Literature Paper on Meditation on Red
‘Meditation on Red’ is a poem that was composed by Olive Marjorie Senior. Olive was born in Jamaica in the 19th century. She witnessed women being treated as inferior human beings compared to their male counterparts. She asserted that women were denied rights and opportunities that men were provided with, to show that they were not considered equal their male counterparts. She is therefore, acknowledged as a Jamaican poet who wrote poems to encourage the empowerment of women, for addressing gender inequalities and discrimination. The ‘Meditation on Red’ is an elegy she authored after visiting Jean Rhys’ grave. Rhys, a Dominican writer, spent her last days in the village of Cheriton Fitzpaine in England. Her writings mainly centred on gender equalities and prejudice towards women. After Olive had visited Rhys’ grave, in the Devon village, she wrote the poem to demonstrate that gender inequalities were adversely affecting their standards of living (Dash 1).
Olive Senior wrote the elegy titled ‘Meditation on Red’ to depict the effects of gender inequality on women by focusing on the lives they lead and their social position in the society. Thus, the poem can be described as a fusion of the features of the introspective ode and the elegy. This fusion is important as it portrays the Dominican writer as a woman of compassion, despite her experiencing racial discrimination and prejudice, since England could not accept her into their mainstream culture . Olive is also able to capture Rhys’ shifting moods in her poem. For example, Olive discusses the incidents when Rhys had experienced both sadness as well as admiration. It also captures the muted awe of Rhys’ personal ironies, especially on the exotic tropical beauty she portrayed. The poem, however, emphasizes that Rhys was a victim of the circumstances prevailing in the metropolitan region (Phillips 199).
‘Meditation on Red’ uses a magical realism by mirroring Rhys life and her books. Olive integrates the references to the various novels composed by Rhys as well as her short fictional stories. The integration is meant to highlight how Rhys, and the other women at large experienced cultural exile, discrimination, and alienation during her stay in England. The title of the poem, therefore, is based on the fact that Olive refers toRhys life by indexing her own work. For example, Olive reads Rhys works and strives to imagine the experiences she went through before completing her numerous fictional stories, while referring to her own sense of alienation and despair. The word ‘meditation’, therefore, was an indication of Olive’s attempts to underscore the pretence Rhys adopted as a her coping mechanism against cultural discrimination and prejudice in England’s hostile environment (Phillips 199).
Red is a color often associated with aggression, fire, and blood. It also represents the blood shed of martyrs who gave their lives to attain liberty by redeeming and unifying their communities. The color also impels people to remember the passion and aggression of men and women fighting with the tapped life forces to release the collective energy needed to achieve the divine purpose on the planet. The color was used in the title to emphasize Olive’s clarity of approach while penning the lines of her poemfor describingthe political issues that affected Rhys and the other women in their communities. The color is also affirms that Rhys played a critical role in the women’s liberation. Thus, the word ‘red’ in the title emphasizes that Olive focused her attention on Rhys life in England, and the pain and suffering she experienced, which prompted her to write books on the liberation of women and her community at large, to include gender and cultural discrimination (Phillips 199).
The poem’s title is also a reflection of Olive’s societal functions and concerns with regard to gender inequality. She relies on her observations to describe how women were ill-treated despite their social achievements of bearing strong and healthy children, lovingly caring for them and ensuring that their marriage partners did not feel neglected. Her craft of the English language and the tone of the poem is symbolic of the fact that she targeted a large audience facing issues similar to those experienced by Rhys and the other women in the colonial era. She was, however, keen not to take advantage of her position as a noted author for fuelling gender inequalities. For example, she focused on issues which hindered women in being able enjoy equal rights with men, without coming heavily on the male gender. Thus, the title of the poem portrays Olive as a liberal feminist, while encouraging men to consider women as equally gifted human beings influencing social, cultural, and political developments (Dash 1).
Meaning of Symbols in the Poem
The red color symbolizes the will to achieve his/her own desires. It also symbolizes spontaneity and fearlessness among people to attain their goals. Red also symbolizes great periods of grief, anger, and passion. The color, therefore, is a symbol of Jean Rhys success in paving the way for the women of her community despite experiencing cultural, racial, and gender discrimination. The body of her work includes large and textured symbols that look like planets and dark pools with ripples, revealing that the world is comprised of intertwined colors, shapes, and sizes. They loom with pre-established patterns simply and intimately held together (Phillips 201).
Olive’s clarity of thought enables her to create clear and precise lines to describe how the political environment during the time influenced peoples’ lives. For example, she writes herlines to encourage women undergoinggender and cultural discrimination, to calm down and focus more on improving their lives. She also advises the angry, disappointed and hurtwomen to release mental stress. She emphasizes that they should try to understand that global communities welcome and appreciate diversity. Thus, the women should open their eyes, hearts and minds to the power of patience in healing and overcoming the colonial repression described by Rhysexperienced by them . As a result, she examines various stereotypes within the Caribbean region in relation to masculinity and femininity. She focuses on the stereotypes and notions applied to describe Caribbean men and women. She asserts that the male stereotypes have especially caused pain, stress, and suffering amongst women. Thus, women should ponder deeply and acknowledge that their present position in the society has changed positively. Consequently, they should actively participate in community development as they are equally capable, skilled, and qualified to steer social, economic, and political growth (Dash 1).
Use of Language
Olive Senior has sought to differentiate between West Indian and British literatures and cultures. Thus, she emphasizes that language expresses cultural practices and modes in a region of colonial cultural practices that regarded the female as an inferior gender. The phase of cultural nationalism, therefore, sought to emphasize that West Indian cultural practices legitimizing life experiences, ought to be deemed as praiseworthy. For example, she discussed how men neglected women by migrating to regions they believed had better living conditions, while they forgot the struggles their women underwent to motivate them in their aims. Here she symbolizes gender inequality, and the narcissistic male traits during the colonial times. It also seeks to develop a sense of nationalism in the women as an ideological response to the dismissive and derogatory attitude against them. As a result, the language of the poem which discusses cultural nationalism seeks to strengthenand motivate political developments among regions experiencing socio-political upheaval which was likely to spread and change the national identity (Phillips 205).
Olive also composed the poem for promoting the legitimacy of regional cultural encounters while focusing on structural and thematic colonial historical concerns. For example, the poem discusses social and political autonomy as a source of the gender alienation experienced by women. Consequently, it examines the roles, functions, and the place of women in modern society to refer to the historical colonial times which witnessed racial, gender, and cultural discrimination. Thus, Olive has adeptly used clear and precise English phrases for encouraging women to attain gender equality (Dash 1).
The ‘Meditation on Red’ is a poem that examines the ramifications of history on the lives and position of women in the society. It uses the red color to symbolize the struggle of women to fit in a society that was not willing to accept them. For example, Olive showed that Rhys could not fit in the society due to her gender and color. The problem, however, did not hinder her from writings in her attempts to end racial discrimination and gender prejudice.Therefore, Rhys believed she had the right of belonging. She was also motivated to inher writings to empower the other female members of the community to prevent the British from maltreating or discriminating against them. The poem, thus , emphasizes that struggle, persistence and passion eventually pay off. Thinking or meditating about these struggles which the people experience in society should also encourage and empower the people who are constrained and discriminated against, to break the barriers and glass ceilings to attain a positive social, economic, and political change.
Dash, Michael. Poetry with a Plot: A Review of Olive Senior’s Gardening in the Tropics. Ryerson University, The Caribbean Week, 2012.
Phillips, Gyllian. Personal and Textual Geographies in Olive Senior’s Literary Relationship with Jean Rhys. Journal of Caribbean Literature, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2003, pp. 199-206.