About The Poems “Midnight” and “Purple Bathing Suit” by Louise Glück
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The poems “Midnight” and “Purple Bathing Suit” by Louise Glück capture dark moments and thoughts in relationships while somehow making readers laugh, albeit remorsefully. Relationships can be difficult to navigate, and there will be hard times throughout any relationship that people have to work through. Glück’s poems showcase those moments when the pain of an aching heart seems to last forever, or the anger and animosity of one partner resonates and has lasting impacts on the relationship. Both of the speakers in Glück’s poems use elements of dark humor, satire, and irony to convey the message of the poem.
The poem “Midnight” is about a woman who is upset with her husband but does not communicate her feelings to him. Although the poem’s speaker is not identified, one might think the speaker is the wife’s mother. The poem opens with what seems to be a sweet and innocent line by saying “Speak to me, aching heart…” (Glück, “Midnight” 1), but quickly takes a different tone by saying “…what / Ridiculous errand are you inventing for yourself” (Glück, “Midnight” 1-2). This second line is funny but not funny because of the mother’s bluntness when asking for what “ridiculous errand” the wife is creating for herself. The line that says “…it is not your job / To take out the garbage, it is your job / To empty the dishwasher…” is very ironic because one would think that the mother is telling the wife that taking out the garbage is not her job because she does not want her to do more ridiculous errands (Glück, “Midnight” 4-6). Instead, however, she tells her daughter that it is her job to empty the dishwasher, which enforces gender roles that the daughter was raised on. A reader might laugh regretfully at these lines because it is ironic and reinforces those gender roles.
In the next few lines, the mother is belittling her daughter. The separation on the lines “You are showing off / Again / Exactly as you did in childhood” is very telling (Glück, “Midnight” 6-8). The emphasis on “again” insinuates that this happens often and that the speaker has knowledge of the wife’s childhood, thus leading one to believe that the speaker is the wife’s mother. Closer to the end of the poem, the speaker bluntly calls out the woman for how she is grieving:
Is this the way you communicate
With your husband, not answering
When he calls, or is this the way the heart
Behaves when it grieves: it wants to be
Alone with the garbage? (Glück, “Midnight” 15-19).
This part is funny because the speaker seems genuinely concerned with how the wife is handling the situation but then asks if her heart grieves by being alone with garbage. The mother is sarcastically mocking the way the daughter is grieving. At the end, the poem becomes much darker and concludes with a warning by telling the wife to think ahead in fifteen years. The last two lines of the poem say, “His voice could be getting tired; some night / If you don’t answer, someone else will answer” (Glück, “Midnight” 21-22). Although this last part is not funny, it highlights the consequences of neglecting to communicate in a relationship. The speaker is suggesting that the wife speaks to her husband about her aching heart instead of keeping it to herself. Throughout the poem, the speaker is ironically funny and has a blunt and belittling tone. The speaker is urging the wife to talk to her husband to solve their problems instead of bottling them away. This, too, is ironic—the mother is asking her daughter to solve her communication problems with her husband when the same can be said for the mother-daughter relationship. Though it is clear that the mother cares for the daughter and her wellbeing, she is unable to convey those through her harsh and condescending tone. The ingenuity of the author is shown as she portrays not one, but two broken relationships, one between the husband and wife, and one between the mother and daughter.
While “Midnight” uses irony to emulate the importance of communication in relationships, Glück’s “Purple Bathing Suit” uses humor to talk about a relationship that is controlling and abusive. The speaker in this poem seems to be either a wife talking to her husband or a mother talking to her child. The poem begins with the speaker watching someone garden in a purple bathing suit. This opening is very intimate and makes the reader questions whether he or she should be reading the inner dialogue of the speaker. The speaker states that he or she likes to watch the person garden with his back towards them. The third line says that “your back is my favorite part of you” (Glück, “Suit” 3). While this seems like a romantic and intimate sentiment, the fourth line reveals that the speaker does not like hearing the person talk. The speaker states that the person’s back is their favorite part because it is furthest away from their mouth. These lines use irony by making the reader expect a romantic sentiment, but in reality, the reader soon learns of the speaker’s hidden contempt for the person in the purple bathing suit.
The speaker’s contempt for the gardener is further shown in the second stanza with hypercritical remarks. It is almost funny and peculiar how picky the speaker is being. The speaker nitpicks the gardener by saying he should give some thought to the way he is weeding because he is “…breaking / the grass off at ground level / when you should pull it by the roots” (Glück, “Suit” 6-8). This statement is both ironic symbolic of the speaker’s actions: the harmless folly of the gardener does not call for the quality of rage observed in the speaker’s tone. Perhaps, much like the gardener, the speaker is choosing to pettily criticize her partner for trivial and minor conflicts in a relationship, rather than addressing the root of her feelings of animosity. In the third stanza, the speaker continues to nitpick the person gardening. The speaker complains about the careless way the person is gardening and wonders how often she will have to correct him. These critiques show that the speaker likes to be in control. In the third stanza, the speaker says that the gardener is “working hard while actually / doing the worst job possible…” (Glück, “Suit” 15-16). The extreme criticisms are almost funny in a way. One might wonder why anyone would get this irritated over something as trivial as gardening. The speaker gets so worked up over this person’s gardening skills.
In the last stanza of “Purple Bathing Suit,” the speaker continues to belittle the person gardening by saying “you are a small irritating purple thing / and I would like to see you walk off the face of the earth” (Glück, “Suit” 17-18). The speaker obviously has a lot of hatred towards this person and wants nothing to do with them. In the last two lines, however, the speaker ends by saying “because you are all that’s wrong with my life / and I need you and I claim you” (Glück, “Suit” 19-20). This is such a stark contrast to the two lines before. The drastic difference between these two lines shows the ironic twist that this poem has. There is a dramatic change in the speaker’s inner thoughts that show how ambivalent the speaker is about the person gardening. The speaker knows that the person gardening irritates them but still relies on this person and wants to stay in this relationship. She speaks as if the person is her property by saying she needs and claims him. The ending of this poem shows that this might be an emotionally abusive relationship between two people in a romantic relationship or a parent and child.
Overall, the speakers in “Midnight” and “Purple Bathing Suit” make the subjects of the poems feel and belittle them in their own ways. In “Midnight,” the speaker is somewhat caring while belittling and warning the subject of the poem. This poem uses humor bluntly to make a comment on the lack of communication in relationships. In “Purple Bathing Suit,” the speaker is dictatorial, belittling, and ambivalent towards the subject. This poem is filled with irony from beginning to end with a sultry introduction, hypercritical middle stanzas filled with contempt, and a domineering ending. This irony and humor used in both of these poems are used to showcase the dark thoughts and moments in relationships.