Ms Evelyn Beck
25 April 2007
“Woman” – Nikki Giovanni
In her work “Woman”, Nikki Giovanni tells the reader a story about a woman struggling to discover her own identity while trying to foster a relationship with an emotionally unavailable man. The poet uses imagery in her writing to allow the reader to experience the frustration and discovery as the poem progresses. By describing the subject’s struggle in terms of her various transformations, Giovanni allows the reader to become involved in her feelings rather than simply reading a story impassively.
Beginning with the first stanza, we are given the chance to view the woman’s life from the outside. We are able to view her hopes and dreams from an omniscient point of view, detached from the subject’s life, and yet allowed to understand how she feels. The reader learns that she wants to be “a blade of grass” (1-2), bringing to mind an open field filled with new possibilities. In this same stanza we are also introduced to a male subject, and are told that he “wouldn’t agree to be the dandelion” (3-4). This in itself might seem innocent, but I find there to be a more intimate connotation of these images. In this stanza I believe Giovanni tells us of a young girl who in the flush of her youth is discovering love and sex for the first time, but the young man she is infatuated with won’t be seduced. He will not be the weed that will sully the pristine field of her innocence.
The second stanza lets us see the subject a little older, but still seeking the support and affection of a man. Here we are told that she wants to be “a robin singing through the leaves” (5-6), and in this image we see her trying to offer her voice to the world; a young adult now, she is trying to stretch her wings for the first time. In this, she seeks the young man again, but this time he “refused to be her tree” (7-8). Again, the subject is turning to another to support her, but he is not allowing her to lean upon him for aid, forcing her to learn how to support herself.
Again in the third stanza, the female we are glimpsing craves assistance and shelter. We are told that she “spun herself into a web” (9) and “turned to him” (11). In this imagery I can picture a fragile spider’s web twisting in a light breeze; without any support it eventually drifts away, catching at anything it can and eventually coming apart. This image is further enforced when we are told that this time the man she turns to “stood straight declining to be her corner” (12-13). No matter what she does, this man she desires refuses to allow her to cling to him.
In the fourth stanza we are told how she “tried to be a book” (14), and in this we are reminded of the phrase read you like a book. She wants the object of her desire to know her, but he refuses to take the bait, he “wouldn’t read” (15), Giovanni tells the reader. This shows us another side of the subject; not only does she seek support, but she seeks understanding. In the same stanza we also learn that when the woman “turned herself into a bulb” (16) the man she desires “wouldn’t let her grow” (17). Another sign of adulthood is evident in this imagery, for now the subject desires to grow but is thwarted by a man who is emotionally unwilling to offer himself to her. In both of these images we see that no matter what the woman tries to do to win his attention the man she desires has no use for her, and refuses to help her at all.
It is in the final stanza that Giovanni finally shows the woman learning to stand on her own. She tells us that the subject “decided to become a woman” (18-19), as if it were something that she had to consciously work at. It indicates that she finally learned she didn’t need the man, who as Giovanni says “refused to be a man” (20-21).
Through the five stanzas of “Woman” Giovanni tells the story of a woman’s path to discovery of herself, and that woman’s slow realization that she doesn’t need a man to define herself. From her eager youth, almost desperate for someone to give her attention, to becoming a young woman, hungry to find someone to support her because she believes that’s what she needs. In time, the subject of the poem becomes a woman, a whole person that doesn’t need a man to define her.
Giovanni, Nikki. “Woman”. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 8th ed. Ed. Roberts, Edgar V., and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson, 2007. 1192.