A Work of Artifice Poem Summary, Theme, Critical Analysis by Marge Piercy

A Work of Artifice Poem Summary, Theme, Critical Analysis by Marge Piercy

A Work of Artifice Summary

In the poem “A Work Of Artifice’, Marge Piercy uses the extended metaphor of a bonsai tree in order to represent the suppression and cultural restrictions that are usually placed on women by the society. Through the use of her different poetic devices, Piercy makes use of a gardener in her poem who controls the growth of the tree so that it may not grow to its full height and beauty just like the patriarchal society prevents women from reaching their full potential as human beings.

Marge Piercy’s work strikes at the root of gender inequality prevalent in a male-dominated world. But however, the poem speaks more about the psychological degeneration that happens due to the clipping of wings. Most plausible explanation is that their freedom becomes a challenge for the dominant male mindset prevalent in the society. However, it also suggests the moral degradation of the male-dominated society which has always looked at women as inferior objects meant only for decoration.

A Work of Artifice About the Author Marge Piercy

The poet Marge Piercy (born march 31,1936) is an American progressive activist and writer. Upon graduation from Mackenzie High School, Piercy became the first in her family to attend college, studying at the University of Michigan where she received a B.A degree in 1957. She earned an M.A Degree from Northwestern University in 1958.

She is the author of more than seventeen volumes of poems. Among these are “The Moon is Always Female” and “The Art Of Blessing The Day”. Some of her novels are “Going Down Fast”, “Dance The Eagle To Sleep”, “Fly Away Home”, “Small Changes,” Women On The Edge Of Time, etc.

Among some of her poetries are Living In The Open, My Mother’s Body, Available Light, The Moon Is Always Female, Mars And Her Children, etc. Her novels tell stories from the view points of multiple characters, often including a first person voice among numerous third person narratives. Her poetries tend to be highly personal free verse and centered on feminist and social issues. She got many awards like-Arthur C. Clarke Award, Bradley Award, May Sarton Award, Golden Rose Poetry Prize, etc.

A Work of Artifice Theme

Men are tricky and use their tricks to their advantage to manipulate women. They brainwash the women into believing that they must conform into the wishes of men. So the theme of the poem is the suppression of the full potential of women in society as a result of cultural restrictions and gender biases.

A Work of Artifice Critical Analysis

The subject of the poem is artifice; an act of deliberate and clever deception. But who is being deceived? As the poem progresses,it becomes clear that not only is the bonsai tree created using artifice, it is also that the tree is being tricked. Thus the bonsai tree is subjected to artifice in multiple ways.

The beginning of the poem is simple, straight forward. The speaker describes the bonsai tree as being grown in an “attractive pot”, which draws attention to the aesthetic beauty. The small tree in the beautiful pot is contrasted with that of a wild tree on the mountain side. These two images -the small tree in the pot in a domestic space and a wild tree driven by lightning during a storm on the mountain side-present two fates.

Then again the bonsai tree that is in the pot is confined and subjected to the constant pruning and crooning of the gardener. But if the Bonsai tree would have been given an opportunity to grow, could have becomes ten times larger. Thus the bonsai tree symbolizes the way the women are subjugated and oppressed by males. This becomes evident in the lines when the gardener sings “it is your nature to have a pot to grow in.

This part of the poem describes the crooning of the gardener that could easily be transferred to a husband talking to is wife. The husband like the gardener would be telling his wife that she is lucky to be at home, doing domestic chores as she is weak and small. It is her home that protects her from the “lightning strike” just as the bonsai tree is protected in the pot.

The poem unfolds as the themes of trikery and oppression become more evident. In the lines “With living creatures to dwarf their growth”the speaker shows a gradual transition from the tree to the woman. As with the bonsai tree the gardener has to start early to keep it small so also the man or society must begin early as well in order to “trick” woman into reluctant subjugation. When looking into the literal meaning of dwarf it can give a different perspective to the reader, of what message the poet is trying to convey. Dwarf means to stunt one’s growth or to belittle a person.

This is what happens when the society of men use their social standards to prevent women from flourishing to their full potential. Through the use of demeaning language and trickery, similar to that of the gardener, the males are able to oppress the women and stunt their emotional and physical growth. In the physical sense, the man can enjoy her “bound feet”, delight at the sight of her “hair in curlers”, both of which are symbols of beauty.

On the emotional side, he can cripple her brain by making her think this is the way she should look, this is how beautiful she should be and this is the only way that she can be accepted. The last two lines of this poem shed a bit of light onto the women. “ The hands you /love to touch”- through this there is a message and that is do not bite the hands that feed you lovingly. Their trials, their tribulations and their triumphs can be seen in every crevice and fold. Their hands were the one thing that kept them going.

Piercy’s feminism is evident in her poem “A Work Of Artifice”. Men attempted and succeeded to hold back women simply to reinforce their personal belief that men are socially, mentally and physically stronger than women. The speaker in Piercy’s poem may have broken his “creatures” confidence,but he never completely succeeded at breaking her totality. Though she may have been his work of artifice, his trickery, she was still amazingly her own women.

A Work of Artifice Title of the Story

The title “A Work of Artifice” is a key element and is sarcastic as it deals with the biggest irony in a women’s life. An artifice is a clever trick. The title itself says that a work of trickery is taking place and this is evident in the actions of the gardener who Is seen crooning to the trees. He regards the bonsai tree to be small and weak and he ignores the fact that It could be huge and wild.

The same is true for the man telling the woman that she should be pleased with the life the way it is. So through trickery both the tree and the woman are oppressed and their powers curbed. Women and trees are not meant to be so restrained, and the captivated and subjugated lives they are compelled into, are through a state of mind and trickery that is enforced by a gardener, the males.

The potentiality and the strength of the bonsai tree and the women are overlooked and neglected as we see that both if given a chance and opportunity could grow up into bigger ones. Instead of eighty feet tall, the bonsai tree is nine-inches tall (made by the pruning of the gardener). The women instead of giving power in the society are forced to lead a domestic life.

Bonsai which is known for its aesthetic beauty, can also be big and wild. Its nature is not to be tiny and weak. Women are also not to be cozy decorations of home, they can also follow their dreams like men. In other words we can say that the bonsai we see in the pot is the outcome of the trickery of the gardener who is an oppressive force. So in other words we can say that the title “A Work Of Artifice” is appropriate.

A Work of Artifice About The Poem

The poem “A Work Of Artifice” illustrates the domination and oppression of women. Marge Piercy, the poet uses vivid imagery of the bonsai tree in this poem; to illustrate the subjugation of the women. She also tells about the trickery and coaxing of the gardener.

Through this poem. Marge Piercy compares the lives of women with the bonsai tree and the gardener’s trickery is compared to the different customs of the society following patriarchal system. With her use of words and meanings, Marge Piercy is able to unfold gradually a seemingly innocent poem into a more complex one.

A Work of Artifice Main Point Of The Poem

The poem “A Work Of Artifice” points out that satisfaction and self-fulfilment can be attained by using one’s skills to serve a specific function in life. It is the I opinion of the speaker that an unproductive existence has no value or significance because it is vain and pointless.

A Work of Artifice Linewise Summary

1. 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 gardente
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.

“A Work Of Artifice” describes how a bonsai tree is made to grow in the attractive pot which has the potentiality to grow to a height of about eighty feet. On the side of the mountain, driven by lightning and thunder (bad weather). But due to the careful pruning of it by the gardener, its height is being curbed and it becomes something miniature fit for decorations at home.

The bonsai here symbolizes a woman at home (that is pot of the bonsai tree) who not only has the potentiality but also the right to fulfill her dreams. But due to the men (that is the gardener) who subjugate and oppress the women in the society, by compelling them to follow the social regulations and restrictions, curb the potentiality of the women.

2. 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
the hands you love to touch.

The gardener in the poem is seen to “whittled” back the “branches” of the bonsai tree every day like men suppress the women every day in the society. The gardener is seen crooning to the tree saying that it is the nature of the bonsai tree to be small and cozy,” dometsica and weak”.

At the same time we see the gardener satisfied with his own idea says that the little tree is fortunate to have a pot to grow in the men in the patriarchal society symbolize the gardener. They regard the women to be small, cozy, and fragile fit to be confined at home and do domestic chores. They also make the women, believing that they are lucky to have a house where they stay safely.

3. 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.

In these lines, the speaker zooms out the gardener’s point of view where he says that one must start early to “dwarf their growth” which means to dwarf the growth of both the bonsai tree and a women. Then he gives certain examples of how to curb or suppress the growth.

Through “bound feet”, “crippled brain”, “hair in curlers” the gardener (the men) would be able to oppress the growth of both the tree as well as the women. The practice of “bound feet” of women to prevent their feet from growing, was of course to some extent is painful.

Again “crippled barain” which means mentally making their brains unfit by making the woman to believe that this is the way they should look, this is the only way that they are accepted. The gardener who fashions bonsai tree love to touch the branches and leaves they prune in the same way whom they oppress.

A Work of Artifice Linewise Explanation

1. The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain

The bonsai tree in the attractive pot could have grown eighty feet tall on the side of the mountain. The poet has chosen the metaphor of a bonsai tree because bonsais are good for decoration and is used as a symbol of woman. The bonsai tree like a woman is attractive and is grown in the pot which is compared to woman’s house where she is confined. A bonsai in the could have grown eighty feet tall if it would have been grown on the mountainside. So also if a woman is given a chance to show her potentiality, she may do do.

2. till split by lightning.
But a gardente
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.

The bonsai tree growing on the side of the mountain is being driven by lightning. But the bonsai in the pot is safe from lightning just as a woman is safe at home from the outside invaders. The bonsai in the pot is carefully trimmed by the gardener not only to make it look attractive but also suppressing the height. It is only nine inches tall. This symbolizes the woman being curbed by the males in the male dominating society.

3. Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;

The women are conditioned to live according o social customs and traditions. The gardener everyday trims the branches, croons the gardener is the metaphor for the society and the male members of the family. He sets the rules for the plant.

So also the male member sets the rule for the family. A woman is taught to feel cozy in the small space assigned to her. It began from her father’s home and ends at her husband’s just like the gardener tends the tree and turns it into an object of decoration by trimming and pruning it.

We find the gardener talking to the bonsai plant to be small, cozy, domestic and weak. All these adjectives are actually made to describe the nature of a woman. A woman is confined at home cozily, being weak and small.

4. 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
the hands you love to touch.

Since the gardener considers the tree’s nature to be small and helpless(like that of a woman) he also says that the little tree is fortunate to have a supporting, safe pot in which it can grow. Then he says that one must start early to “dwarf their growth” as in the case of the bonsai tree. He offers examples such as binding the feet of women from childhood in Chinese beauty practice so that the feet remain tiny and delicate looking.

Again we find another practice of curling hairs. Both practices make the women appealing. Then again another example of crippled brain which implies the subjugation of women by men where women are made weak psychologically and they lose their power of thinking and reasoning. In the last two lines there is a change of tone. The speaker says that men presumably love to touch the hands of the very women the oppress, just as the gardener who fashions the bonsai tree, loves to touch the branches and leaves they prune.

A Work of Artifice Annotations and Vocabulary

Artifice — trickery or use of something intended to deceive.
Pruned — the process of trimming a tee, shrub or bush by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems.
Whittles — trims or carves into an object by repeatedly cutting small slices from it.
Croons — sings or hums in a soft low voice,especially in a sentimental manner.
Bound feet — here means, tied feet and therefore unable to move freely.
Crippled brain — here means, a brain that does not work reasonably or in a normal way.

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