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Blessed Paradise or Man-made Hell Subconsciousness Described by Diving into he Wreck and In the Waiting Room

106501057 Roxy Lian
Reading and Writing II
Professor Corrigan John Michael
Blessed Paradise or Man-made Hell: Subconsciousness Described by
“Diving into the Wreck” and “In the Waiting Room”
Human beings are eager to take control over everything, such as environment,
wealth, relationship……etc. They especially hold tight onto things strongly related to
themselves. Among all the subjects, psychology is the realm that mankind strives to
understand, but remains under the veil to this day; therefore, humans start to imagine
what could be in the place beyond their reach. In Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the
Wreck” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room”, both authors give rich,
imaginative depictions of the subconscious, but they describe this inner realm from
different points of view. The former portrays the exploration of the human mind as an
amazing, colorful and enjoyable adventure, while the latter finds the trauma of the
past painfully haunting present consciousness.
This essay begins by: (I) Showing that both poems engage the same process
which involves going deeper into the mind. Then I focus on the different emotions
these speakers convey as well as the factors affecting the poets’ representation of
subconsciousness: (II) Natural, soothing and artificial, uncanny scenes; (III) The
poets’ opinions on human’s subconsciousness. (IV) The result of two narrators
interact with their subconsciousness images. Eventually the essay will reach a
conclusion: (V) Both the narrators acknowledge their subconsciousness as part of
themselves, but in two different endings: narrator of “Diving into the Wreck” found
the treasure he or she pursues, “In the Waiting Room” has the narrator trapped in the
darkest moments of her life forever.
Human’s mental image can be interpreted in many ways; thus, the curiosity and
exploration never reach an end. Rich’s narrator starts the journey with the book of
myths, and she uses diving as a metaphor, that resembles the process of sinking into
deep depths of one’s mind: “I put on / the body-armor of black rubber / the absurd
flippers / the grave and awkward mask.” (4-7). Then, the narrator begins the
exploration. In Bishop’s poem, the border of reality and mind is vague, but the reader
can merely sense changes in the atmosphere around line 17, when the narrator looks
at the photos: “the inside of a volcano, / black, and full of ashes; / then it was spilling
over / in rivulets of fire.” (17-20). An active volcano gives off an uncanny impression,
when the loop of horror erupts, devour both the narrator and the readers.
Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” portraits mind as an ocean with
natural and vivid colors, but Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room” forces reader
into the cold, black-and-white, traumatic cycle from incidents in real life. The former
makes imagery beautiful and attracting, luring the readers into an underwater safari
consists of blue, green and black, with “something more permanent than fish and
weed” (59-60). Bright colors, ship wreck and creatures such as mermaid fill the poem
with the impression of sea, the most mysterious part of nature. On the other hand, “In
the Waiting Room” uses symbolic such as “It got dark / early” (6-7), “black volcano
full of ashes” and “--I couldn’t look any higher-- / at shadowy gray knees,” (67-68), to
show a scene in gray-scale. When colors other than black, white and gray appears in
this waiting room, they either seem absurd or mix with the gloomy colors to fit in the
surroundings. A narrow space without bright colors and nature which only exists in
magazines imply manufacturing, alienating culture in human society; The
contradiction between young narrator among grown-ups in the room shows fear in the
narrator’s mind.
On the other hand, the poems reflect two authors’ different views on human’s
mind. Rich seems to see subconsciousness as a mysterious field for exciting
adventure: “The words are maps. / I came to see the damage that was done / and the
treasures that prevail.” (57-59). To this narrator, exploring in his or her mind is quite
delightful; he or she will never be afraid of going deeper. However, in Bishop’s
opinion, mind brings up alienation from the past, horrifying as cutting a healed wound
open. She implies the pain in heart with the narrator’s echo as well as Aunt
Consuelo’s toothache:
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo’s voice-not very loud or long.
I wasn’t at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn’t. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me: (36-46).
Not only because of being left along, but also the war happening outside makes
the narrator terrified, he or she is undoubtfully suffering from pressure. This dead loop
encages the narrator, keeps him or her from acknowledging the reality. In Bishop’s
poem, subconsciousness is where nightmare lurks, stalking for its prey. If human falls
into its trap, the only consequence is to be swallowed by trauma from the past.
Lastly, we focus on how these narrators cope with their mental images.
Although both the narrators go through their subconsciousness, their life
experiences result in different outcomes. The narrator of “Diving into the Wreck”
devotes himself/herself into the process, communicates with his/her inner voices:
This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he (71-77)
While going through his/her mind, the narrator understands himself/herself
further, eventually reaches a harmonious state. When the meditation ends, he/she
returns to the reality, the poem stops at the very beginning: the book of myths. This
book not only symbolizes the bizarre adventure’s outset and final destination, but also
implies that the journey goes in cycles; it may happen at any time, as long as the
narrator seeks for more amazing experience. However, the situation is different in
Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room”, the narrator’s heart has been haunted with
despair and isolation. Thus, when “In the Waiting Room” goes back to the same
scene, it does not mean satisfaction, but another repeat of the narrator’s endless
Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918. (94-99)
Obviously, the narrator will fall into her childhood memory from time to time,
but she neither appreciate this process, nor does she have control over her will. Going
through the subconsciousness, the narrator of “Diving into the Wreck” finds
fulfillment, accept himself/herself and become a complete person; unfortunately, the
narrator of “In the Waiting Room” is met with confinement; her mind is a torturous
hell, silently choking her with trepidation.
In conclusion, Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” and Elizabeth Bishop’s
“In the Waiting Room” feature the opposite aspects of mind: fantastic world created
by curiosity, and an invisible jail made from suffering memories. It is pretty amazing
that human brains can either construct an ocean full of permanent treasure, waiting for
human’s ego to dive in and explore; meanwhile, someone else endures his/her trauma,
circling in the days threatened by war, pain and loneliness. In the end of their
journeys, the narrator of “Diving into the Wreck” accepts his/her subconsciousness as
part of ego, waiting for another adventure yet to come; on the other hand, the narrator
of “In the Waiting Room” realizes another round of torture begins. Still, there is no
answer to what subconsciousness exactly looks, or feels like; the poets only show how
different thoughts and experiences affect it. While some people grow afraid of its
unpredictability, it is astonishing as well: when mankind is obsessed with dualism,
that separates good from bad, God from evil, human’s mind is conversely fitting for
both delightful paradise and artificial Hell.
Rich, Adrienne. Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971/1972. W.W. Norton & Company,
Bishop, Elizabeth. Poems. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.