At different points throughout the poem Notley repeats the thesis of the story. The poem reads, “the holy men,” “the wise men,” “are frivolous” “and cruel” Here Notley is blatantly addressing the brutality of patriarchy. (Notley 90) Alette is being told that powerful men and those that are labeled as “holy” are also cruel. Unless this immorality is stopped there will be no truth in this world. Notley is trying to make the reader understand the need for gender equality. In society women are looked at as inferior to men when it comes to strength and power. She is challenging that idea through Alette’s journey to take down the tyrant. Alette is a heroin in this poem, and portrays characteristics far different than how society has identified femininity. Femininism is not a bad thing, it simply calls for gender equality, and that is what Alette is chasing in this story.
Another place where Notley reiterates the main thesis is while the reader is being introduced to the tyrant. (Notley 5) Alette is told, “you must give up” “to the tyrant” “all your flowers”” all your carnations” “or your cut hair” “give him your hair” “you must give him your jokes” “your best jokes” “he takes whatever-“ The woman on the same subway car as Alette tells her this because she wants Alette to understand ...
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...“A war-maker” “A ruler” From this the reader learns that there has been a distinct split between men and women since the beginning of time. It is interesting that Alette is hearing this information from a headless woman. (Notley 91) The woman being headless symbolizes women being praised for their bodies, sexuality, or feminity not for their brains or education. The headless woman says, “my body” “still danced then-” “but my head” “played audience” “to the achievements” “of males” (Notley 91)
In The Descent of Alette Alice Notley has created an epic poem that confronts male hegemony. The tyrant symbolizes the corrupt patriarchy while Alette symbolizes the capabilities of a female to overcome their gender specific personality traits placed on them by society. Notley addresses the thesis continuously throughout the poem using form, symbolism, and historical context.
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