H.D. and Claudia Rankine

H.D., in her poem “Helen,” is doing something unique by connecting her own stories and experiences with Greek myths. Margaret Dickie says, “She moved outside the process of male myth-making to comment on its silencing of women in ‘Helen'” (Dickie, 246). The silencing of Helen, and ultimately women in general, is seen throughout the poem, but ends dramatically with Helen, “laid, / white ash amid funereal cypresses” (Nelson, 240). Dickie goes on to say, “For H.D. the male idealization of women was dangerous and life-denying” (Dickie, 246). Paris, King Menelaus, and all of Greece’s idealization of Helen leads literally to her death in this poem, portraying the dangerous and life-denying affects of male idealization in myth, which H.D. then relates to her own life.

Claudia Rankine deals with similar themes of silence and oppression, specifically in context of race. In contrast to H.D., however, Rankine uses personal stories from her own life, and the lives of friends, instead of using ancient Greek myths. The silencing of her own life and body is seen poignantly in a poem where she talks about a man cutting her in line at the drugstore. When the man is corrected for this he says, “Oh my God, I didn’t see you. / You must be in a hurry, you offer. / No, no, no, I really didn’t see you” (Rankine, 77).  It seems like it may have been less hurtful had he purposefully cut in front of her, but his unconscious action, his inability to see her not only silences her but seems to erase her body completely.

Dickie says of H.D., “Not just the woman rising against her own victimization but the woman silenced and thus offering a mute indictment of her society was H.D.’s subject” (Dickie, 245-246). This seem to be Rankine’s subject as well, as she discusses how society over and over again silences and oppresses black bodies. Although H.D. and Rankine go about telling their stories of oppression and silence differently, they are both communicating the feelings of being silenced vividly.


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