Analyse the poem, "A Work of Artifice", using strategies/tools of feminist criticism.

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A Work of Artifice by  

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.                                                
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches                                        
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,                                                
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,                                                         
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

Analyse the poem provided using strategies/tools of feminist criticism.

Feminist criticism, by definition, deals with a criticism which advocates equal rights for women in a political, economic, social, psychological, personal, and aesthetic sense. In general, feminist critics have focused on the growing inequalities which continue to exist between males and females. Some feminists have emphasized on male violence and men’s control over women’s sexuality and reproduction. Others have looked at the economics and domestic labour and have discussed to what extent men benefit from it. Still, others have concentrated on the fact that even though we are moving forward in society, the discrimination and stereotypes against women still prevail. We are still living in a patriarchal, male-dominated society wherein women are the main victims. Women are regarded as the weaker sex and a lot of discriminations are made against them. Women’s position remains a primary source of discrimination and disadvantage everywhere. In Marge Piercy’s A Work of Artifice, through the metaphor of the bonsai tree as the woman and the gardener as man, the poet presents us with a very interesting picture of that patriarchal society, where woman is constantly manipulated by man. Thus, it shall be interesting to analyse the poem in the light of feminist criticism.

To begin with, the feminist response to culture that has coalesced in the last half of the twentieth century, recognizes a deeply ingrained prejudice against women. Sometimes, borrowing from both Marxist and Structuralist methodology, feminist critics have explored a pervasive binary opposition built around gender which subordinates women to objects by which the power and value of all that is male is affirmed. This cultural web of power and privilege is the patriarchy. By definition, patriarchy implies a central assumption of feminist criticism that culture is ‘father-ruled’, with its institutions and traditions so structured to promote masculine values and maintain the male in a privileged position. Hence, in Marge Piercy’s A Work of Artifice, as stated before, the poet uses the bonsai tree as a metaphor for women. Beginning with an eight-line description of the bonsai tree, Piercy makes it clear that this miniature tree has purposely been restrained from its full potential rather than having naturally been dwarfed. Through the metaphor of the bonsai tree, the idea that women are subject to male authority is reinforced. We are told in the poem that the gardener “pruned”  the bonsai tree meticulously. It is interesting to note that according to the description in the dictionary, the verb ‘prune’ is defined as to “cut away parts in order to control growth or shape; take out unnecessary parts from”. When the bonsai tree being pruned in the poem is recognized as a metaphor for women, this takes an even more sinister aspect. Pruning a woman implies that, in reality, a woman is merely a product “the gardener’s” aberrant modifications. In this case, Piercy intends the gardener to be the patriarchal society, wherein, men are the source of authority and the women to be the representative of submission. Just as the bonsai tree is kept from maturing to its full potential, likewise, women are restricted from becoming more than lowly maidservants and intellectual infants in the eyes of a male-dominated society.

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The feminist criticism of patriarchal culture actually has a long tradition. Among the early voices in this criticism was Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1792, she argued in A Vindication of the Rights of Women that women must challenge society’s assumption of female inferiority and must strive to articulate their own identities. In the case of Piercy’s poem, we can see the poem as a whole to represent this challenge. For example, the poet might have written about the inferior position of woman deliberately. In so doing, he might be furthering the emphasis of how women are constantly discriminated and manipulated by ...

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