Explore the ways in which Isobel Dixon uses language and other poetic devices to present her ideas of freedom and restriction in “Plenty”
Isobel Dixon went to heaven and hell, she is one woman who knows what it is to suffer. She went from humble beginnings as a child living in the extremely poor and dry region of Karoo in South Africa. To an affluent and successful poet, Dixon manages to write a poem about freedom and restriction, a poem where she goes from having ‘Plenty’ of suffering to ‘Plenty’ of money. Using language and other poetic devices we can precisely analyze how Dixon presents her ideas, and if it is possible to have both, plenty of money, and happiness.
When Dixon introduces her family in the first paragraph, she uses rhymes, making the text have rhythm and a twist to it, but what is most important is that Dixon rhymes the two most important words in the second line, it was a “running riot to my mother`s quiet despair”. It is important to note how she linked these two contradicting words, she is indirectly admitting her guilt to the reader, and how her mother restricted her feelings, and remained calm, when there was always a “running riot” going on inside the house.
Their bathtub was in an awful state, “age-stained and pocked…” which is parallel to the state of the family. The tub became a central symbol in the poem for the memory of her family. The bathtub is not only “age-stained” but it is also “pocked/ upon its griffin claws,” the claws helps us picture the old bathtub, but it also gives us the image of claws holding down on the ground, as if it was going to fly, because it “was never full”.
“Mommy`s smile” presents the idea of restriction perfectly, where she tries to smile, but it was anchored down, as if it was “a clasp to keep [them] all from chaos” . Her mother`s smile also can be seen as a “lid clamped hard” upon all the small amounts of resources and worries that spill out, it is a simile that holds the family together. Her mother is stoic and a survivor, she cannot therefore show what she actually feels inside, she must clasp it with a smile.
The third stanza gives us the adult perspective, Dixon’s present day thoughts of her difficult childhood. She feels guilty, because only now she is mature and can understand what her mother had to put up with when raising her children, only now she understands why her mother spared every gram of aspirin, every millimeter of porridge and every crumb of bread.
Dixon uses sibilance, to present the idea of restriction as well as freedom, whereas the ‘s’ sound represents water flowing smoothly, ” She saw it always, snapping locks and straps,/ the spilling: sums and worries, shopping lists” as if it was free, the strong consonance alliteration cuts the ‘s’ sound, as if the water is restricted to flow.
The author, in the fifth stanza, explains how she used to feel about her mother, how “[she] thought her mean.” Dixon did not understand what her mother was going through, and now that she does, she feels sorry. Consequently, she wishes to forget those memories. Dixon omits the personal pronouns when informing the reader what she used to do with her mother, she wrote simply “Skipped chores,/ swiped biscuits” not “We skipped chores,/ We swiped biscuits”. Dixon also uses “precious” to describe an inch of water, which is in turn a very effective adjective. Moreover it portrays just how much her family is poor and humble.
Dixon presents her ideas of freedom and restriction in the sixth stanza by the use of an oxymoron, “…such lovely sin,” which gives us an idea of the complexity of her guilty pleasure.
The seventh and eighth stanza’s Dixon compares her rich life of freedom, to her restricted and difficult past: “Now bubbles lap [her] chin.” She no longer has to spare precious inches, she can now take bubble baths, with water up to her chin, Dixon is now self-indulgent in her fondness for sensuous luxury. The water is no longer “disgorged from fat brass taps”, it is now a “hot cascade”. She presents her ideas of freedom by demonstrating how a rich person takes a bath, how she is free to let the hot cascade fall on top of her, with not the slightest sense of guilt. On the other hand, she is not completely happy.
After having everything, she still misses her now “scattered sisters”, who were no longer cramped up in a single age-stained bathtub, but spread across the globe, and her mother’s smile was finally “loosed from the bonds.” She is now really smiling, not preventing chaos.
Dixon walked the long path of life, living the most difficult conditions one could have, until she finally managed to make her way to the doors of richness. She had indeed plenty of suffering as well as luxury, but having both was the real challenge. There is a bittersweet feeling in the end, as she is now materially sound but alone in her tub.