In ‘I Shall Paint My Nails Red,’ the bright color and her determined reasoning allow the reader to imagine an in-control speaker who is very capable of making decisions for herself. She’s independent and proud of herself.
Explore I Shall Paint My Nails Red
‘I Shall Paint My Nails Red’ by Carole Satyamurti is a short, interesting poem that is based around a simple premise—a woman’s painted nails.
The poem uses the same word, “Because,” at the beginning of each line. They all relate to why she decided that she wanted to paint her nails. She wanted to surprise her lover, bother her daughter, make herself proud of her hands, give herself to look at in traffic, and distract herself from life. The most important reason seems to be that it gives her control over a reversible element of her appearance.
You can read the full poem here.
Because a bit of colour is a public service.
Because my daughter will say ugh.
In the first line of the poem, the speaker throws the reader into the middle of a thought. This is a technique known as in medias res. The reader doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t get an explanation. They have to figure it out along the way.
The speaker says that she painted her nails red because “a bit of colour is a public service.” The same format continues into the next lines with more “Because” statements, each relating to the title.
She paints her nails red in order to provide a public service. Readers might ask themselves why this is something she thinks she needs to do. Perhaps, she is just striking a humorous tone about the dull nature of the world or is thinking about how she can affect those around her.
She goes on, taking pride in her hands and enjoying being reminded that she’s a “woman” and is still alive. The poem goes back and forth between what read like more powerful statements and those that seem more surface-level. For example, “Because I can admire them in traffic jams.” There are self-indulgent reasons to paint one’s nails as well as empowering reasons.
She also paints them because it bothers her daughter, who, the poem implies, thinks it’s weird that her mother paints her nails, something that young women do. But, the tone is light-hearted here, as it is in the rest of the poem.
Because my lover will be surprised.
Because it is reversible.
The final lines include a reference to the speaker’s lover. She likes the way it makes her look. It’s a transformation that’s quicker than “dyeing” her hair.
She uses the word “moratorium” in the next lines. This suggests that painting her nails is a distraction, among other reasons. It keeps her busy and her thoughts on something simple for ten minutes. For these ten minutes, she doesn’t have to worry about anything else. The last line is interesting. The moratorium she takes is also reversible. She can easily remove the color from her nails whenever she wants—she’s in control. This is a more powerful message in that it asserts the speaker’s independence and control over her own life.
Structure and Form
‘I Shall Paint My Nails Red’ by Carole Satyamurti is an eleven-line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse. This means that they do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, the poet does use literary devices that give the poem some structure.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of lines. In this case, “Because” starts every line of the poem.
- Allusion: the poet’s speaker alludes to element sin her life that are outside the scope of the poem. This includes her daughter and her lover. Her relationship to these two people is not expanded on and readers have to make assumptions about her life.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “public” and “proud” in the first two lines.
The themes at work in this poem are power, control, and beauty. The speaker celebrates each of these aspects of her life. Change is another feature of this piece. She can control her nails and the effect they have on her.
The purpose is to celebrate the speaker’s independence and ability to change this small part of her life whenever she wants to. Her nails are easily altered and provide her with an opportunity to focus on something simple.
The tone is direct and conversational. The poet does not use over-complicated language or phrase the poem in a way that makes it difficult to understand. The lines get right to the point.
The speaker may be the poet or a persona the poet is channeling. It’s not crucial to know who the speaker is to understand the meaning of this piece.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Carole Satyamurti poems. For example:
- ‘War Photographer’ – centers around the tragic, comparing poverty to leisure.
Some other related poems include:
- ‘Beauty’ by Louise Untermeyer – speaks on themes of obsession, the value of beauty, and strength.
- ‘Beautiful’ by Carol Ann Duffy – explores the physical and mental damage that can come from beauty.