The Descent Of Alette Poem Analysis

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Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette is an epic poem that shows the relationship between gender, sex, and the human body. By doing so, Notley challenges the traditional form of an epic poem through her use of a female hero and a series of lyric poems that create an epic poem. Here, we see two sets of binaries: female hero/male hero and lyric poem/epic poem. Additionally, these binaries are a function of hierarchy. By resisting traditional binaries, Notley shows equality through an open space for equal heterogeneous forms. In contrast, Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea expresses roles of glory and masculinity through the use of forms. Mishima emphasizes traditional forms. Mishima is distinct from Notley, as she challenges …show more content…
The hero in her poem is a woman instead of a man, and her poem is constructed out of lyrical poems that form an epic poem. As Dubois says, “Notley here sets herself apart from an American lyric tradition” (Dubois 89). Alette seeks to find the Tyrant and save herself and the people trapped underground. By doing so, Dubois expresses, “Notley’s poem resembles the great epics of the tradition: it’s journey, a descent into an underworld, a quest that takes the central figure, Alette, underground, deeper and deeper into a space of manifold metamorphoses, seeking to find and expose and destroy a Tyrant and to heal the world” (Dubois 87). Alette is able to overcome the Tyrant and prove that women can be heroes and save other people too. Notley heavily aims to stress that concept throughout her poem, as she wants literature to capture the importance that women have in society. The only way Notley can highlight the issue is by making a whole poem about a woman overcoming a male to save trapped souls. Alette shouts, “ ‘All the lost creatures’ ‘began to’ ‘emerge’ ‘Come up from’ ‘below the subway’ ” (Notley 148). Alette saves these lost souls and proves that through the hierarchal structure, women and men need to be viewed as equals. One sex is not above the other, and Notley challenges this hierarchal structure. Notley conveys through a heterogeneous form, women and men can both be heroes in literature, and this should not be considered something that goes against the traditional norm, yet still does. In addition to the feminist message that the poem stresses, Notley controls the reader through the poem’s format. The lyrical poems aim to slowly have the reader realize the issue of women being misrepresented in literature, and how Notley uses the sex of a female hero to address the problem. As Dubois states, “Such a technique of reading is appropriate, nonetheless, for an epic with an urgent teleological drive” (Dubois 89).

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