Study Guide

Her Kind Quotes

  • Identity

    I have gone out, a possessed witch, (1)

    Could the use of the past tense imply that our speaker can slip in and out of this possessed state? Well, that's a very good question! And it happens to be one that our speaker doesn't choose to resolve.

    I have been her kind (7)

    Here's where this poem gets interesting: it's no longer a statement of individual identity. It's a declaration of collective identity. Our speaker's not alone – and neither are all those other women who feel like they don't quite belong.

    lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. (5)

    Sometimes figuring out how to describe yourself means finding words for all those things that aren't quite so pretty. Notice how the first words, "lonely thing," set us up to dehumanize the speaker. She's not just physically strange or mentally imbalanced – she's actually a more of a "thing" than, say, a person.

    A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
    I have been her kind. (6-7)

    We're continuing with the dehumanizing kick here: our speaker's no longer a "thing," but she's not "quite" a woman. (In that case, what is she? Well, you've got us there, folks.) That's why the refrain packs such a punch – it comes as an assertion of collective identity after our speaker goes to great lengths to distance herself from all the things that we think of as acceptable womanly (or even human) behavior.

    A woman like that is misunderstood.
    I have been her kind. (13-14)

    Hmmm…sound familiar? Sexton moves her speaker into a position of outsider-ness before asserting her unity with that particular form of outsider-ness. There are some small differences between the first stanza and the second, however. For one thing, stanza one takes the speakers' weirdness as a fact. Stanza two shifts perspective slightly – now it's not necessarily the speaker who's categorically crazy. She's just misunderstood. Maybe she's nuts…but maybe it's society that thinks she's nuts. There's a difference.

    A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
    I have been her kind. (20-21)

    Third time's the charm, folks. By the time we've been through this refrain a few times, it starts to sound heroic. Plus, we've moved from what others think about our speaker to what she herself feels about her choices. In a strange way, this is the closest we get to understanding her feelings.

  • Gender

    A woman like that is not a woman, quite. (6)

    What is it that makes someone a woman, exactly? Stating that our speaker is an outsider allows Sexton to trouble the assumption that "women" are all the same.

    A woman like that is misunderstood. (13)

    Notice something funny about these lines? Our speaker doesn't say a "woman like me." Nope, it's a woman "like that." It's almost like she's turning the lines before this one into a case study: here's one example of a woman. And here's another. Notice how they all seem to be ostracized? Hmm...

    A woman like that is not ashamed to die. (20)

    Sexton turns gender into a battleground – one where women are persecuted for…what, exactly? Well, that's part of the power of her statements. Because she never specifies exactly why she's being persecuted, we're left to assume that it's just because she happens to be a woman.

    fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves: (11)

    Sexton combines the utterly routine with the really, really weird in this line. Fixing supper is a pretty traditionally feminine occupation. Fixing dinner for worms and elves? Well, that's not exactly an everyday occurrence. Could this mean that our speaker is slightly more conventional than she seems to be? Or is she deliberately flouting conventional occupations?

    I have ridden in your cart, driver,
    waved my nude arms at villages going by, (15-16)

    "Nude arms" should be sexy, right? Well, not exactly. See, in this line, we get the sense that our speaker been forced to strip (her arms, at least) by the same folks who are planning to burn her at the stake. Forcing her speaker into a display of her body allows Sexton to underscore the ways that gender norms are reinforced by punishing people who dare to break them.

  • Isolation

    I have gone out, a possessed witch,
    haunting the black air, braver at night; (1-2)

    Why might our speaker be braver at night? We get the sense that she enjoys being outside of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It's when she's alone that she can allow her real identity to come out.

    dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
    over the plain houses, (3-4)

    Notice how there don't seem to be any fellow witches in this picture? Our speaker's out there on her own, above all the houses where everyone else is doing their living. Describing the houses as "plain" suggests that they're both normal and, well, boring.

    lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. (5)

    Yup, lonely and isolated are pretty much the same thing. You don't get much more explicit than this, folks!

    A woman like that is misunderstood. (13)

    Lonely, misunderstood – quite frankly, our speaker is a poster child for loners everywhere. Notice how the phrase isn't even "women like that are misunderstood"? Even when she's an example, she's all alone.

    I have found the warm caves in the woods, (8)

    Funny that caves in the woods seem a whole lot more appealing than the "plain houses" of the first stanza. We get the sense that our speaker has to find new places to call home – ones off the grid of the rest of the world.

    fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves: (11)

    Not exactly the party of the year, eh? The fact that our speaker doesn't hang out with humans could mean that she's forming alternate communities – or it could suggest that she's trying desperately to find something to connect with.

  • Society and Class

    dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
    over the plain houses, light by light: (3-4)

    There's something about the "plain houses" which makes our speaker think mean, mean thoughts. We're guessing that that means society as a whole hasn't been particularly kind to her. Plus, the fact that she's going over the houses indicates that she might think she's above them. Get it?

    I have found the warm caves in the woods,
    filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
    closets, silks, innumerable goods; (8-10)

    "Goods" are things that other people provide for us. (After all, it doesn't seem like our speaker is making her own skillets or weaving her own silks.) Could that mean that she depends on society, even as she's choosing to reject it?

    I have ridden in your cart, driver,
    waved my nude arms at villages going by, (15-16)

    Notice how our speaker's never really in a community? She's always outside (or above) them. But she's also always moving – flying or driving – while the rest of the world is standing still.

    survivor
    where your flames still bite my thigh
    and my ribs crack where your wheels wind. (17-19)

    The driver becomes a universalized "you" here, a stand-in for everyone and everything in society who persecutes her.

    I have been her kind. (21)

    Not everyone in the world is part of the world of "plain houses" and hostile "villages." Sexton creates an alternate community with these lines, an entire "kind" of women.