Marks By Linda Pastan (Summary & Explanation)

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My husband gives me an A
For last night’s supper,
an incomplete for my ironing,
a B plus in bed.
My son says I am average,
an average mother, but if
I put my mind to it
I could improve.
My daughter believes
In pass/fail and tells me
I pass. Wait ‘til they learn
I’m dropping out.

Poet’s Life and Achievements

Linda Pastan was born in New York in 1932. She was the only child of her parents and she was well brought up. Then, She, like other women poets, chose the ordinary and household topics for her poetry. She wrote poems about her parents. She had an imagination about her parents which one can see after reading her poems. And, She always foresaw her parents in a cordial and warm-hearted relationship and even thought about her father as a surgeon and her mother as the perfect surgeon’s wife and both living together forever.

She began writing poetry quite from an early age and she kept her parents before her eyes when writing poems about them. Since she was a lonely and only child she had limited options to engage herself in healthy activities. She made herself busy reading books and writing short poems. The world of her poems is a world of the people who are closely associated with her life and who had deep imprints on her.

She was declared poet laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995. She has published 10 volumes of poetry. Her latest collection is Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems. Presently, she lives in Potomac, Maryland along with her family.

Her first book, A Perfect Circle of Sun, appeared in 1971 as the fortieth volume in the Swallow Press New Poetry Series. It is a splendid achievement. In these poems, she displays, as Janet Bloom views, “an easy, strong, and direct rhythm; and a gift for observation,” a trait that, along with her talent to craft unforgettable images and her inclination for examining life’s obnoxious feelings, and portrays her subsequent verse. Pakistan considers one of the seasons in each of this collection’s four sections. Her intention is not to comment conclusively on nature, although she does that; rather, she observes the human dispositions and realities that are in contact with various seasons in human life.

Pastan’s poems are elegantly simple and easily understandable but they are equally challengeable to live with. They are marked by arid humor and instances of joy. Pastan often sanctifies what she has called the “mystery of the ordinary”. But what’s typical of Pastan is ambivalence, even apprehension. “My main subject [has been] the possibility of loss that’s always lurking,” she says in a phone interview from her home. She adds, “Not just the possibility, but in my case the expectation.”

Critical Summary

In this poem, the speaker, most probably the poet herself, is not happy with the notion of being always judged and scrutinized for things that she deems very ordinary in their importance. She is fed up with the behavior of people; especially her family members who always appreciate the petty services that she renders for them; and they never see her hidden qualities. She feels really irritated at the people who have assigned her roles that she thinks trivial. Contrary to her expectations, she receives appreciations from her family members just for her performance as a housekeeper, which she abhors.

The metaphor of “marks” also refers to the false appreciations whereby the women are always lured to be used for special roles. Perhaps the poet’s picking of the simple idea of grading, which the schools normally adopt to judge the level of students and declare them failed or successful, conveys the meaning that the women inside a home are considered as mere immature students who are easily befooled by just verbal appreciations. If she is to be judged as a student, she has the right to be dropped out.

The poet is trying to depict a common mother and housewife’s daily struggle to acquire respect for what they do for those close to them. However, ‘dropping out’ doesn’t mean that she will abandon her family for not giving her due respect. What she tries to convey to the readers is that she will no longer agree to the marks she obtains; that she will fight against the system which believes that every mother should take the criticism she receives; and that she feels really perturbed over the limited role she is expected to perform. She is less than pleased with the very idea of constantly being judged and the metaphor of marks (or grades) as a way of talking about her duty of family matters suggests her deep frustration. The catalog of her roles means the many things she is expected to perform.

Evaluation Methods (Poem: Marks)

The three different evaluation methods she shows entails the complexities of multiple rules and principles. She is in no mood to give up but rather tries to convince the others that they should realize the falsity of their thinking and stop judging women for the petty roles they are assigned to. It shows her resolve that she can defeat the system.

Had she wanted to yield to the metaphor the family has thrown on her, she would have done it by killing herself or leaving the family, but she seems to be in her complete senses and simply trying to defeat this system with more humor and satire. The way the poet ends the poem with the humor of “dropping out,” though she won’t and can’t do it, is simply an artistic manifestation of an ironic end. The last line shouldn’t be taken at its face meaning. The speaker actually shows her resolve to fight against these injustices.

This poem also shows the women demanding more than just to be housekeepers. In a way, it also denotes the women’s emancipation from the clutches of the centuries’ old imprisonment and their containment to the affairs of the homes only. She wants excitement. Also, she needs dynamic struggles in life. She wants to be a real-time partner than merely a servant. And why is it titled Marks and not grades? Perhaps she herself is a cutter or that the marks are a symbolism upon her symbolic profile.

The surface message that comes out of the poem is that the woman, out of her desperation, is leaving the family may not be considered as such. The score that she received from her family members is encouraging and she needs not to leave the home or commit suicide. She is a clever lady and she understands how to face such a situation. She would rather try changing this trend and making people realize her importance. Her ‘dropping out” of the race is a mild exaggeration that aims to use it as a pressure tactic. The poem is too good-humored to allow for the dismal analysis of family desertion and suicide. The metaphor of “marks” makes it pleasurable.

Questions

What is the theme of marks by Linda Pastan? What is the tone of the poem marks by Linda Pastan? What is the extended metaphor used in Linda Pastan’s marks? Why did Linda Pastan write marks?

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