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Judith Wright – To another housewife – Representations of change

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In Judith Wright’s poem, “To Another Housewife”, change occurs as the fundamental motif. The composer has harnessed a variety of language techniques to promote these changes. “To Another Housewife” is a dramatic monologue that talks about the changes in the values and responsibilities of a girl as she matures into adulthood. Judith Wright has written this to highlight the fact that many people are in this situation.

Wright uses contrast and juxtaposition to outline this change in values when the girl who had at one time despised seeing death (“with tomahawk and knife we hacked/ at flyblown tatters of old meat”) has come to associate with it daily (“these hands with love and blood imbrued”). Both cases symbolise violence and death. The contrast apparent is that the persona now kills with love for her family as her responsibilities have shifted; forcing her to sacrifice the values she forced herself to grow up with.

Irony becomes a conspicuous component in “To Another Housewife”. Wright applies contrasting imagery to intensify the irony portrayed within the poem. In the past the persona made a pact to never touch meat again after feeding hunting dogs “lean and loud/ half starved and furious, how they leapt/ against their chains, as though they meant/ in mindless rage for being fed/ to tear our childish hands instead”. She later breaks this pact in order to feed her family. Wright uses the word “greensick” in the second stanza – defined as an iron-deficiency anaemia, which is highly appropriate, because red meat contains plenty of iron.

As a child, the persona was “on duty bound”, to feed “hungry dogs”. Irony plays its role, when she mentions feeding “hungry men” when she becomes a housewife. The phrase “some things don’t change” is notably appropriate in this scenario. Judith Wright compares this killing for a living to the senseless violence and bloodshed in “murder, famine and pious war”. Here the narrator highlights the similarities between war and “creatures bred for food/ we’ve raised and fattened for the time/ they met at last the steaming knife.” The “creatures” can be replaced by “men”; “food” can be replaced by “fighting”; “fattened” can be replaced by “trained”; and “knife” can be replaced by “bullet”. Judith Wright subtly relates the killing of animals to the killing of men, because this poem was written in times of war and murder, which apparently she did not approve of. She seems to be promoting “peace” in the real world by stating that she would never touch an animal again. She also ends up killing animals anyway, and you can say the same with war. Where there are humans, there will always be war.

The use of enjambment is apparent throughout the whole poem. The principle effect of this is to force the reader to rethink a previous notion or to take in an uncomfortable new thought, for example, “With tomahawk and knife we hacked/ the flyblown tatters of old meat”.

Wright’s simple yet efficacious word choice is vital to help us comprehend the emotions and enigmatic connotations concealed within “To Another Housewife”. The first stanza is brought to life by using a number of evocative phrases such as “half-starved and furious”, “leapt against their chains”, “mindless rage” and “tear our childish hands” that exemplify the image of a dog being a tumultuous and untamed beast.

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