In ‘the Oxfam coat,’ Anna Adams is able to elaborate with a dry irony the symbolism of a coat and all that it contains. In the unison of this frock, there is the hopefulness of expectation and the knowledge that very much it is a conceit towards a better life that is somehow illusory and never quite there. There is something so sturdy about this coat, but in its impoverished outline, there are thematic qualities which ring of an inevitable notion that more than one thing can be seen from it.
In much of society and in judgement, clothes are one indicator of socioeconomic class and forms a classification of people, their preferences, and their prejudices, even. In the poem, the speaker seems to be in some ways, using this poem for knowledge. “I do not wear this coat to be admired,/not even to be seen; it is for seeing from. ” Sometimes a person might wear a certain outfit to indicate a certain station in life. Just like during the Mardi Gras in Venice rich men sometimes dressed as beggars in tattered rags just to expose themselves to the expectations that are given to the poor.
Also, in the Mark Twin story, “The Prince and the Pauper” all it takes for the prince and the pauper to switch places is a trading of clothes. That something so simple as donning a new frock, that something like this can give people new vantages is a commentary on a society that judges at times with the blink of an eye. In some ways, it seems like the speaker is trying to analogize her life to that of a farmer’s wife. Based on her sophisticated dialect and the advanced qualities of her grammar. It seems unlikely that she has been or was a farmer’s wife, it seems like even when wearing a shabby Oxfam coat.
The analogy towards sacrifice and a sort of poverty, that is nevertheless good, a different lifestyle, history, and experience. The speaker, like the Prince in ‘The Prince and the Pauper” cannot abandon the learning he has received. For when he draws the crown seal to prove his identity, he is proving himself despite the dirt on his face and the shabby misery of his appearance. When the speaker voices, “I am a walking look-out post, attired. ” The word attired is by a dictionary denotation merely saying that she was wearing something which was not all too flattering.
Like the paint on a walking look-out post is rarely glossy or shiny, but rather dull and worn, tired in a way in appearance. An apparatus of sorts in its rudimentary appeal and dignity regardless of the season, the hour or the time. Yet despite the adaptation of a literal denotation of ‘attired,’ there is furthermore the connotation of being tired. The farmer’s wife is thought of to work tirelessly, without a murmur, watching out for all around her, a sturdy sediment against instability and working mightily to overcome the elements. While it’s certainly a bit insulting that the speaker seems to objectify the farmer’s wife.
Comparing the frock to the deaf, ‘dead-leaf’ look of camouflage and inconspicuous sight, there is evidently some derision in the admiration as well. “I am a walking look-out post, attired/in mist and dead-leaf coloured camouflage-a watchers hide, a property/advisible as poverty, as inconspicuous as middle-age. /it must have needed thirty years at least,/to reach this natural state and yet remain an artefact/that keeps me warm. To ditch it would be a waste. ” The derision seems to be there, as there’s the comparison of the worn coat to a ‘natural state.
‘ It is not clear why thirty years of hard work and poverty ages a coat, that is symbolic of a ‘toil-friendly’ farmer’s wife, to be a container for the poverty and overwork that is typically referred to rural scenes and states. In some ways, the naturalization of the farmer’s wife coincides with the objectification of the supposed farmer’s wife who is symbolized by the worn Oxfam coat. There is an organic, yet maturing or dead quality, of a kind of soulless duty as personified by the utility yet absence of personality of the illusion of a farmer’s wife vis a vis the Oxfam coat.
“It cost me twenty pence. Good Harris cloth,/springy as heathers turf:/it has outworn the striding farmer’s wife/its cut suggests. Her scarecrow bones are earth. ” The organic thematization is still present, as the omnipresent aspect of death and decay ares still there. That even this sturdy coat may have taxed the farmer’s wife who wore herself to the bones and is part of the earth as much as dead leaves melt into the dirt. The personification of this coat, in some ways serves to eclipse the ‘deadness’ or ‘gone’ quality of the farmer’s wife with its being as worn by someone else.
Who cannot help thinking into the life and times of a farmer’s wife. However insulting or even mistaken it may be, undoubtably farmer’s wives lead hard lives but in some ways, we all do. That in fighting against organic matter, the endurability of good, sturdy cloth can preserve some aspects of feeling invulnerable but that people in the end, all melt into the earth. Perhaps the speaker is more than a bit sympathetically derogatory of the life and times of the farmer’s wife because she too, is stricken by a fear of death and being worn out.
Possibly in moving the quality of being worn and an “artefact,” an outmoded cultural icon, there is an attempt to deal with the ‘has been’ quality that is pervasive of many fields including that of poetry. Where a person may be a morning star one day, brilliant and admired, then thrown into the rubble the next day, exiled and socially excommunicated. In lending so much emotion, thought, and headlining grief to this Oxfam coat is perhaps a way to reconcile with the recyclability of not only leaves but people.
That in a society which treasures the use of people for its own means, it’s in some senses hard for people to really express themselves. That in especially tough situations of environments there are so few choices to choose from and so few worlds to inhabit and ‘wear. ‘ “It has outworn its power to startle birds/and has become a rough/looking-glass fibre stuff/chameleon, reflecting wintry woods. /that matted sheep-potential bale of wool/on knitting-needle legs-/sees me as sheep. Those twigs/sense me as bark-skinned tree if I stand still.
” The use of people is at times so much changing as people are expected to objectify themselves in so many ways, that apart from a degeneration into the dirt caused by organic decay. People are expected to transform themselves from the natural to the created, just as wool is transformed by the knitting-needle into something like a sweater. The wool as fetched from the backs of sheep, sheared for warmth, is transformed in the shop by the needle to turn itself into something more that people can simply use.
When the speaker wears this coat and feels that she may be more degraded and not regarded so well, looked upon as ‘sheep. ‘ A vulnerable yet strong person who is ‘fleeced’ or can be ‘fleeced. ‘ That despite the almost insulting attitude towards the hardship of the farmer’s wife. The distancing yet empathy that is regenerated in this poem. That the speaker wears the pain and suffering of the farmer’s wife like a costume. That there is an idiosyncratic individuality which borrows from the uniformity of a farmer’s wife to converge into some medium point.
There is still, an unavailability of true emotion or authentic sympathy, as to “travel incognito” as to “register on no mans retina. ” Is a way of distancing oneself from a role, or even an affectation while still borrowing so much from it. Ultimately the farmer’s wife is much removed and only imagined, like some pastoral painting. In conclusion, we can only receive her secondhand, like the worn Oxfam coat, there but not there at the same time because life is never given to it in full.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 20 October 2016
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