An Analysis of Plenty by Isabelle Dixon
Dixon’s poem Plenty shows the relationship between a mother and her five daughters which, on a wider horizon could be taken as a relationship between adults and children. The poet starts by telling us that they used to run ‘riot’ and this was more than the mother could cope with. We are not told whether the behaviour was meant to annoy the mother or it was just a normal prank played and enjoyed by children. The situation in stanza is not a pleasant one as the poet gives us a grim picture of the situation they had to cope with.
Water was a rare commodity and because of that they could not afford the luxury of filling the ‘old enamel a tub’ which we are told was ‘age-stained’ and rusty. The reason for that is given in stanza two where the poet explains that there was persistent drought and dams were dry and ‘windmills stalled. ‘ The most interesting thing about the description here is that she compares her mother’s smile to the stalled windmill and the dry dam. One gets the impression that even though the mother was smiling it lacked the warmth of a genuine smile.
We are also made to understand that such a smile almost always came when she had done something wrong. She continues to tell us that her mother smiling at their faults was a ploy to keep them from being chaotic or mischievous. What we learn from this is that the mother did not do anything to scold the children perhaps because she knew shouting and ranting was not going to work. We are told that this situation was on-going. Added to all this was the fact the mother had to worry about how to provide the bare necessities of life for her children and ensure that there was food on the table. Read also Critical appreciation of the poem “Old Ladies’ Home”.
It was not a cheerful situation because ‘each month was weeks too long. ‘ This gives me the impression that the mother had to the hard work of ensuring whatever little money she had could be sufficient for the month but this was not the case. ‘Her mouth laid clamped hard on this’ shows us that the mother did not talk this aspect of her worries. She did not want the children to worry because she was worrying about how she was going to feed them. The first four stanzas paint a grim picture and describe a period of want when everything, including water, was in short supply.
However, even though the situation was grim the mother made sure she bore everything in silence and concentrated on how to make her children happy. By not scolding them unnecessarily and by being gentle with in times of misbehaviour she was able to cope. Stanza five begins with a litany of the pranks the poet and her sisters used to play. They ‘skipped chores’ and when the mother was not near they indulged in the ‘lovely sin’ of filling the bath beyond the recommended limit given by their mother. However, stanza five is also a discovery for the poet.
She tells us that as children they did not understand why their mother had to impose those water restrictions or why she had to bother about every little prank they played. ‘We thought her mean’ is enough to tell us that she has realized this. Stanza seven echoes the title of the poem as we are told how water is no longer in short supply. The poet can afford to stay in the bath for as long as she wishes and can fill the tub to the brim if she so wishes. The ‘now’ at the beginning of the stanza tells us that the poet’s situation has changed.
Unlike the past she is no a ‘sybarite’ and devotes herself to luxury. It is as if she is saying making up for all the luxury she lost in childhood. The metaphor ‘The shower’s a hot cascade’ describes vividly the poet’s feeling. She is comparing the shower to water fountain and not only that it is hot. She can even afford to leave the heating on. The last stanza begins with a feeling of nostalgia. The poet misses her sisters who, we can confidently say, are no longer staying with their mother. They have all moved on and perhaps enjoying the luxury of a filled bath tub.
She even misses her mother’s smile. Unlike in the past the mother’s smile is full of mirth because the ‘lean dry times’ are over. We get the impression that their mother’s suffering was due to their long childhood and now that they are able to fend for themselves most of the problems have gone. The mother is now happy and does not have to worry about a month which was ‘weeks too long. ‘ A casual reading of the poem will make the reader think it is a reminiscence of someone’s childhood experiences. But underneath this surface lies the themes and messages the poet puts across.
We learn that patience can help us deal with a lot of life’s everyday problems. Instead of adults taking their frustrations onto their children they should learn to cope with these frustrations. We also learn from the mother’s reactions to the children’s behaviour that children must be allowed to be children and occasionally brought onto the straight path when necessary. The mother did not do anything that would have driven the children away from home. She did not blame the children for the fact that she could not afford a luxurious for herself and the children.
What she did is what every parent should learn: she accepted her responsibility as a parent and understood that the children did not negotiate with her to come into the world. Her responsibility was to provide the physical, biological and emotional needs of her children. It is also good that poet later realised the mother was not being mean after all. This is also a very important message for the youth of today. They should understand that every parent wants the best for their children and even though they may see some of the decisions taken by adults as harsh in the long run it is for their own benefit.