The Escape from “The Big Boots of Pain”

16 July 2018

The poem “The Big Boots of Pain” by Anne Sexton, expresses her thoughts as a pregnant woman, contemplating about the future consequences of bearing a baby. The poem begins, as she describes that having a child is disastrous. Having a child after marriage would make a wife a mother. She describes the ‘teaspoon of pain’ can lead deep down to entrapment as a mother would have to take care of the baby as her societal role. Although having children is a burden, aborting a baby is not something that can be told to anyone. If she did, her friends would cut her away. She feels relief after she aborts her child and she is now torn apart from her child. Although in the end, she reflects back to her birth and she soon regrets her decision of aborting the baby. In her poem “The Big Boots of Pain,” Sexton uses personification, symbolism, metaphor, and irony to develop the poem’s theme that abortion is an escape.

Sexton uses personification to develop the poem’s theme that abortion is a way to avoid painful burdens by becoming a mother. Sexton personifies life and planets, earlier in the poem, to show that bringing a child to life as a woman would irrevocably set a woman’s life from a loved wife to a hard-working mother. In the third stanza of her poem she describes, that “the pain that begins in the crib/ with its bars or perhaps; with your first breath/ when the planets drill/ your future into you/ for better or worse/ as you married life and the love that gets doled out or doesn’t.” (13-22) Sexton tells that there is a kind of hardship that she would absolutely avoid, which is having children. The burden of having a child would start from becoming pregnant and when a child comes to life, they would drive a large portion of women’s life ahead. Firstly, the planet personification is used in the poem as the ‘planet drill your future” (17). The planet is personified as the world or the large societal environment around the individual. Bearing a child is a significant part of a woman’s life, which costs for a large amount of energy, responsibility, attention, and time. In a position where a woman bears a child, she would inevitably have to endure the burden of raising the child to meet societal expectations. Sexton uses the personification of marrying life in the poem “as you marrying life and love gets doled out” (21), which entails that cheerful marriage can result in a marriage without passion. Marriage, in most cases, starts from two loved ones making a commitment to spend their life together. Having a child would change that dynamics of the relationship between the two by the inescapable transformation of a wife conversion to a mother. The passion and attention two loved one shared would shift towards the child, resulting in a doled-out marriage. Sexton personification of the planet and life shows the woman would have to endure a painful burden through having a child.

Sexton uses the teaspoon as a symbol to build upon the poem’s theme that abortion is a way to avert the hardship of having a child. Sexton uses the symbol of teaspoon multiple times across the poem to show how the teaspoon is to signify a child. “I find now, swallowing one teaspoon/ of pain, that it drops downwards // The teaspoon ought to be hearable/ if it didn’t mix into the reruns/ and thus enlarge into what it is not.” (10-13, 28-30) A teaspoon can be signified as a child because a teaspoon is the smallest sized cutlery and is used to feed a child. The teaspoon of pain can imply the burden of having a child. She has carried this burden, as the baby is in her womb. The “teaspoon ought to be hearable” (28), describes that a child’s duty is to cry and they make loud noises so they can be heard by their mother to take care of them. They would cry over and over again. Abandoning a crying baby would put her societal expectations at risk and can lead to bigger problems for her. Not properly taking care of a baby, can bring doubts in the society and women at the time can outcaste from the society for not accomplishing her task. She describes that having a child can tie down deep into a woman’s life to entrapment because of her motherly role. Through abortion, she would be able to bury the risk she would have to burden in her future as a mother. She uses the symbol of the teaspoon to describe that child, which the teaspoon of pain interprets as a mother’s burden of raising a child.

Sexton uses metaphor to develop the poem’s theme of abortion is a way to run away from the societal role as a mother. She uses a metaphor to describe the difficult responsibility a woman would have to wear in society, to satisfy her role as a mother. She describes that a woman would have to endure the risk of societal pressure when failed to take care of a child. Sexton continues, “Kicking the heart/ with pain’s big boots running up and down/ the intestines like a motorcycle racer.” (36-38) As a woman, they would have to wear this big boot of pain, called responsibility as a mother, to work tirelessly for her child. A woman would have to contemplate with this responsibility which can be emotionally and mentally staggering, thus kicking the heart. They would have to work so hard that a mother’s “intestines [is] like a motorcycle racer” (38) Raising a child takes massive work which would make mothers furious like a motorcycle racer. Sexton doesn’t want to take on this role as a mother. She doesn’t want to put this big boot on her feet, which can restrict her from her current wellbeing. In order for her to run away from this big boot of pain, she would have to have an abortion at this point. This metaphor demonstrates the struggle that woman would face in society taking on the role of a mother.

Sexton uses irony to develop the poem’s theme that abortion is a withdrawal from bringing life to this planet. Although she cheerfully celebrates her death of her aborted baby, she reflects back to her birth. She soon regrets her decision of aborting the baby, expressing her grief through the use of irony. In the sixth stanza of this poem, she tells “Somehow DECEASED keeps getting/ stamped in red over the word HOPE/ And I who keep falling thankfully/ into each new pillow of belief/ finding my Mercy Street” (6-9). She shows the death of her aborted baby as “DECEASED” is stamped as a notarization over “HOPE” which can imply to the life of the baby. There would be no more potential of “HOPE” for the baby as the baby is deceased. Sexton joyfully celebrates the abortion and feels relieved of the results. Sexton, however, she “beginning to wonder just what/ the planet had in mind on November 9th, 1928″ (61-62). As she joyfully celebrated the death of her baby, she starts to think about her own birth on this planet. She then presents several ironies of grief, as she explains “dog shit thrown into the middle of a laugh,/ a hornets’ nest building into the hi-fi speaker/ and leaving me in silence,/ where, without music,/ I become a cracked orphan” (63-70). As she came to the realization of her birth and its purpose. She soon regrets about the abortion she has done. She uses the irony “dog shit thrown into the middle of a laugh” (63) and “a hornets’ nest building into the hi-fi speaker” (64) to describe her sorrow and ignorance. No one wants dog poop while laughing with their mouth open, which shows her discomfort and illness of her actions. Building a hornets’ nest to a hi-fi speaker would over exarate the already high-quality speaker volume and this possibly could wake up the Hornets. This irony shows ignorance. She then uses the irony of her becoming a “cracked orphan” (69). It is not that the baby lived and the mother died, however, it is the other way around. This contradicting use of this irony shows that in fact, she feels broken and feels less as a mother. She is in other words, she feels like a motherless lonely orphan. The irony presented shows the regret of her terrible and ignorant decision to abort the baby, which now she feels like a motherless orphan. The irony used illustrates that abortion is a withdrawal from bringing life to this planet.

In her poem “The Big Boots of Pain,” Sexton uses personification, symbolism, metaphor, and irony to develop the poem’s theme of abortions an escape. Sexton personifies life and planets, earlier in the poem, to show that bringing a child to life as a woman would irrevocably set a woman’s life from a loved wife to a hard-working mother. She also uses the symbol of a teaspoon to imply a child and how the teaspoon of pain implies to the burden of having a child. Her metaphor describes the difficult responsibility a woman would have to carry in society to satisfy her role as a mother. Sexton uses irony to illustrate her abortion as a withdrawal from bringing life to this planet. Today, abortion is legal in many of the states here in the United States. Every day a child dies for the convenience of their parents. Whether it is a planned or unplanned pregnancy, for both men and women, we must educate our future generation for the awareness of the responsibilities before having a child. Sexton’s work presents a rather controversial, yet realistic struggle of women that we can still relate today. We can all take a page from her book. It takes great responsibility to wear the big boots of pain.

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