Susanne Lynch: On "I Want You Women Up North to Know"

"I Want You Women Up North to Know" takes on the authorial voice of one who knows the horror of working in a sweatshop, of being migrant and of being an unvoiced female. To the women up North she introduces four women who, each in their individuality, dies silently as a result of an exploitive capitalism. She presents the women up North as innocent sources of this capitalism. Seduced by the marketing strategies of unconcerned businesses, gullible women buy into the rhetoric that "exquisite work" and "exquisite pleats" make them exquisite women and exquisite mothers.

What is interesting in this poem is that although the speaker attacks the entire system of production and consumption, she restricts her comments strictly to female consumers. I can't help thinking that there is an implicit female cohesion working in the poem that drives the message forward and gives credence to her plea so that it does not fall on deaf ears.

There is something very gendered about each woman described. More than just women who work blindly, mechanically, through the night to the demands of a proprietor's voice, these women, in their individuality, fulfill roles and qualities typically associated with women. There is the delicacy of Catalina Rodriguez, the longing of maria, the motherhood of Calalina Torres, and , of course, the sacrificing protection of Ambrosia. And although the worlds of these women represent something quite different from the worlds of the women up North, I think the recent struggle to gain national voice hints at the possibility of a female solidarity that extends beyond class lines so that "this can't last forever."

As one who has voice, and as one who is obviously able to traverse the lines of class, the speaker understands the level of communication needed to address the women up North. She takes them piecemeal into the world of these working women, moving first through the Macy's, the Gimbles, the Marshall Fields, and gradually diluting the scene of department store extravagance with silly "salesladies trill." Continuing in her dilution, she reveals the "bloated face: so distant from the women's reality, who "order[s] more dresses,/ [and] goug[es] the wages down," until the image finally "dissolve[s] into maria, ambrosa , catalina/ stitching these dresses from dawn to night, in blood, in wasting flesh."

While in the world of Calalina R, of catalina T for that matter, the speaker leaves her cautiously, calculating persona that has guided the Northern women thus far into a world of poverty and abuse they would never have known. Here the Northern women encounter the unveiled reality of dying women unable to voice their pain, their outrage, and their humiliation. The speaker speaks for them in controlled protest with a language that is both caustic and mimetic "This is the exquisite dance of her hands over the cloth and her cough, gay, quick, staccato like skeleton's bones clattering, in appropriate accompaniment fot the esthetic dance of her fingers and the tremolo, tremolo when the hands tremble with pain." Her point here is obvious--how easy it is for us to remove ourselves from another person's reality even when faced with verity. In truth, there is nothing poetic, nothing musical, and nothing aesthetic about catalina's trembling hands. There is nothing artistic about the raveled clothing of Catalina's four children, yet somehow distance speaks for these women with a romanticized eloquence that displaces their pain and turns it into something palatable and saleable.

Through the voice of solidarity, the speaker attempts to educate, and to implore an understanding, not only of the hidden and voiceless women, but of the contributions we make and can make as women subject to the manipulations of male capitalism.

 

Copyright © 2001 by Susanne Lynch

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Criticism Overview
Title Susanne Lynch: On "I Want You Women Up North to Know" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Susanne Lynch Criticism Target Tillie Lerner Olsen
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 03 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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