Study Guide

Her Kind Analysis

  • Sound Check

    This is one plain speakin' poem, folks. If you're looking for hysterical rants about the unfairness of life or elaborate philosophical reflections on the role of women in the modern world, you might want to try somewhere else. Then again, "Her Kind" is just a bit more interesting than most of the hysterical rants or philosophical meditations you're likely to come across. Maybe that's because Anne Sexton manages to sound like she's musing to herself and sending out a proclamation to the world all at the same time.

    One of the ways she manages to address the personal and the political at the same time is by crafting stanzas that end with the same line: as you read it aloud, it begins to sound like both a personal mantra and a campaign slogan. (Notice how, when you read the poem, you become the "I" the poem describes? That's one of the oldest tricks in the poetry book, folks. And Sexton is using it to her advantage.)

    There are a few small signs that the poem's sonic qualities have been carefully crafted: notice, for example, how "witch" and "woman" both start with the letter "w," which makes it seem like the words have a natural connection. It's almost as if Sexton is exploiting the ways that this connection points to a larger social pattern of thought. (After all, aren't all women witches?)

    Other than a rather traditional rhyme scheme (see "Rhyme, Form, and Meter" for our thoughts on that), though, Sexton values everyday language over the carefully crafted. Heck, there aren't even that many words with many syllables in this poem! It rolls off the tongue like, well, everyday speech. Maybe that's a way for Anne Sexton to point out how this speaker is as normal as everyone else.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    "Her Kind" is just a repetition of the poem's refrain, right? Well, yes. And also not exactly. For starters, the poem's title doesn't exactly mimic the poem's favorite line. It leaves out the first-person declaration which starts the refrain ("I have been…"). Without the starting words, the title starts to sound more like a third-person reprise of the line. It tricks us into thinking that we're reading about an "I" who's not at all self-reflexive – only to find out at the end of the first stanza that she's actually very aware of who she is and how others see her. It's the difference between staring at someone through a one-way mirror and watching someone stare at themselves in the mirror. We're not necessarily the audience in this poem – our speaker is. We just happen to be brought along for the ride.

    The title of this poem doesn't exactly give anything away. We know that we're going to learn about the community in which our speaker lives – except, well, we don't ever encounter real-life people. In fact, the only people that our speaker discusses may or may not be elaborate conceits for her own identity. (Want to know what a "conceit" is? Check out our "Symbols, Imagery, and Wordplay" section for answers.)

  • Setting

    The Outskirts of the Known World

    We know that there are some links to our everyday existence in this poem, but our speaker positions herself as an outsider looking in. When everyone else is hunkered down in their neat little houses, our speaker charts new courses over the skies and into the wilds. We never get around to roaming the streets of her world – probably because she herself is too busy avoiding them.

    Sexton blends fantasy with social reality to produce a curious mix of known and unknown landscapes. (Hey, if you think this isn't enough fantasy for you, check out Transformations, her collection of poems re-writing Grimm's fairy tales.) Perhaps that's because she enjoys thinking about worlds populated by witches, worms, and elves. Then again, maybe Sexton's making a subtle point about the worlds where strong, independent women can live…they don't quite exist yet. At least, not outside of the realm of fantasy. Depressing? You betcha.

  • Speaker

    Our speaker doesn't ever give us her name – but that doesn't mean that she's "every woman." In fact, she's anything but a Jane Doe. She's an outsider, a social misfit – and a defiant one, at that.

    One thing is for sure, though: our speaker has a lively imagination. Even though she casts herself as a loner, she's able to imaginatively connect with all sorts of other outsiders. Sure, they're all women who break traditional molds. But don't let her emphasis on her lonesomeness fool you – this woman is able to sympathize, to connect with others, even if those connections seem a little strange.

    Other than that, there's a heck of a lot we don't know about our speaker. What does she look like? How old is she? Where is she from? Well, we can't tell you. And if you can't find it here, folks, don't even bother looking other places. Frankly, we're pretty sure that pseudo-anonymity is actually just what our speaker wants. See, without all of the details which would tie her down to a specific identity, a specific life, she could be…anybody. Like the woman sitting right next to you. Or even like you.

  • Tough-O-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    Nice, easy language and soothing rhymes make this poem a walk in the park. Heck, Sexton even repeats the syntax of stanza one in stanzas two and three! Besides a few oblique (and maybe obscure) references to witch hunts and the Inquisition, which might require a brief trip to Shmoop History for some explanations, "Her Kind" makes it pretty easy on readers.

  • Calling Card

    Personal Emotional Honesty

    Anne Sexton's known as a confessional poet for good reason: she's got no problem laying her life and her emotions on the line for her readers. Heck, just about every line in this poem includes an "I" in there somewhere, which is a pretty good clue as to how willing the speaker of this poem is to discuss her life.

    Sure, folks have railed on Sexton for laying her life bare – but if our love affair with Twitter updates and Facebook status posts is any indication, she's not the only one. In fact, in many ways, Sexton's confessional style is a precursor to our modern obsession with self-help and self-expression. Sure, she wrote in the '60s and '70s – but this was a poet who could see the future.

    Don't confuse Sexton's emotional honesty with goopy, smarmy, soap opera-like tell-alls, though. There's a wry, ironic, and occasionally hostile tone to her work. After all, in this poem, society's part of the reason that she's an outsider. And there's a good chance that her readers are, well, part of society. We've got to admit, it makes her emotional disclosures a whole lot more interesting.

  • Form and Meter

    One-off

    A poem about a woman who exists outsides the boundaries of "normal" life? Why in the world should that have regularized form or meter? Exactly. That's what we thought, too.

    In a lot of ways, this poem's form is just one step away from being regular. Sure, it has a rhyme scheme. It even has regularly repeated phrases – like, say, "I have been her kind." But these repetitions just give the illusion of formal regularity.

    …and that's where things get interesting. See, the poem is almost in tetrameter. That's a fancy word for a poetic line that has four regular beats and eight syllables (da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM). Funny thing is, most of its lines have NINE syllables. 

    And then there's the fact that there are rhymed lines in each stanza – but there are seven lines. (For those of you who haven't been counting, that's one more line than you usually need to wrap up the rhyme scheme with a neat six or eight lines.) Here's the official rundown: ABABCBC. See, any time you have an odd number of anything, it seems like things are a little off balance. There's one lonely line in each stanza. It makes things seem just a tiny bit off kilter, don't you think?

    Remember how we said that this poem is about coloring just outside the lines? (See what we have to say about the "Speaker" or in the "Detailed Summary" for some more thoughts on that.) Sexton makes sure that her money (or, in this case, her form) is where her mouth is. No coloring within the lines for her. No, ma'am. The funny part is that she plays close enough to the lines to make us do a double-take. This poem's got all the eerie overtones of formal regularity…but scratch beneath the surface, and it's a whole new deal.

  • Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

    Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

    Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble….

    Witches haven't exactly played the heroines in recent history. Or, well, ever. (OK, aside from in Wicked.) Pretty much since Shakespeare created three hags plotting evil and hexing the future, witches have played starring roles in all sorts of bad, power-hungry, creepily terrifying plots. With all that power, though, comes some pretty nasty consequences – remember the house dropping on the Wicked Witch of the East? Or the good ol' spear-to-the-gut that the Sheriff of Nottingham's witch takes in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves? Anne Sexton is deliberately drawing from the oh-so-rich history of witches, magic, and power when she chooses to describe evoke the rich imagery of witchcraft. Witches are powerful. They can be scary. And they're persecuted. Sound like anyone else we know?

    • Line 1: Allowing the speaker to describe herself as a "possessed witch" sets the tone for the imagery which will control the first stanza.
    • Line 2: Oh, boy, are the images stacking up: "haunting" the "black air"? That's totally witch's work!
    • Line 3: You've got to be kidding…an image a line? Well, yes, folks, that's what we're saying. After all, "dreaming evil" is one of those things that witches do…isn't it?
    • Line 5: We've got three little words for you: imagery, imagery, imagery. A "lonely thing, twelve-fingered"? We don't know about you, but when we hear words like that, we start imagining broomsticks in the air.
    • Line 7: By the time that our speaker gets to the last line of the first stanza, the imagery we're reeaaaallllly familiar with starts to get a bit interesting. See, by claiming to "have been her kind," our speaker takes a step back from the woman she's been describing. The witch is not just an image any longer: she's a metaphor for every woman who happens to share her feelings and position in life. And heck, since the metaphor lasts for pretty much the entire poem, we feel pretty safe calling it a conceit – that's a fancy term for an extended metaphor.
    • Line 11: We've got to admit, Sexton knows how to paint a captivating picture. The image of our speaker fixing "suppers for the worms and the elves" seems like the sort of thing we'd see on the front of children's storybooks.
    • Lines 15-19: The last stanza plays through the conceit of woman-as-witch by exploring the downright nasty fate that witches have faced in the past. Sexton throws in allusions to burnings at the stake (a fairly common practice way back when) and the inquisitions convened by the Roman Catholic Church, which adds a good dose of eerie reality to the mix.

    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!

    Repetition of words, phrases, or syntax allows Sexton to hammer home her points with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer. This poem is built around one central refrain: "I have been her kind." Heck, even the title makes use of it. Such a tight structure helps to craft the sense of a speaker with a very definite sense of herself. She doesn't waffle on the words or phrases that she uses to describe herself. She finds a good phrase, and then she sticks with it.

    • Lines 1, 8, and 15: Starting the first line of each stanza with the repeated phrase "I have" makes the poem something of a declaration. Sexton is defining (and re-defining) her speaker's identity with every stanza – and she does so with no holds barred. She's confident about who she is and who she's been. Repetition reinforces that.
    • Lines 5 and 13: Each stanza builds an image of our speaker's vision of herself…but the fifth line of stanzas one and two turns this image on its head. Line 5 offers a critical description of the character built up in lines 1-4: "out of mind" and "whining," this creature ain't exactly pretty. We're not even sure we'd want to meet her. And the repetition of this shift in perspective sets up a predictable rhythm in the poem's emotional trajectory.
    • Lines 7, 14, and 21: Since we're speaking of repetition, we should mention that the last line of each stanza becomes the poem's refrain – they're identical lines.
    • Sex Rating

      G

      OK, so there are some bare arms in this poem. But unless a little elbow turns you on, this poem is pretty tame. And maybe that's intentional. After all, if you count up all the sexy witch costumes on sale around Halloween, you might get the impression that witchiness is purely a sex symbol. But that's not what our speaker wants to discuss. After all, but women have been reduced to simple sex symbols for, well, a rather long time now. And maybe – just maybe – that's why Sexton chooses to explore the aspects of the female outsider who isn't reducible to her sexuality.