Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law by Adrienne Rich: Critical Analysis

Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law by Adrienne Rich is a pungent feminist poem in which Rich explores multiple facets of a woman's life, inflicted with sorrows and male exploitation. The title itself hints at discontinued, disorderly photographs of a woman, daughter-in-law, the relation dominantly linked with son. Rich has deliberately selected daughter-in-law not sister or daughter in order to disclose a position of a woman who has hardly lived as an independent daughter but a dependent daughter-in-law. It is mainly about anxiety of a modern woman.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

The poem creeps from experiences of a woman at her house working continuously throughout the days, serving her husband with her body at night, continuing a routine, monotonous life by sacrificing her wishes, ambitions and cheers – then it moves towards a revolutionary tone and encourages woman to be bold and to demand her rights, declare independence from family fetters. Towards the end, the poem explodes into a devastating weapon for the might and right of woman.

Rich hopes that a community of women will not only resist crippling effects of patriarchy but will also create an atmosphere in which women have economic, political and social equality as men enjoy. She laments for the waste of energy in a society that values women not for experience but for beauty. Though the daughter-in-law’s mind is fertile she has not yet been able to utilize it. Her frustration is revealed in snapshots of her “banging the coffee pots in sink.”

The overall structure of the poem depicts photographs attached together displaying several images of a daughter-in-law. The speaker in the outset of the poem addresses mother- in-law. The speaker in the outset of the poem addresses mother-in-laws reminding her of the latter’s youth desires, fancies. The second stanza unearths the present behavior of the mother-in-law, when she is rich in experiences of conjugal life which shattered her premarital fantasies and wises yet she is inconsiderate about the rotating sorrowful life of the woman being experienced by her daughter-in law who sinks into the life of hardships.

The poem assumes a momentum towards aggressiveness in the second part. Supernatural elements have been brought in order to provoke a psychological strain of the woman, daughter-in law. Here ‘angels’ represents her “conscience” that warns her that she must not delay to stake her concern and snatch right and freedom. Third part of the poem pictures daughter-in-law in her bed where she in an object to satisfy her husband’s physical hunger. She is surrounded by so-called social customs and superstitions. She struggles to avoid imposed pain but fails. Form line 33 to 39, Rich thrusts ironical arrows against an experienced woman who has undergone severe sufferings yet attempts to inflict those troubles upon the junior ones. After all they are same -“masemblable, ma soeur!” Both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, despite knowing each other closely fail to respect each other, rather plunge in conflict bent to injure each other. Both of them are “iron eyed and beaked and purposed as a bird” (this line compares woman with a delicate caged bird” (which has nothing of its own nor can it keep anything secret since it has to dust everything on the what not every day of life’).

Adrienne Rich becomes critical also about the treatment of one woman towards another.

Part five criticizes a surrounding in which a woman is obsessed to beauty and modesty. Woman’s life is limited within the world where she can be a show piece, an object of beauty. The woman is so much stripped off rights that she has to borrow even words and music from men while singing her own song. Rich laments on the loss of woman’s authority and language, woman’s existence lies merely in physique not in spirit.

Woman, a frail bird lives in a cage and fertilizes sorrows and is eventually buried under them. Rich impatiently asks the daughter-in-law to be active, conscious and revolutionary. Love is a chain that keeps her at home and she spends her whole efforts to carry out assigned household works. The last question of this stanza is rhetorical as the speaker asks the daughter-in-law if only she not her husband has been shown household books by the Nature. This question asserts on the equal responsibility of man and woman.

The pictures from the life of this daughter-in-law make up for the kind of life that many women were at the time living. They show the situation in which women are bound by expectation that make her not only the passively wounded, but also the active wounder of the self. The focus of consciousness in the poem is the young woman who is aware of the forces that limit her and other women; and there is a gradual progression from her feeling of restriction, helplessness, and subdued range towards a hop for change.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law by Adrienne Rich: Critical Analysis" BachelorandMaster, 19 Oct. 2013,