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The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room

Analysis of The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room by Adrienne Rich

The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room is an outstanding poem written by the American poet, Adrienne Rich, in her first collection of poetry called “A Change of World”. The poem highly resonates with a political tone in addressing the notion of a threat of change for upper-class society in the contemporary world. But the poem employs a satirical figure of speech onto the speaker of the poem, the uncle, to connote the attempt by the elite class to oppose the subversion of the division of social differences to be a mockery. Such a tone devised here, then evokes The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room as a political poem that adds to it the themes of social and class divisions and the privileged and authoritative positions of the upper class that draws social and class differences.

The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room | Summary and Analysis

 

The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room is a structured poem written in four stanzas of six lines or sestet that uses a rhyming scheme of ABBACC. Such a composition in the poem evokes a sense of rhythm and musicality among the chaos of social and political unrest upon which the poem is set. The poem begins with the speaker addressing the times of political protests.

 

The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room Analysis, Lines 1-6

 

I have seen the mob of late

Standing sullen in the square,

Gazing with a sullen stare

At window, balcony and gate.

Some have talked in bitter tones,

Some have held and fingered stones.

 

The six-lined stanza here mostly uses seven syllables with the exception of the fourth line which uses eight syllables. The title of the poem is significant here, as it suggests to the readers, the setting of the poem is the drawing room and the speaker of the poem is the uncle. The tone of the uncle echoes an arrogant voice as he begins to speak on “the mob of late”. Following the first line, the rest of the lines in this stanza conveys descriptions of the “mob”. Herein, the usage of the word “mob” to evoke an unruly and violent group of people is evidently derogatory, and hence, the presence of a perspective from an elite upper-class individual on the group of political protesters, whose notion of bringing a change in the social hierarchies, becomes manifested.

Such a biased conception gets constructed more in the lines that evoke the words, “sullen”, “bitter tones” and “fingered stones”, all negative connotations associated with the bunch of protesters. Interestingly, the poet shrewdly juxtaposes the “bitter tone” of the “mob” to that of the arrogant and bitter tone of the speaker himself. Moreover, the lines, “At window, balcony and gate”, echo the elevated and privileged point of view the entitled uncle holds. The lines express a literal and metaphorical way of looking from above with a prejudiced observation of the lower-class protesters. In addition to this, the dissenting voice of the speaker is highlighted in the poet’s use of figures of speech like alliteration in the lines, “Standing sullen in the square”, in the words, “sullen stare” and in the anaphoric lines in the last two lines containing the words, “Some have”. These rhetorical devices drag attention to the negative connotations used by the authoritative figure of the uncle.

 

The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room Analysis, Lines 7-12

 These are follies that subside.

Let us consider, none the less,

Certain frailties of glass

Which, it cannot be denied,

Lead in times like these to fear

For crystal vase and chandelier.

 

These lines prominently use a satirical tone to provoke intensified thoughts on the issues of social divisions. Following the attack on the “mob”, the uncle dismisses these “follies”, but only to bring them forth once again. The uncle pompously talks about the fear of the “frailties of glass”, such as the “crystal vase and chandelier” in “times like these”. Undoubtedly, the poet conveys a tone of mockery on the wealthy and extravagant possessions of the upper-class society. Herein, the lines that follow right after the word, “fear”, confront the readers with an absurd reaction as the fear of the upper-class society is trivialized and materialized with their attempt to preserve their symbol of power in respect to their ostentatious properties like, “crystal vase and chandelier”. Herein, not only does the poem mock and challenges the rich society, but even more, they highlight the differences between the rich and poor. Interestingly enough, the lines, “Certain frailties of glass” echoes the impending political unrest and hence, the fragile nature of the upper-class society.

 

The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room Analysis, Lines 13-18

 

Not that the missiles will be cast;

None as yet dare lift an arm.

But the scene recalls a storm

When our grandsire stood aghast

To see his antique ruby bowl

Shivered in a thunder-roll.

 

In this stanza, the dominating and patriarchal tone of the uncle becomes more clear. Even though, no “missiles” have been “cast” and nobody has lifted “an arm”, the aggressive and negative connotations of the “mob” continues to be spoken by the uncle. The speaker “recalls a storm”, suggestive of the reference to another protest, wherein the “antique ruby-bowl” of his grandfather “shivered” under a “thunder-roll”. It is interesting to note the personified style of expressing the fragile glassware of ruby-bowl to convey a life of its own to these material possessions. Moreover, in the addition of a “ruby-bowl” to the “crystal vase” and “chandelier”, the poet completes constructing the different metonymic associations to connote the wealth and power of the upper-class society. Once again, the poet suppresses the arrogant and patriarchal tone of the uncle with the shallow and empty material possessions manifested as fear and threat.

Furthermore, the readers observe the brilliant use of the words, “storm” and “shiver” on the same plane to indicate the atmosphere of the mob. These words convey a meaning of momentary time and therefore, the point of view of the uncle to assume that the protest will pass within a brief period of time. In other words, the assumption is that social hierarchies are impossible to be subverted and that the threat of change will be a fleeting moment.

 

The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room Analysis, Lines 19-24

 

Let us only bear in mind

How these treasures handed down

From a calmer age passed on

Are in the keeping of our kind.

We stand between the dead glass-blowers

And murmurings of missile throwers.

 These lines echo the attempts to spread awareness to preserve the traditional notions from the side of the uncle. As he speaks, “Let us bear in mind”, how the “treasures” of fragile glasses and glasswares are “handed down”. The superiority of old age is referred to as the uncle describes “our kind” as “a calmer age”. Moreover, the uncle arrogantly utters that the contemporary age “stand between the dead glass-blowers/ and murmurings of missile throwers”. Herein, the present times of the “mob” are described as “missile throwers”, whereas, the age of calmer times as “glass-blowers”. Cunningly, the poet juxtaposes the calm age with a fragile association and the “missile-throwers” to a more powerful age, evoking a notion contrary to that of the uncle who presumes the age of mob to be a fleeting and momentary time. Moreover, as we witnessed in the poem, the embodiment of a rigid structure and the employment of several rhetorical devices that bestows a musicality suggests the poem of the present age to be evoking a sense of calmness, opposition to the idea of old age to be “calmer”.

In addition to this, the use of alliteration, once again in the lines of “murmurings of missile”, connotes the rhythmic tone within the presumed unruly mob. In the finality of the poem, as the uncle speaks in the drawing room, once again a metonymic association of wealth and power, the poet uses the literary device of juxtaposition to contrast the speaker of the poem to that of the leader of the “mob” upon whom they gaze “with a sullen stare”. Therefore, the speaker of the poem expresses a desire to resist any political change that will subvert and overthrow the upper-class society but at the same time, the poet constructs the poem within a language of satire to evoke the arrogant, patriarchal, and dominating nature of the elite class individuals upon the proletariat class. Hence, in truth, even more than the possibility of the fragility of the working class protests, the chances of the oppressed, “missile throwers” to dethrone the upper class becomes more manifested subtly within the poem to evoke the inevitable change that will appropriate the “glass-blowers”.

 

The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room — About the Author

 

Adrienne rich was an American poet who became prominent for bringing forward the matters of feminism and the oppression of lesbians through her poetic discourses. Her most notable work called Diving into the Wreck won her the National Book award in 1973. Rich was also the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2017, posthumously. Some of her other celebrated works include the non-fiction, Of Woman Born: Motherhood As Experience And Institution, On Lies, Secrets and Silence, and The Dream of a Common Language.

 

 

 

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