The Climax of "I Want You Women Up North to Know"

Essay by Laska_plUniversity, Bachelor'sA, July 2005

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Lines 85-97 of Tillie Olsen's first published poem "I Want You Women Up North to Know" contain the climactic turning point of this poem, and the language and form reflect this change. Instead of being humble and disjointed victims who remain mostly anonymous, the workers are transformed into an angry and unified group of distinct individuals. This shift in mood is accomplished by three devices: imagery, grouping, and capitalization of proper names.

The imagery in this passage helps turn the tone of the poem from victimization to anger. In addition to fire images, the overall language is completely stripped down to bare ugliness. In previous lines, the sordidness has been intermixed with cheerful euphemisms: the agonizing work is an "exquisite dance" (24); the trembling hands are "white gulls" (22); the cough is "gay" (25). But in these later lines, all aesthetically pleasing terms vanish, leaving "sweet and ...blood"

(85), "naked... [and]...bony children" (89), and a "skeleton body" (95).

Another way this passage turns the mood of the poem is by using grouping and form to link the workers together, both in inference and appearance. Previously, each worker's situation has been treated as an isolated story, literally separated from the others by a blank line. However, lines 85-97 are crowded together without spaces, suggesting unity by the very appearance of the lines. All of the grievances are briefly repeated, and then a sequence of "ands" binds the one-sentence recaps together. Yet in spite of this sense of solidarity, each person's story is given its own sentence with a period boundary, subtly emphasizing their individual importance: solidarity is acceptable, but anonymity is not.

A final significant device in this passage is the use of capitalization. The proper names of the workers have been sporadically capitalized earlier in the poem,