Analysis of Fifteen to Eighteen from Marilyn Hacker’s Selected Poems

Analysis of Fifteen to Eighteen from Marilyn Hacker’s Selected Poems

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Analysis of Fifteen to Eighteen from Marilyn Hacker’s Selected Poems


In the poem 'Fifteen to Eighteen', Marilyn Hacker uses the rebellious years of adolescence to analyze the effects an illness can have on the relationship and family roles for both parent and child. Diabetes puts the mother and daughter in opposite roles than are traditionally seen at this age. The illness which occurs at least over the last four years of this girl's childhood forces her to grow up prematurely, take on some of the mother roles, and suffer the sacrifices that accompany it.

Jessie Potter in Judith Viorst's book My Mother My Self discusses the impact that motherhood has on sexuality of the mother. "[The mother] may have been an interesting sexual partner until her child was born, but now she is too tired, too busy, she says the children take up too much of her attention. It's all culturally induced, but the result is that [the mother] goes underground sexually until the kids are grown."(59) Just as the role of motherhood often leads to giving up sexuality for a period of time, this daughter more immediately gives up masturbating to deal with her "child' of the hour. As the mother becomes the one who needs to be cared for, the daughter is forced, just as mothers usually are to give up their personal needs and desires when they become mothers. These sacrifices are not healthy for the mothers, nor is it healthy for this adolescent to be in this position of responsibility at such an early age. The poem leaves the reader wondering what will happen after the girl is eighteen, who will care for the mother? When the daughter leaves home, she will most likely feel guilty for leaving her mother who can not care for herself. This guilt is similar too to that which so often accompanies parenting.

The physical fighting and swearing in the poem are present as a way of showing how this girl is being forced from her childhood and thrown into adulthood and motherhood. "I was in shock again. I swam/to my surface to take care of my mother."(144) The liquid which is spilled during the evening is symbolic of the death of the daughter's adolescence, which reoccurs during each episode. "More often, enough orange juice got down,/splashed on us both"(144) And just as the daughter is totally in the role of caretaker, the mother snaps back and is once again in role of mother caring for her daughter, concerned about the scratches on her daughter's face.

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Circular in nature, the poem begins with the daughter coming in after a late night, after participating in activities of which her mother would not approve. The middle section is devoted to the daughter taking on the parental role in helping her mother through an insulin reaction. The poem ends with the mother coming to and questioning the daughter about her evening, "What were you doing, out until this hour?"(144) The cyclical nature of the poem is similar to that of life in general from parent caring for child to adult child caring for parent. This cycle repeats itself over and over during this girl's adolescence, and both the mother and the daughter are suffering as a result. The anger the daughter will feel if she already does not for a lost childhood, and the guilt that the mother must feel after each episode are both equally great and damaging to the mother and daughter.
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