart.

The poet also varies her tone throughout her work as evidenced in line 16. She states, “I did not want to be her counterpart” (Alvarez). From the speaker’s perspective, motherhood is a difficult task that she does not want to become. Similarly, the narrator asks in the first line, “Who says a woman’s work isn’t high art?” (Alvarez Line 1). This tonal variation evokes nostalgic emotions in the reader and it validates household duties when others are seeking professional roles.

Conclusively, the speaker in Woman’s Work is, perhaps, a child raised by a strict mother. Although homemaking is a difficult task, the speaker’s mother manages to make the house appealing and comfortable to the family. Various figurative devices were used to support the theme of the poem. Alliteration is evident showing the required qualities of a mother. Furthermore, a simile is used when the speaker compares the importance of a home with the heart. She uses imagery where a woman is seeing performing house chores while her peers play outside.

Work Cited

Alvarez, Julia. Woman’s Work. Genius, n. d., Web.

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