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Ruth Fainlight
Symbolism, allegory, and irony

week # 10, Part #1 

Most of the symbols in the poem Flower Feet by Ruth Fainlight are descriptive of the shoes that women wore when their feet were bound.  However, they are also descriptive of how a woman's feet must have looked in those shoes.  In line 5 of the poem, the speaker tells us how the soles of the shoes are shaped like hearts, tongues, crescents, and disks.  Although these shapes are usually associated with beauty and nature, it also gives readers an idea of the shape of a woman's foot while in these shoes.  Hearts and crescents might be explaining how the arch of the foot was bent together so tightly.  Feet that look like tongues may be small and narrow, while feet that look like disks might be flat.  The shoes are also described as toys and spectacle cases (line2).  Both of these items are much too small for any real woman's feet, so again, it gives readers an idea of how delicate a woman's feet were these shoes.  The speaker also describes the shoes as objects, rather than shoes, which is interesting because had she called them shoes, it would take away from the picture of absurdity that the readers have in their minds.  In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker tells us how in these shoes, a woman's feet gnawed like fire, describing the burning pain felt.  It is interesting that the writer used fire to describe this, because fire is often destructive, ruining the beauty of nature.  All of these symbols make it easy for readers to imagine the pain associated with foot binding. 

            This poem uses tragic irony in the last stanza throughout lines 11-18.  Although the old woman remembers how awful it was to have her feet bound, she would have made her daughters endure the crippling effects had the times not changed.  There is also some possible dramatic irony in lines 8-11.  Had a woman's foot been cut off and left raw, it most likely would hurt more than broken toes, and the audience knows this, but the speaker does not unless she is being sarcastic. 

            The only possible allegory in this poem is the title, Flower Feet.  Describing a womans feet as flower feet is an allegory because once a woman's feet are bound they become very delicate, much like flowers.  The feet are too delicate for a normal walk, so the woman has to totter (line16).  Skin falls off the woman's feet, and she becomes prone to infection in that area.  Her feet become as weak as a flower.

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Rhythm | Ruth Fainlight Biography and Links | Week 11 and links to web sites. | History of Chinese Foot Binding | Tone; Images; word choice/order; speech | Symbol, Allegory, Irony | Rhyme, Assonance, Alliteration

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