The Poor Woman Learns to Write – Summary and Model Questions

A Poor Woman Learns To Write by Margaret Atwood

GENRE: POETRY

TITLE: THE POOR WOMAN LEARNS TO WRITE

AUTHOR: MARGARET ATWOOD

Introduction: The poem “The Poor Woman Learns to Write” is a simple and conversational poem written by Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood, in her novels and poetry, often explored themes surrounding the lives of Native Americans in her home country of Canada .”The Poor Woman Learns to Write” appears to be another instance of this thread in Atwood ‘s work. The woman mentioned in the poem appears to be a native American.

Summary/Analysis

The poem is about the anxiety and apprehension of an elderly woman who is writing for the first time at the age of thirty. She failed multiple times and apologised. Yet with her deep resolve, she was able to compose it well. Her face glows with the brilliance of triumph. But to us, the triumph might not be precious. Yet it’s a triumph over ignorance, darkness and illiteracy for an elderly lady.

In the poem, the elderly woman lies with her bare feet, squatting. She is not describing as an elegant woman. Atwood summarises her description with the phrases “not graceful” and “awkward”. Her hands are lined and cracked. She is busy in printing her name with a stick.The woman sits very assured in her work. Her face is characterised as a cheerful flower. The poet states very simply that she prints very laboriously with a stick. She seems very positive after many attempts. She smiles and her face glows like a bloom of joy.

To articulate the theme, the poet makes use of visual images, metaphors, symbols and poetic devices. It allows readers to very quickly understand the theme. It contains a variety of sentence fragments, such as “Her hair concealed,” and “Great Big Letter.” Maybe this is intended to echo a woman’s own simple, uneducated speech.The old lady can be visualised through visual symbols such as “skirt-tucked”, face lined, grey-dirt and “joyful flower”. The symbol of ‘mud’ effectively conveys the notion that the old woman is working hard to write her name.

The narrator of the poem admits that she does not understand the script in which the woman had written her name. It does, however, give three guesses as to the meaning of the name:

Joyful Flower? A Radiant One? Sun On Water?

These expressions are metaphors for the poet’s admiration of the woman.

In the line “Hands are lined and cracked,” and in the line “Her face a smiling flower?” we can see the metaphors. The face of a woman is compared to a joyful flower.

With its vivid description, the readers enjoy the poem. The poem puts the readers into a cheerful mood. This poem has contemporary significance. If anyone accomplishes something by hard work, he or she will reap the fruit of their hard work.

Model Questions and Answers

Q. Read the lines below and answer the questions that follow.

Her face lined and cracked

She looks old

Older than anything

a) Explain the above lines

A) The above lines written by the poet Margaret Atwood describe the joy of learning. She is not described as a graceful woman. Her hands are lined and cracked. The old woman’s face is lined and cracked. These lines convey the tension and fear of an old woman. She is writing for the first time at the age of thirty.

b) Who is the ‘she’ refers to in these lines?

A) She refers to the old woman who learns to write at the age of thirty.

c) What does the phrase ‘lined and cracked’ mean?

A) The phrase ‘lined and cracked’ means that the woman is very old.

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