Imagery, Language, and Sound in What's That Smell in the Kitchen?
Marge Piercy is an American novelist, essayist, and poet best known for writing with a trademark feminist slant. In "What's That Smell in the Kitchen?" Marge Piercy explores the way women are sometimes held in low esteem by men through the eyes of a tired housewife who has had it with her monotonous day- to-day duties. In this poem, it is not stated that the speaker is a homemaker, but the reader is told about one woman in particular who is meant to express the feelings of women as a whole. The author conveys this central idea through imagery, figurative language, and devices of sound.
In the first lines of "What's That Smell in the Kitchen?" the author makes her point that women are burning dinners all over America. This gives us a general idea of what the poem will be about, yet it makes us want to read on to see why this would be happening; in other words, it triggers our curiosity. The author goes on to describe foods that are common to certain cities in the United States, bringing about a very gustatory and olfactory image in the mind of the reader. Following this, the author uses repetition to emphasize her introductory statement yet again, and adds an additional phrase, ". . . women are burning/food they're supposed to bring with calico/smile on platters glittering like wax." This statement is somewhat ironic, because it conveys an image of a very "false" woman, something like a mechanical doll or robot, or even like the flawless "model mom" figure of June Cleaver of the television series "Leave it to Beaver." Not only do we picture a woman in an apron with an artificial smile but Piercy alludes...
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...ch can be interpreted as "Once I was first-rate with all the trimmings but now I'm low-class junk." Spam is a cheap processed meat whereas roast duck is assumed to be one of the best meats there is; therefore she has been cheapened or degraded by the lack of gratitude on the part of her spouse, and society. She is expressing the fact that society expects women to play the role of "little wife" with no concern for the individual's own interests. Also, the woman in the poem is comparing her drive to food, and since this poem is image-laden with war and food, we can say that Piercy is writing of a war with food, where women are using food as their primary weapon against men (the way to a man's heart is through his stomach!) It is in this way that Piercy develops her view that women are the lesser gender in the eyes of men and shares her refusal to conform.
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