Millay's Relationships in Sonnet xxxi
In his 1967 book, Edna St. Vincent Millay, James Gray writes that "the theme of all her [Millay's] poetry is the search for the integrity of the individual spirit" (Gray 6). While searching for the uniqueness of the individual spirit, Millay's poetry, especially "Sonnet xxxi", becomes interested in how the individual works when it is involoved in a relationship and must content with the power struggles which occur within that relationship. Power struggles occur on many levels, but Millay works in "Sonnet xxxi" with the decision of a partner to deny her individuality in order to provide harmony within the couple. Ultimately, the poem demonstrates that happiness cannot be found when one partner chooses to deny themselves and their individuality.
In "Sonnet xxxi", Millay's woman mentally confronts her husband after he has insulted her intelligence by taking a book away from her and commenting, "What a big book for such a little head!" The woman complies with his insistance that she entertain him by primping and preening in front of the mirror, but she also begins to develop plans for the future. She thinks, "I never again shall tell you what I think," and mentally schemes to the point where she can say, "Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy,/I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me." As Millay's woman thinks about and makes plans to remedy her situation, we become aware of the relationship dynamic that Millay has created between this couple. He wants an unquestioning wife that he can show off, while the woman realizes his desire for her to be pretty and unknowing, but recognizes that she is an intelligent human being with qualities and abilities beyond being his perfect wife. From this point, Millay leaves readers to wonder, what will happen? Her woman is entertained for now by her role as his perfect wife, but we are left to question if there will really come a time that she will leave.
In Millay's woman's predicament, we find the conflict that occurs within the "search for the integrity of the individual...