Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Theory Question: Paulette Jiles' "Paper Matches"


When I think of the feminist approach to literature this poem is exactly what comes to mind. The speaker is struggling with accepting the cultural stereotypes assigned to men and women . (Not that they should neccesarily be accepted). Her aunts are washing dishes and he uncles are playing outside in the sun. The speaker questions "why are they out there[?]" (4), and the response she receives is "That's the way it is" (5). The speaker and the other women in this poem feel insignificant. They feel as if they are subject to the rules of a man's world, and they regulated to be serveants and aids to the people who are really important. The last two lines, "We come bearing supper,/ our heads on fire." (13-14), provides brilliant imagery of how frustrated these women feel. Delivering supper and washing the dishes afterwards, (inversed in this piece) are generally tasks assigned to women in patriarchal households.

1) When the speaker says that women are like paper matches, "One by one we were/ taken out and struck," (11-12), is she referring to physicle violence against women?

2) What might the men playing with the garden hoses be a symbol for?

3) One of the aunts says she has "the rages that small animals have" (7). What constructs of society might make women feel small?

Jiles, Paulette. "Paper Matches." The Norton Introduction to Poetry. Ed. J. Paul Hunter.
New York: Norton, 2007. 333.


Mrs. Bedwin said...

I hadn't really thought of the lines " One by one we were/ taken out and struck" (lines 11, 12) as referring to physical abuse, but now that you I have read your question and thought about it, I can see that as a solid interpretation. The poem speaks to the suppression of women within society, so I had initially thought that these lines compared women to matches, because they are always at men's disposal and ready to be 'lit' and of service. However, I think it's fair to say that this is speaking of physical violence, also, since that is also a way that women have been used and oppressed throughout history. The description of Aunt Hetty as " shriveled-up" can back up the idea that this poem speaks of physical oppression.

Tyler L said...

To be honest i am a male and i am researching the gender roles our culture has assigned women. After reading this poem a number of times, I disagree with your opinion that the poem is referring to physical abuse. The poem is using the metaphor comparing paper matching with women. Not that the women themselves are being abused by physical means. However it is saying that the matches are being "struck" which is as u can possibly agree with that is how you "light" a match. the paper matches and women metaphor simply explains how they both are at disposal and easily disposable. They are used to complete a task and then they are tossed aside. As for the Aunt Hetty being characterized as being "shriveled up", this means that she is withered from serving men all her life. shriveled up means that she is old and possibly brittle from performing these tasks all her life. I also think the way that Paulette Jiles relates small animals to women is genius, because the larger animals are more dominant over the smaller animals. I am sorry if i have offended anyone by stating my opinion, but you should not take it out on me for being a male. It is simply our culture and the roles and standards that society has assigned women.