‘Wife’ by Ada Limón explores the portrayal of married women within their relationship, the patriarchal expectancy to fill a certain role making the poet feel uncomfortable in her ‘wife’ status. The sexist assumption that a woman should fulfill housework duties for the husband stems from outdated ideas of gender, with Limón emphasizing the pressure it places on those women who do not want to fit this ‘role’. It is a poem against patriarchal notions of service and conflates ideas of uncertainty about relationships within these situations.
Summary of Wife
‘Wife’ by Ada Limón begins by focusing on the sound and connotations of the word ‘wife’. Limón explores how women of the poem begin to identity by their status of ‘wife’, before anything else, as if it were a job. She then goes through the duties that a ‘wife’ is expected to fulfill, focusing on patriarchal notions of a wife cleaning, cooking, and mending clothes. The final moments of the poem focus on Limón’s conflicted desire to both love her husband, but also not fall into this trap of ‘duty’.
You can read the full poem ‘Wife’ here.
Ada Limón writes ‘Wife’ as a continuous free verse poem, measuring 24 lines in total. There is a disrupted rhythm throughout the poem, the meter being impacted by the frequent interchanging use of enjambment and caesura – speeding and slowing the meter of the poem. This structure and style of writing insinuates a discomfort in Limón’s verse, the disrupted form an insight into the conflicted nature of wanting to love, but not wanting to serve, her husband. The use of free-verse also creates a narrative of the dialogue, with Limón seemingly discussing her inner conflict with the reader of the poem, it is a stream of consciousness.
As stated above, two techniques that Limón uses in constructing ‘Wife’ are caesura and enjambment. Caesura, present in the disruptive commas inter-spliced throughout lines, impact the flow of meter, creating a sense of discontent. This is used to reflect the uncertainty of the speaker, the hesitant form furthering Limón’s sense of unease. Enjambment, on the other hand, allows the verse to flow quickly, one line on to the next. This causes a clash with caesura, enjambment speeding up the meter only to be disrupted by caesura. This speeding, then slowing, of the metrical flow of the poem, adds to Limón’s sense of ‘not yet comfortable’ with the word ‘wife’.
I’m not yet comfortable with the word,
its short clean woosh that sounds like
eyes rolled up and over and out their
pretty young heads. Wife, why does it
The poem begins with the personal pronoun ‘I’m’, Limón instantly focusing ‘Wife’ from a personal perspective. The poem engages with her attitudes and experience and is therefore framed through this prism of the first person pronoun.
Although the poem is incredibly feminist, looking at outdated ideas of patriarchy and women’s role in a marriage, the word ‘yet’ displays an odd insinuation that Limón will eventually be ‘comfortable’ with being a wife. Although this can be understood as Limón eventually being comfortable with the duties associated with being a wife, I would argue that perhaps she just becomes comfortable with the word, making her own duties and roles based on her own ideas, not the assigned ideas of a patriarchal system.
Limón breaks down the word ‘wife’ both semantically, looking at the ideas that are bound up in the short monosyllable, and aurally, with the implications of ‘life’ in the ‘clean woosh’ reflecting how this duty of being a wife can substitute for independence, quickly becoming someone’s whole ‘life’. She is ‘not’ ‘comfortable’ with either of these ideas, rejecting the perceived notion of what it means to be a wife.
Limón examines how her friends begin to substitute their individuality with their status as ‘wife’. Instead of weighing in their opinions on an ‘upcoming trip’, they say ‘“it’s not wife approved”’, placing their position in the marriage before their personal humanity. Limón furthers this stereotype by describing them as ‘pretty young heads’, the focus on ‘pretty’ playing into the classical depiction of a housewife. The focus on age, ‘young heads’ also relates to the infantilization of women. This is something that still goes on today, a group of males being presented as ‘men’, while women are often called ‘girls’, something that infantilizes them inherently.
The singularity of ‘wife,’, followed and proceeded by a caesura, combined with the monosyllabic nature of the word, creates a harsh moment of emphasis in the poem. Limón draws attention to the word, the association of ‘wife’ and ‘job’ then furthering the sense that marrying forces one to forego their other occupations in order to serve – something that makes Limón very uncomfortable.
Lines 8 – 12
sound like a job? “I need a wife” the famous
easily into maid. A wife that does, fixes
Throughout these lines, Limón uses asyndeton across ‘clean, ironed, mended, replaced’ to construct a narrative of a seemingly endless stream of tasks that must be completed by the wife. Task after task is connected through the use of asyndeton, the poem quickly flowing from idea to idea. Limón makes the argument that ‘a feminist wrote’ that she would want a wife to do these things for her, aligning herself with the feminist argument that is at the core of this poem. She is highlighting the disparity between the ‘duty’ of a man and women in a relationship, one that permeates into aspects of society still to this day. To suggest that a woman must fulfill the role of ‘maid’ in the home is derogatory and stems from the notion that a man has more intrinsic worth in society, and therefore works to make money while the wife does menial tasks at home. This is a notion that is completely ridiculous, outdated, and one Limón rallies against.
soothes, honors, obeys, Housewife,
fishwife, bad wife, good wife, what’s
doesn’t want to be diminished
by how much she wants to be yours.
The final stages of ‘Wife’ focus on the emotional trauma the weight of fulfilling this role. She pretends a deep depression at the thought of ‘morning’ after ‘morning’ completing tasks set out by the husband. A moment of emotional disconnection as the wife, ‘cries into the mornings’, and ‘stares long’ while doing nothing ultimately presents the loss of independence of a wife in this relationship. Unable to do anything but the duties assigned to her, Limón fears the mundane life that is being forced upon her.
There is an unsettling balance that Limón strikes across the final lines of the poem. It is clear that she does not want to have to fill the patriarchal role assigned to her, yet she ‘wants to love you [husband]’. She is unsure about how to function in a relationship that society dictates must realize the destruction of her independence. She loves her husband, but everything that comes with the word ‘wife’ is too much.