Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word heal as “…to restore to health, or …to mend”. This involves a process whereby the item that is “broken” is put back together to a better shape or to its original form.

Figure 1

In the poem “Women”, the author Adrienne Rich, portrays her three sisters as follows:
My three sisters are sitting
On rocks of black obsidian
For the first time, in this light, I can see who they are.

My first sister is sewing her costume for the procession
She is going as the Transparent Lady
And all her nerves will be visible.

My second sister is also sewing
At the seam of her heart which has never healed entirely
At last, she hopes the tightness in her chest will ease.

My third sister is gazing
At a dark-red crust spreading westward far out on the sea
Her stockings are torn, but she is beautiful (899).


From this poem, the author sets a dull theme through the three sisters who seem to have gone through some kind of “tear” in their lives. The author uses symbolism to show this by the fact that the first two sisters are sewing, each sewing a different thing. Additionally, Rich presents the three sisters sitting on a black obsidian rock (899). This is another great use of symbolism because the obsidian rock is usually found in areas that have had recent volcanic activity (Geology). Rich relates the recent volcanic activity to the tears that the three sisters have gone through. The reader is led to believe that through their experiences, the three sisters have hidden their real selves even from the author. This is because in the last line of the first stanza the author says she will finally see who the three sisters really are (Rich 899).

Healing Process

As the three sisters sew, they are individually making attempts to heal their wound. However, from the author’s point of view, the first sister is at the point where she can finally express her anger. Even though it may not seem like much progress to the reader, this is indeed a positive direction toward healing. According to Kubler-Ross’ theory, when one is recovering from some pain-causing situation, he/she goes through five steps:
· Denial
· Anger
· Bargaining
· Depression
· Acceptance (Buglass 45).

Figure 2
Figure 2
Therefore, the first sister is in the anger stage, which is the second step towards healing. On the other hand, the second sister is hoping that the chest tightness she has been experiencing will finally go away. Like her sister, she is also making the effort alone, trying to overcome the loss or pain she feels. Last but not least, the third sister is not sewing, even though she has a tear on the stocking she is wearing. Instead, she is gazing far out in the sea (899). Rich refreshes the reader’s memory by depicting the third sister as having a new “tear”, and one that will probably need sewing sometime down the road. According to the theorist Kubler-Ross, the third sister is depicting signs of being in the first stage of grieving, which is denial. Instead of focusing on the tear she has on her leg, she is gazing away, and ignores her own problems. The reader is also led to the notion that the third sister may not actually believe that she has gone through a devastation that needs care.

Aided Healing or Self-Help

Rich makes the reader wonder why the women are going through the healing process on their own, instead of having friends, family, or professionals helping them. It is possible that the three women see their hurts as personal and ones they cannot burden others with. Also, they might have accepted the fact that “there is a time for everything…a time to kill and a time to heal…a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to tear and a time to kill…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Another possibility is that the women are using what is readily available to them as a means of coping with the pain they have endured. As Otto says, sewing is something that women have done since

Figure 3
hundreds of years ago (6). Therefore, it might come naturally to the sisters to get into sewing in an attempt to ease their pain or as they try to cope.

Impaired Healing

Rich implies that the first and second sisters have had the need to mend their “broken hearts” for awhile, but they have not achieved complete healing. As the reader, one relates these two women to today’s society where so many people have endured hurtful situations and have never gone beyond the hurt. But like is the case of the two sisters, several factors might contribute to this impaired healing:
Ø Lack of other available resources and hence resorting to using what is currently available. The sisters use sewing, but it is not fully effective.
Ø Lack of support. The two sisters are depicted as each sewing her own garment, with no interaction or presence of other people to help them.
Ø Social isolation. The author is now able to see who her three sisters really are. The second sister is also shown letting out her anger through the statement “her nerves will be visible” (899).
Through reading this poem by Rich, the reader gets in the shoes of the hurting sisters, and hence the hurting people in today’s world that are attempting to get healing. It is an eye opener for the reader to see the problems impairing the healing process and to help those stuck in the process. The author also depicts that self-help to aid in healing is a positive step, but when optimum results are not attained, one should seek help from elsewhere.

Works Cited
Buglass, E. “Grief and Bereavement Theories.” Nursing Standard. 24.41(2010) 44-47. >EBSCO.
Daniel, Lillian. "The cracked vase." Christian Century 08 Aug. 2006: 31. Academic Search Complete. 11 Mar. 2011. EBSCO.
Figure 1 image from achristianhome.org.
Figure 2 image from flickr.com
Figure 3 image from zazzle.com
Geology. “News and Information About Geology.” April 21, 2011. Web.
Merriam Webster Dictionary. April 21, 2011.
New International Version. Ed. Chuck Swindoll. Dallas, TX. 1999.
Rich, Adrienne. “Women.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, 11th Edition. Longman. 899. Print
Rank, Otto. "Conquering Cities and “Conquering” Women: A Contribution to the Understanding of Symbolism in Poetry." Political Psychology 31.1 (2010): 6-19. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 11 Mar. 2011. EBSCO.
Upton D, Soloweij, K. “Pain and Stress as Contributors to Delayed Wound Healing.” Wound Practice and Research. August 2010: 114-122. EBSCO.