Study Guide

Her Kind Themes

  • Identity

    Any time a poem starts and ends every single stanza with the words "I have," chances are that it's all about the speaker. It's a declaration. A manifesto. A standing-on-the-mountain-tops-and-shouting-really-loud sort of announcement. The fact that our speaker in "Her Kind" has to go to great (and even fantastic) metaphorical lengths to describe her identity suggests that perhaps the words to describe her sense of self within the real world haven't yet been invented.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Is the poem's speaker proud of who she is? How can you tell?
    2. What words would you use to describe the speaker's sense of self?
    3. Is our speaker an anonymous one? Why or why not?
    4. Do you like the speaker of this poem? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    This speaker is proud of who she is, because she devotes her time to describing her world rather than the world of others.

    This speaker is acutely aware that she is an outcast.

  • Gender

    Here's the thing about witches: they're all women. Ever notice how there are no men jumping around boiling cauldrons these days? Or, um, ever? Well, that's probably why Anne Sexton in "Her Kind" chooses to exploit the image of a purely fictional, purely female figure as the symbol of all the things that people fear about women. That, folks, is a not-so-subtle way to break open a conversation about all the other stereotypes which have been tacked onto women over the course of history. Believe us, there are more than a few. More importantly, though, Sexton stakes a claim to both the scariness and the strength of her images. Women aren't always sweet. Sometimes they're scary. And that can be a good thing.

    Questions About Gender

    1. What sort of picture of women does this poem create?
    2. Do you think that this poem is about all women or just the strange ones? What in the poem leads you to this conclusion?
    3. Do you think that this poem describes women from a specific time period? (Does it seem dated now? Why or why not?)

    Chew on This

    The poem depicts women as being healers and helpers.

    This poem is about all women, for the speaker says she has “been her kind,” suggesting that she is no longer “her kind” but has evolved into something else.

  • Isolation

    The funny thing about breaking boundaries is that you're often doing it on your own. The speaker of "Her Kind" seems to like things on her own – or maybe she just feels that she has no choice. After all, when you're trying to build your own world in caves, chances are that you're probably running away from something back there in the regular workaday world. The fact that there's no one responding to her declaration of unity makes even her claim of solidarity ring just a little bit hollow. It's not a chorus. It's a solo act. And those can be lonely.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Does the refrain make our speaker seem less or more isolated? Why?
    2. Our speaker describes herself as a witch. Can you think of other descriptions of women which cast them as outsiders?
    3. How does the seven-line stanza contribute to the sense of isolation in this poem?
    4. How does our speaker feel about her isolation? Is she resigned? Angry? Happy? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    The refrain makes our speaker seem less isolated. The fact that she constantly repeats the phrase “her kind” suggests that she is proud of “her kind,” that she wants to tell the world about this kind of woman.

    The speaker is proud of the fact that she has endured her isolation.

  • Society and Class

    Even those people who think that they're all on their own have to reckon with the rest of the world someday. Come to think of it, that's exactly the dynamic that this poem enacts: from swooping over rooftops to being carted to the stake, our speaker moves from solitude into forced society. We can't say that she'd choose either one, but we're guessing that loneliness is a good deal better than the society that condemns her for being herself. Although "Her Kind" presents itself as the life story of a single person, it's also about the social forces which have shaped that person into the angry outcast she now is.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. How would you describe the society in which our speaker lives? Can you tell what makes it repressive?
    2. With whom does our speaker identify?
    3. Why do you think that the only other person in this poem is the driver? What role does he/she play?
    4. Who is the "you" in the third stanza? What is their role in the poem?

    Chew on This

    Our speaker identifies with those who are like “a possessed witch.”

    The world in which our speaker lives is a brutal, violent one where others’ “flames” bite her “thigh.”