English Literature » Notes » Adrienne Rich’s “Diving Into the Wreck” Analysis
Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s “Diving Into the Wreck” Analysis

Upon first reading Adrienne Rich‘s Diving into the Wreck the auditor would not immediately perceive or assume it is about life experiences or on an even deeper level, her transformation from an unhappy house wife into a new, self-loving woman. Extended metaphors are described as exploiting a single metaphor throughout an entire work. Her extended metaphor begins with the title itself, Diving into the Wreck. She is alluding to scuba diving. While she meant for this poem to be interpreted symbolically and not literally, the scuba diving analogy is to be perceived as her plunge into a new life.

It symbolized a time in her life in which she found herself. Although Rich was telling he story of her discovery, this poem can be interpreted differently by readers without knowledge of her life story. Diving into Rice’s poem, readers are engulfed in a sea of metaphors, longing to be connected to the reader’s life situations and to Rice’s self-discovery. The scuba diver in the poem is getting ready to go an adventure to find a wrecked ship at the bottom of the ocean.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave awkward mask,” (Lines -7).

The metaphors to be taken in can be interpreted by readers in two ways. The poem can be seen on a personal level, and in which Rich is telling her story. The knowledge found in the book of myths is necessary, as it gives the diver vital information. The book is the first and last image found in the poem, which is a respectable way to know that it matters to Rich.

At the same time, it does not seem to fit in the same realm as the dive down to the wreck. It’s hard to imagine that this “book of myths” is Just a book with some old myths in it. A loaded camera signifies aging everything in, recording what happens, and perhaps to add another chapter to the “book of myths” in Rice’s life. Later in the poem Rich states,

carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear,” (Lines 91-94).

Maybe the “book of myths” represents a false history? But the camera the diver carries has the vital evidence of the existence of the “wreck” or Rice’s transformation.

The diver’s knife and black body armor represents the diver’s readiness for danger, but also conveys they are equipped with protection for whatever they may face. Rich was not eternally carrying a knife or wearing a funny suit, but instead she meant she had a mindset that would protect her from the harmful and cruel things readers and critics may say to and about her. In lines six and seven, while Rich speaks of putting on the armor she says,

the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.

The flippers and mask represent the fade she is posing. Before diving into the wreck of her life, she acts like a wife and mother.

But as she makes her way through her self-discovery, Rich discovers she is, in fact, lesbian. Her absurd flipper and awkward mask was actually the insupportableness she felt in her old life. Without the flippers and mask her dive into the ocean, or her new life, would be impossible. She would not appreciate the freedom she later finds. Later Rich quotes, “My flippers cripple me,” (Line 29). The fade she created started bringing her down. The wreck she is ready to dive into is not the sea, but herself, she begins plundering through herself to find happiness.

The diver’s decent into the unknown begins on a ladder. The ladder seemingly small, is a rather large metaphor in “Diving into the Wreck. Rich writes about the ladder for about twenty lines. Rich said,

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there.
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner, (Line 13-16).

The ladder represents Rice’s old life. But as she reaches the end of the ladder, the innocence of her past life ends as well. The reader becomes conscious that the ladder is a way to change the diver’s position, to move up or down.

When the diver is getting off of the ladder Rich states,

l have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element, (Lines 41-43).

The ladder is a way down, but it is also an obstacle. Although a little element of the poem, this hindrance is a metaphor of how Rich must turn away from her old life, but she knows she most leave the “ladder of life” without force or pushing boundaries. She learned she must navigate away from the safety of her life, the metaphorical ladder. Diving into the ocean not truly understanding what may follow the plunge is a metaphor within itself.

Diving into the abyss of the unknown is Rice’s way of saying she did not know what may come out of her new found discovery. In the last three stanzas of “Diving into the Wreck” Rich comes into her own. She finds what she is looking for from the wreck. The metaphors are deep and constant, Just like the sea the diver is swimming in. Rich says

This is the place.
And I am here,
… L I am she: I am he,(Lines-77)

believing her Journey is done, she has found exactly what was at the bottom of the wreck. She begins seeing two sides of herself. Although still seeming to be very much confused, she found her new life.

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