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Catherine Anderson's poem "Womanhood" tells about a young girl and her transition to womanhood. In this intricately woven poem the reader will learn very little about the girl. Neither she nor her mother are ever named, and no information is given about them or their family life. What the reader does discover is what lies ahead for her as she begins her first day sewing rugs. The poem begins a few moments before she enters the gates of the sweatshop that symbolizes her entry into womanhood. Anderson uses metaphor within this poem to dramatize the difference in what lies ahead for her. She should be looking forward to a bright and cheerful future, instead, she is faced with the drudgery of a life working in a sweatshop sewing rugs. Anderson has woven this poem together so there is a link created between the first and second stanzas of the poem. Each line in the first stanza, describing the carefree attitude of the young girl correlates with a line in the second stanza illustrating how her life will be far different after she enters the gates of the factory and womanhood.
Within this poem there are many references or allusions to sex. Most women are considered to have entered womanhood when they have their first sexual experience with a man. Anderson plays up this aspect of becoming a woman in the poem to symbolize the girl's losing her innocence and youth to work in the sweatshop. In essence, she is losing her virginity to that same sweatshop. The first of these allusions to sex is in the opening lines of the poem; "she slides over/the hot upholstery" (1,2). The young girl is described as sliding over hot upholstery, like girls sometimes do to snuggle up next to their boyfriends when driving a car. This verse can also be seen as a metaphor for the hot young skin of a beautiful young girl. Another example of these references is when Anderson describes the girl as "loves humming & swaying to the music" (5). This can be seen as the act of sexual intercourse itself. The rhythmic swaying of bodies can be seen as little else especially when paired with line 25, "rocking back and forth"(25). This is further emphasized by Anderson by her use of the ampersand signs (&) which she only uses in these two lines.
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Within the poem, Anderson creates many connections between the two stanzas of the poem. These illustrate the difference in the girls and the change that will come. Each line in the first stanza of the poem has a correlating line in the second stanza. The first stanza illustrates the young girl's life as it is before she enters the sweatshop. The second stanza describes the conditions she will work under in the factory. The first line of the poem, "She slides over" (1), reveals how she gets out of her mother's car. In the second stanza, the line "all day she'll guide cloth along a line" (23), explains how she will be spending the rest of this day and many more to follow. The two verbs in these lines relate to each other (slides/guide). Each describe how something moves over another. These connections continue in the second line of the poem. "The hot upholstery"(2) correlates with the line "warm air smelling of oil" (21). These describe how the girl will be in the heat inside the factory, not the pleasant warmth of the hot upholstery. The next line, "of her mother's car"(3), is an ambiguous one. At this point, the reader does not know whether the girl is getting dropped off by mother or going to work with her mother. This links with the line, "to reach up, like her mother"(29). By line 29, the reader realizes that the girl has been sentenced to spend her life in this sweatshop just like her mother. In fact, they are both trapped in the sweatshop with "all the other girls"(8). "This schoolgirl of fifteen"(4) will no longer be in school. The metaphor of change and ending linked with line four, is found in line eighteen. "She'll see fifteen high windows"(18). Anderson uses this number, fifteen, as a metaphor for the girl. The fifteen windows will be "cemented over to cut out the light." Her childhood is now over.
The girl, described as a girl "who loves humming & swaying" (5) while listening to music will now spend her time "rocking back & forth" (25), with the force of the sewing machines instead of the radio. Here, Anderson further creates a connection of these two lines by using the "and" sign (&) in only these two lines. In line six, "with the radio"(6), is associated with the line "Inside, a constant deafening noise" (20). She will not be listening to the radio inside; she will only hear the constant loud sounds sewing machine's "whirring needles". "Her entry into womanhood"(7) begins when she starts work with her mother. This line goes along with the first time of the second stanza "when she enters"(16). Anderson uses the ambiguity of the word "enters" to be descriptive of both the girls entry into womanhood and entering the factory. They are both one and the same. The next line, "will be like all the other girls"(8), and the line "to reach up, like her mother"(29), connect for the reader how her mother and all the other girls they know are also trapped in the cycle working for the rug factory generation after generation. Their carefree existence will end. Her spending time with friends having "a cigarette and a joke"(9) will be replaced by spending their time in the factory hunched over a sewing machine sewing her rugs. There will only be silence from now on, no more jokes, no more fun. "There'll be silence."(17).
Line ten describes how she enters the factory with all the other women. These girls become women when they are old enough to take their places behind the sewing machines. This endless cycle continues, "as she strides up with the rest"(10). The reader finds that this girl and her mother are part of this cycle, but there are lots of women trapped too, for "the shifts continuing on..."(22). Another example of what is in the line "to a brick factory" (11). The cement bricks the factory is built with is connected with the cement used on the windows that were "cemented over to cut out the light"(19). The lines "where she'll sew rage rugs"(12) and "all day she'll guide cloth along a line"(23) are closely related. They describe how she will spend her life inside the factory making the rugs. The last lines of the first stanza, "from textile strips of kelly green/bright red, aqua."(13,14), describe the cotton strips of bright colors that the woman will be sewing together to make the rugs. Anderson is using this description to highlight the discrepancy between the light feelings of the young girl and the dark reality awaiting her inside the factory where they windows are "cemented over to cut out light"(19).
Anderson has used allusions to sex along with strong connections between lines in her poem to create a strong connection with the future for the young girl in the poem. Anderson has crafted a poem where the connections between the first and second stanzas describe the carefree attitude of the young girl and illustrate how dramatically her life will be altered when she enters the gates of the factory and is sentenced womanhood.