„Passion is the evil in adultery.
If a man has no opportunity of living
with another man’s wife, but if it is obvious
for some reason that he would like to do so,
and would do so if he could,
he is no less guilty than if he
was caught in the act.”
– Saint Augustine
Anne Sexton was born in 1928 and began her writing career in her twenty-seventh year of life after she became a wife and a mother. Her obsession with suicide lasted all her life, even though she was seeing psychiatrist three times a week. And it was her psychiatrist who suggested writing about her mental illness to help others and started writing. Her poetry was so intense and permeating that she won the Pulitzer Prize after four years of her writing career.
Anne’s poetry is introspective in the sense that she was not afraid to raise questions most people prefer in bury in the bosom of unconsciousness rather far of their breast. He took her life the conflicting desire to live or to die and that constant proximity to death and realization of its imminence, as well as continuous wish to choose its benefit, makes her poems very concrete, sharp and realistic. Anne treated her depression with compassion to herself and curiosity. Depression was her destiny which she was comfortable living, though she suffered a lot, but had no strength to cope with it. But those depressive moods revealed her the other side of the world to share with others.
In this essay, I would like to analyze her poem „You All Know the Story of the Other Woman.” The poem has eighteen lines. I think that lines of the poem are not written in stanzas, and all lines are of different length. It is rather difficult to following rhyming structure, though I have found that ten and twelfth (back on- balloon) and sixteenth and eighteenth lines (look-hook) rhyme. The poem starts with the description of the place where the scene and experiences are to take place: „It’s a little Walden.” It can be that location of possible transcendence, the place where eternal love with the other man, someone’s husband could be possible. But then Anne continues that in the daylight the situation is different, and that relationship is rather an illusion. She speaks of God that appears to her in the daylight, which reveals that there is nothing divine in that relationships, in that love, but just a passion and attraction of physical bodies. The author shows that „the other” woman, mistress, does not feel satisfaction from that connection. Her soul cannot find the thing every person is looking in his or her life. There is nothing spiritual and eternal. The questions of monogamy, sacred institution of marriage, unbreakable marriage oaths, infidelity are soothed by the passing moments of pleasure and luxury. This relationship appears to be just the pale imitation of true connection, real relationships and the concept of love. The author uses accurate metaphor to reveal that there is nothing besides physical attraction: „She knows flesh, that skin balloon, the unbound limbs, the boards, the roof, the removable roof.” Anne emphasizes on the fact that the man just uses the other woman, uses her body to obtain the fugacious pleasure.
Anne very brightly depicted that the mistress, the other woman about the legal wife, is usually viewed not as the personality, but the object. It is pure stereotyping, which cannot be true and accurate in any case. But we can see that Anne shows her actual experiences and depressive thoughts on the situation. It is pure self-destruction. The other woman realized that she is pathetic and the connection is inadequate and unnecessary, but apparently does not have any strength to cease it. She realizes that the man that comes to her from time to time will never leave his wife and that he does not love both of them. Anne disrobed the sacred institution of marriage and love when two people said their vows to each other. Here the physical connection is separated from reproduction; the intimacy in relationships between two people is taken outside marriage and bedraggled with deception- deception primarily of yourself. The pleasure is viewed as the ultimate goal of the human-beings’ existence, and woman is categorized as wives and mistresses. There is no woman whom the man loves. He just has a wife with whom he is bound with the bonds of wedlock and the other woman, his mistress, with whom he shares his bed from time to time. There are just obligations before the society and law and physical attraction. Something is truly missing. The missing thing is the real desire and capability to make a choice and take responsibility for one’s actions. I am not intended to judge any side, but if the man chooses to marry the woman, he should take the full responsibility for his actions and not find any substitutes for the relationships. And what do we have here? We have the other woman that appears to be the victim of the circumstances. If we just a little bit extend the boundaries of marriage issues, we will find out that all participants have made their deliberate choice and there is nothing to cry about. The man treats the woman only the way she allows him to manage her. If she agrees to remain the phone of the hook, he will take this phone to call again and again. I do not advocate adultery in any case, but just suggest my understanding of the poem.
In conclusion, I would like to summarize that Anne Sexton brilliantly depicted the emptiness and impetuous melancholy of the other woman who would most probably never become a wife and the only one. But saying „the only one” is not that correct, as a wife is a just legal woman, but not the one. The concept of ideal divine love is missing, and there is no striving to reach it or at least achieve the inner peace and concordance with yourself.
Brown, Amy Benson. Rewriting the Word: American Women Writers and the Bible. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Garvin, Harry R., ed. Women, Literature, Criticism. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
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