17 October 2010
You Want We White: Sexually, Morally, and Spiritually Pure
Alfonsina Storni was born in 1892 in the small town of Sala Capriasca, Switzerland. Of Italian-Swiss parents, she was one of the most important poets of the modernist period (Teitler 173). Storni moved to Rosario, Argentina in 1901 and began writing when she was twelve years of age (Kuhnheim 385). In 1935, she was diagnosed with breast cancer (Teitler 189). After surgery failed to stop the disease, she went through a depression and she took her own life by walking into the sea at Mar de Plata, Argentina (Kuhnheim 390). “Independent and outspoken,” Storni’s reputation of a feminist has “almost overshadowed her work as a poet” (Teitler 175). She spoke for woman demanding a more balanced relationship with men. You Want Me White is one of Storni’s best-known poems in which she expresses her strong emotions toward male pride in a crude, sarcastic tone.
“And when you have put / Your soul back into it, / Your soul which was left entangled / In all the bedrooms, / Then, my good man, / Ask me to be white, / Ask me to be snowy, / Ask me to be chaste” (Storni lines 50-57). This is Storni’s response to males about their hypocrisy regarding the chastity of women. Storni makes this statement at the end of a long list of tasks she believes men must do before demanding anything of women (Kuhnheim 391). You Want Me White is a poem that follows the author’s reaction to a lover’s desire for her to be chaste while the man lives a more colorful, carefree life. Through the poem, we are introduced to Storni’s frustration of stereotypes of women and men’s selfishness. She articulates discontent towards men and speaks on behalf of all women in a bashing way to criticize the double standard that men have on purity (Kuhnheim 392).
Storni uses symbols in the form of colors and nature to represent the concept of inequality between men and women. The poem opens with a series of declarations on the man’s expectations of the woman (Teitler 174). What do you think of when you hear the word white? Most would automatically think of race or color. Ironically, Storni gives the word a connotation meaning and uses it to refer to purity or innocence. The phrase “you want me white” is used by Storni in various forms throughout the poem. In the first stanza, Storni uses similes to describe her lover’s desire, as well as the stereotype and central theme of woman purity. “You’d like me to be white as dawn, / You’d like me to be made of foam, / You wish I were mother of pearl, / A lily / Chaste above all others. / Of delicate perfume. / A closed bud.” (Storni lines 1-7). The expression of “white as dawn” has different interpretations. Picture dawn. Beautiful, right? In fact, Storni is not referring to the gorgeous sunrise, but to a virgin figure untouched and unseen. Foam is a structure that is smooth and noticeably different when touched. Holes or stains are left behind. The form changes and it loses its original appearance just like a woman when she loses her purity (Teitler 178). Storni uses “you wish I were mother of pearl” to show that woman should remain pure and contained. If not they become used and worn out. Just like pearls, “once the shell is broken or opened the pearl becomes impure and contaminated” (Teitler 177). “A closed bud” may mean that woman should remain closed and not mature fully for men to want them.
Gradually, Storni’s attitude turns hostile and describes how men, themselves, are not pure. When Storni first describes men, she tells them “You who have held all the wineglasses / In your hand, / Your lips stained purple / With fruit and honey / You who in the banquet / Crowned with young vines / Made toast with your flesh to Bacchus” (Storni lines16-21). Storni makes this statement to point out all the flaws that men have. Here Storni reflects on how men are able to engage in impure behavior, to enjoy the excesses of wealth and pleasure, to engage in pleasures of the body—without censor (Kuhnheim 400). “However, while men are off celebrating Bacchus (the Greek ‘god of wine and celebration’), the men ask that she (Storni uses herself as a metaphor for all women) be white” (Teitler 191). Finally Storni brings religious views to scorn the men. She proclaims “God forgive you” to show the fact that men should “Wash [their] mouth” and look in the mirror before expecting the opposite from women.
Storni uses similes and symbols of colors and nature to show the expectations that men have towards women’s purity. The inequality between men and women can be seen from the high standards and stereotypes placed. At first she states several ways that men want women to be. She, later, turns the tables and states the things that men should complete before telling women what to do. By following this pattern, we are able to see her true feminist opinion of the male hypocrisy pertaining to purity.
I consider You Want Me White as genuine poem expressing the emotions bottled up by Storni in a male-dominant society. Are there any sort of controversies surrounding the poem? If so, which ones? What is your opinion on Alfonsina Storni’s reaction towards the man she is talking to? Do you think this was frowned upon in her society? Finally, do you think that Storni would have gotten her point across about male hypocrisy if she had not use any sentence structure? (Similes and parallelism for instance).
Kuhnheim, Jill S. “The politics of form: Three twentieth-century Spanish American poets and the sonnet.” Hispanic Review 76.4 (2008) : 387-411. Print.
Maynard Mack., and Sarah N. Lawall, eds. “The Norton Anthology of world Literature.” You Want Me White 2nd ed. Vol. F. 2124-2125. Print.
Teitler, Nathalie. “Redefining the Female Body: Alfonsina Storni and the Modernista Tradition.” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 79.2 (2002): 171-192. Print.