Imagery, Language, and Sound in What's That Smell in the Kitchen?
Marge Piercy is an American novelist, essayist, and poet best known for writing with a trademark feminist slant. In "What's That Smell in the Kitchen?" Marge Piercy explores the way women are sometimes held in low esteem by men through the eyes of a tired housewife who has had it with her monotonous day- to-day duties. In this poem, it is not stated that the speaker is a homemaker, but the reader is told about one woman in particular who is meant to express the feelings of women as a whole. The author conveys this central idea through imagery, figurative language, and devices of sound.
In the first lines of "What's That Smell in the Kitchen?" the author makes her point that women are burning dinners all over America. This gives us a general idea of what the poem will be about, yet it makes us want to read on to see why this would be happening; in other words, it triggers our curiosity. The author goes on to describe foods that are common to certain cities in the United States, bringing about a very gustatory and olfactory image in the mind of the reader. Following this, the author uses repetition to emphasize her introductory statement yet again, and adds an additional phrase, ". . . women are burning/food they're supposed to bring with calico/smile on platters glittering like wax." This statement is somewhat ironic, because it conveys an image of a very "false" woman, something like a mechanical doll or robot, or even like the flawless "model mom" figure of June Cleaver of the television series "Leave it to Beaver." Not only do we picture a woman in an apron with an artificial smile but Piercy alludes to an apron in her use of the word calico, which was a fabric used to make aprons and perhaps it is still used today. Another meaning of the word calico refers to a cat, which alludes to the Cheshire cat who is famous for his ear-to-ear smile which can give the reader another image in the somewhat sarcastic phrase,
"All over America women are burning
food they're supposed to bring with calico
smile on platters glittering like wax."
Wax is also known to be a very malleable and weak substance, like women were assumed to be at one time, and still are in some societies.
The poem undergoes a change in tone here, from matter-of-fact to angry. This can be seen when the speaker suddenly gives the reader such a strong metaphor as the one shown in the line, "Anger sputters in her brainpan, confined/but spewing out missiles of hot fat." This is also a powerful image of an imprisoned woman who is enraged by the fact that she is not appreciated and demands some honour and respect for what she does on a daily...