In Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Living in Sin” a woman is looking back on her relationship. The title tells me, although unconventional, in the 1950’s the couple was living together unmarried. The first line “She had thought the studio would keep itself,” describes how she expected her relationship to be. The woman clearly had an image, not a realistic one, of the perfect relationship. Many men and women fall into this trap (I certainly did with my own failed marriage). It is clear the woman is not happy and does not want to do the daily up keep of the home.
She no longer loves the man and dreams of an escape from the life in which she is in. This poem is free verse with no rhythm or rhyme scheme. Its meter consists of most lines having ten syllables. The poem uses metaphors throughout to describe the relationship. The relationship was described through the words studio, furniture, and grime. The metaphors help in creating the tone for this poem which is one of sadness and despair. Adrienne Rich use of these metaphors and meter is another way to describe the relationship.
In line two, “no dust upon the furniture of love”, truly sells the idea that she believed the relationship would not need any work to keep it happy. There is no dust to clean in the perfect fairy tale relationship. The poem enters the present with line three as the woman begins to describe problems with the noisy pipes and grime on the windows. Again the pipes and windows are metaphors for the condition of the relationship. The poem goes on to describe the inside of a home “A plate of pears, a piano with a Persian shawl” immediately leads into the image of a perfect home.
No different than when anyone enters a home for the first time and the decor gives the impression of perfection. We have all been to people’s homes and the decor always gave an impression of the solidarity within the home. Of course no home is as perfect as the decor leads you to believe, no different here. The first mention of the man enters within the line “a cat stalking the picturesque amusing mouse had risen at his urging. ” That cat rises to perhaps receive some affection from the man, this shows that the man is not ithout love or affection. The next few lines a milkman appears. A personification is used in describing the sound from the stairs “Writhe”. I’m sure many who have read this poem are thinking the woman is either having an affair or fanaticizing about an affair but I don’t feel that is the case. There is no other reference to suggest this. In fact, at the time the milkman arrives, the man is clearly home, it is 5 A. M. I believe the sound of the milkman arriving “under the milkman’s tramp” woke the woman and reminded her of the day ahead.
The words “writhe and tramp” are descriptions of sounds being made while the milk is being delivered. The man is shown for his true likeness while playing the piano. The picture perfect image of the piano is out of tune, another metaphor reflecting their relationship. He” yawns” (representing boredom) while he plays the few notes clearly shows a man who only puts in minimal effort into the relationship. If the piano represents their relationship then the few notes represents his effort. “He shrugged at the mirror” tells us he did not care the relationship was out of tune and left.
I also was wondering; how many times had he played the out of tune piano before? Had he expected it to be repaired this time around? That idea left me with the impression that the man, who was self-absorbed, was aware the relationship was out of tune but expected the woman to fix it. The man was declaring any problem with the relationship not his fault. The poem does a good job of contrasting the difference of how the man and woman feel about the relationship. “While she, jeered by the minor demons” the man just shrugs it off. He leaves and she starts working on her daily chores.
The sharp contrast of dusty table top in reality and “no dust upon the furniture of love” in fantasy is clear contrast as well. The woman’s feelings are further supported by “and let the coffee pot boil over”. Her disdain for maintaining the home can be interpreted with letting the coffee pot boil over. Furthermore the words boil over also represent her feeling regarding the relationship. The spilt coffee also represents a never ending routine where she cleans up one mess and another appears. It is a life she is very unhappy with.
The last lines of the poem reflect back to her being in the fantasy again, forgetting the daily routine. She is not nearly in love as before “not so wholly” as it appears each day takes more and more out of her. Her nights were also not peaceful as she woke dreading the routine of the very next day. Adrienne Rich’s poem shows the misery of a woman through the images created within the writing. The images of fantasy and reality are a sharp contrast. She tries to maintain the fantasy with the decor of the home when in reality she is not happy at all.
She realizes that her relationship will not have a fairytale ending. The real sin is not living together unmarried but staying together in a loveless relationship. I can relate to this poem on a personal level. I believed my marriage was forever, certainly a fairytale thought. In reality we were not as happy as the images we created through our home. This poem struck me, as it is probably how my ex-wife felt for years while I ignored the signs. This poem portrays a sad reality in many women’s lives. While the man just expects the problem to fix itself.
Courtney from Study Moose
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