Just last week in my AP English Literature and Composition class, we read this one particular poem entitled, “The Victims” written by acclaimed poet Sharon Olds, and I feel as though the incredibly moving imagery and relevant content of the poem resonate with the topic of victimization, shedding light on its pitfalls, and bringing to attention to severity of this issue within domestic violence culture and the necessary changes that MUST be made should this universal problem be solved:
When Mother divorced you, we were glad. She took it and
took it in silence, all those years and then
kicked you out, suddenly, and her
kids loved it. Then you were fired, and we
grinned inside, the way people grinned when
Nixon’s helicopter lifted off the South
Lawn for the last time. We were tickled
to think of your office taken away,
your secretaries taken away,
your lunches with three double bourbons,
your pencils, your reams of paper. Would they take your
suits back, too, those dark
carcasses hung in your closet, and the black
noses of your shoes with their large pores?
She had taught us to take it, to hate you and take it
until we pricked with her for your
annihilation, Father. Now I
pass the bums in doorways, the white
slugs of their bodies gleaming through slits in their
suits of compressed silt, the stained
flippers of their hands, the underwater
fire of their eyes, ships gone down with the
lanterns lit, and I wonder who took it and
took it from them in silence until they had
given it all away and had nothing
left but this.
[editors note: this poem originally appears in Olds’ 1984 Collection, “The Dead and the Living” (Knopf)]
Victimization is defined as the action of singling someone out for cruel or unjust treatment. The victimization of both the mother and the speaker (presumably one of the mother’s children) at the hands of the father, who is clearly an alcoholic and most likely is having affairs with his workplace secretaries, is continuous and brutal. “She took it and took it in silence, all those years…She had taught us to take it, to hate you and take it until we pricked with her for your annihilation, Father.” This line proved quite powerful to me, as the quintessential problem surrounding domestic violence and teen dating violence is how very little it is discussed and addressed. If the roughly 1 in 3 (30.3%) women and 1 in 4 (25.7%) men could discover the confidence (which they all DO have!) to speak up and speak out against their respective abusers, potentially through educational programs, seminars, and the like, we, as citizens of a nation, could take positive and constructive steps towards ending domestic violence as well as teen dating violence once and for all.
Long-term, we should be more concerned with promoting healthy relationship behaviors in young people with the goal of creating healthier adults and healthier relationships. As February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and myself and my fellow colleagues at A Woman’s Place have been working hard to plan and to execute various awareness events and campaigns in Central Bucks high schools, it was quite coincidental that I read this poem at the time that I did. I’d advise readers to take a glance at the poem, read it a few times, and absorb the profound effects that the words have. You never know, these words may inspire one of YOU to address the need for change in YOUR community regarding both domestic violence as well as teen dating violence. Together, we can solve these problems. Together, we can address the problems at their sources and END domestic violence and teen dating violence once and for all.
-Alex King, AWP Young Adult Advisory Board (YAAB) Member