Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law by Adrienne Rich: Summary

In the beginning of the poem Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law, the speaker addresses an older woman, her mother-in-law. She repudiates her not only for making her life miserable but also for not making her own life meaningful. The beginning of the poem shows that the speaker’s mother-in-law is an agent of limiting her life and prospects.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

The two women are “you” and “she”. The speaker structures her thoughts according to emotions or experiences. The first four parts of the poem set up the strained relationship between the two women in a series of “snapshots”. The speaker is critical of the fineries and accuses the older woman of a sacrifice of herself in living a superficial life. The mother-in-law is in the prime of her life, but because she chose superficial beauty over developing her intellectual skills, her mind is now “heavy with useless experience, rumor, and fantasy”. The younger woman is critical of the older woman’s lack of the modern feminist consciousness; but she realizes later in the poem that it is counterproductive for a woman to be against another.

The tone of the poem is a mixture of sympathy and outrage toward the woman who is an accomplice in this denial of her own life. In the next section the young woman realizes that she too is losing her personal identity. And her inner voice, the “anger”, incites her to rebellion. In the third stanza the daughter-in-law is characterized as “nervy” and glowering”. She considers her mother-in-law’s uselessness and, in the second part, the younger woman is caught in vignettes, which reveal her dissatisfaction with domestic life. She hears voices or remembers something she had previously read; clearly she is struggling with what she thinks set against what she does as a dutiful daughter-in-law. In the next two parts, the speaker uses a kind of verbal camera to capture the two in snapshots, which depict their conflict.

The next six parts are devoted to the thoughts boiling in the younger woman’s mind. As the poem progresses, the reader begins to sense that the speaker and the young woman share an uncanny resemblance. In fact, towards the end of the poem, “you” and “I” become “we”, and it is then obvious that all along the speaker has been criticizing even herself, for all her failures and self-limitations. The conflict between the mother-in-law and the younger woman in the early part of the poem expresses the latter’s desire to break from the confining conventions. The mother in law’s outworn beauty and the daughter-in-laws fertile intelligence are the main sources of their differences.

The “our” in the part 9 is significant, since it signifies union rather than division. By this time the daughter-in-law has realized that all women have shared more or less the same kinds of experience, and therefore she need not to be so hostile towards the old woman. The “martyred ambition” of all women, then, becomes an important theme for the entire poem. Because the younger woman starts contemplating the literary voices rather than expending energy fighting with the mother-in-law, she embarks on a truly individual project. She demonstrates her emancipation in the second half of the poem by reflecting upon and questioning the value of most of the voices.

The speaker refers to herself as “she” to indicated the difficulty of perceiving herself as an autonomous individual. Her tone at times and, especially in the domestic snapshots of herself, she is extremely self critical. The portrait of the physical woman confined at home is not flattering: she is sullen, even vehement in her actions. The woman’s strength resides in her mind and thoughts, where she rebukes the conventions and hears the orchestration of voices that signify a real need to further her intellectual growth. She is anxious about not making personal progresses despite her potentials.

Cite this Page!

Sharma, Kedar N. "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law by Adrienne Rich: Summary" BachelorandMaster, 17 Nov. 2013,