Close Reading and Interpretation of the Fourth Stanza of This is a Photograph of Me
These lines are the fourth stanza of the poem and are located approximately in the center of the piece. I think that the fact that the lines are located in the center is important because to me these lines signify a turning point in the poem or in other words a sort of catharsis. The beginning of the poem is mostly concerned with the surface level details of the photo such as small details like trees and houses. The beginning of the poem seems like it simply a poetic description of a beautiful scene. But then these lines completely change the tone and mood of the poem. What at first seemed light hearted is now dark and dreary.
To me, these lines signify the beginning of the second part of the poem which is juxtaposed with the first. The first line in the poem begins “It was taken” and then the line I chose begins “The photograph was taken” which is essentially just a rephrasing of the first line and therefore a use of repetition. This use of repetition implies as I said before, a new chapter in the poem which will give insight and a new perspective on the first. The two contrast with each other in several ways but at the same point, they rely on each other for meaning. Essentially the catharsis that takes place here is impossible without the preceding lines and our changed perception of these lines is impossible without this catharsis.
Another aspect of these lines that is crucial to understanding it is its use of the passive tense. Instead of using the active voice and saying something along the lines of “the person took the photo the day after I drowned” she uses the passive by saying it was taken. In writing it is generally agreed upon that using the passive voice should be avoided so her repeated use of it makes it notable. Especially given that this is a poem not prose and she likely chose her words and style very carefully. This use of the passive voice is relevant because having your picture taken is a passive act. Even though we often think of things like photos as objective they certainly are not. The photographer can change several things such as lighting or the angle to make the subject of the photo appear completely different.
So by using the passive voice, Atwood draws attention to the passive nature of this photo. The photo can be seen as a metaphor for how we see the world. If we approach this from a feminist perspective we can see this as how in our patriarchal society, men create and tell women’s stories rather than women themselves. Atwood says the photo was taken the day after she drowned and this could be alluding to this fact. Atwood is trying to allude to the fact that having your stories taken from you is in itself a sort of drowning and ultimately death. Conveying yourself through art is a vibrant expression of life while having this stolen and co-opted by others for their benefit is death.
So the fact that she is writing this poem is in and of itself and act of subversion against this misappropriation. Her story was taken from her but in the act of writing, she is taking it back and now letting the audience see it from her perspective. Rather than being the passive subject she is taking on the active role of conveying. This is also subversive because women have been historically seen as passive beings incapable of critical or intellectual thought and by writing this poem she is a living contradiction to this notion. Ultimately I believe she is trying to change the perspective of the audience who likely see patriarchy ar normalized through her subversive personal expression
One way she tries to change the perspective of the audience is through juxtaposing the surface with the what is beneath it and invoking the audience to look deeper. In the line I chose, the use of parentheses is a critical component of the poem. What may seem to be just mere punctuation is able to help convey the theme I mentioned above. In writing, parentheses are generally used to convey information that is supplementary but not critical to the meaning of the sentence. It is a meaning that is in the background but not the forefront. This connects to the fact that the first part of the poem describes what is on the surface of the picture and it is what appears immediately to those who cast their gaze upon it.
But Atwood tells the reader that if you look closer you will see her under the water. The water here seems to represent patriarchy and dominant cultural ideals which distort and hide her from plain view. Not only do they do this but they have killed her in a metaphorical sense as well. They have drowned out her sense of self because they are so suffocating and constricting. By placing this catharsis within parentheses she is suggesting that real truth does not lay on the surface. Even going into the background where the lake is located is not enough. One has to separate themselves from their initial impressions and look beyond the background to see below the surface where real truth lies.
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These lines are the fourth stanza of the poem and are located approximately in the center of the piece. I think that the fact that the lines are located in […]