Sounds and Imagery of Human Emotion In Marge Piercy’s “The Secretary Chant”, the author uses images and sound to both dehumanize and mechanize the female speaker, while John Updike uses imagery and sounds to make the “Player Piano” come to life. Piercy uses images of the speaker, connected with various office equipment to give a vision to the reader of a woman living her life through the office equipment that is part of her very being. Piercy uses personification in reverse and other metaphors, such as metonymy, and paradox, to give an actual picture of the office machines actually performing their functions.
And also through the operation of the office equipment attached to the speaker showing her only purpose in life. Sounds are important in “The Secretary Chant as onomatopoeia, alliteration, and the descriptions that show the speaker little by little becoming more mechanized until filed away for another day. Updike also uses personification to make the “Player Piano” come alive. Through rhyme, alliteration, consonance, cacophony, diction, and meter the poem sounds like music. The images that the speaker brings forth when the poem is read out loud, is melodic.
The perfectly played “Payer Piano” only works within the constraints of the human-made machine. John Updike’s poem, “Player Piano” and Marge Piercy’s “The Secretary Chant “convey through sound and imagery the personification and dehumanization of mechanical speakers, with Updike doing a better job by saying that people are irreplaceable because of emotion. The title of Piercy’s “The Secretary Chant” gives a good indication of the list of statements that begin with: “My hips are a desk. From my ears hang / chains of paper clips” (lines 1-3), metaphors that make the reader visualize that the speaker is only a place where office machines connect together to form her purpose at the firm, as an object to perform tasks. The first six lines, as well as, lines eight through thirteen vividly describe in detail where each office supply and machine connects. And, there are, of course, as in any office, a list of things that the speaker would be commanded to do. Would you get me a cup of coffee? Make a copy of this report, please. Have you typed that letter up for my signature?
To me the speaker states a list of things she is comprised of, just like the boss gives her a list of things to perform. And the list continues on and on and on. In the first line the speaker gives the reader a vision that her hips are just a place to put things, when no other work is being performed. The lines paint a picture of the frustration and the monotony the speaker’s body parts have become. Even when the speaker complains: “From my mouth issue canceled reams” (16). The paradoxical complaint falls on deaf ears as if any one would listen to a machine that needs to get back to performing its tasks.
The speaker has become one with her desk, supplies, and office equipment. This goes on to reinforce the theme that the speaker’s only usefulness is to perform the tasks that are asked for the speaker as an object, and as the office machines. Marge Piercy’s “The Secretary Chant “conveys through sound and imagery the dehumanization, while doing a good job of showing emotional frustration with the performance of tasks in the office. Piercy uses sound in two lines “The Secretary Chant” by using onomatopoeia to give the reader’s imagination of the speaker becoming a machine through words that sound like what machines sound like: “Buzz.
Click” (7). And also the cash register sound of: “Zing. Tinkle” (14). The sound of the speaker’s brain frying on overload can be felt through the explicit mental image in the lines: “My head is a switchboard / where crossed lines crackle. ” (9-10). Piercy uses alliteration, To drive home the point, in the last four lines of “The Secretary Chant” in which the speaker breaks down in a hopeless heap of printed emotion copied and delivered from herself saying: File me under W because I wonce was a woman. (21-24)
Piercy visually shows the last true part of the speaker giving up her emotion and placing it only where the reader can find out about by looking somewhere else in the office machine that takes over. Marge Piercy’s “The Secretary Chant” uses sounds to show that human emotion can be filed away and replaced. In John Updike’s “Player Piano” personification is used to wake up an inhuman piano that plays itself, sort of like the poem itself does when read aloud. Updike uses assonance and consonance in the first couple of lines to give musicality to the lines.
The devices are first used with a repetition of “-ick” sounds to mimic the keys on the piano. Onomatopoeia is used throughout the poem to as words make the sounds musically and mimic the “Player Piano. ” The author follows those sounds with a repetition of “-uck” sounds. There are a lot of sound going on in the first stanza, including alliteration internal rhymes, diction and meter with all coming together with the smooth “s” sounds a pleasant melody. Updike uses a connotation for life when the speaker says: “Light-footed, my steel feelers flicker” (line 3).
The connotation of the word flicker means life, as long as the flame is burning and the denotation means to move with a fast or jerky motion. The combination of the two meanings gives the feeling that the piano is alive. John Updike’s poem, “Player Piano” shows through sound and images that the personification of the mechanical speaker is alive and lively. In the second and third stanza build on the personification with the “Player Piano” speaker says: “My paper can caper; abandon (5).
An internal rhyme that suggests that the paper can leap and jump about like it is alive, followed by abandon which adds to the unrestrained movement like someone young and full of energy. Updike uses onomatopoeia, alliteration, internal rhyme and assonance when describing lines five through eight. But there is a little change in the tone when the reader says: “Is broadcast by dint of my din, / And no man or band has a hand in / The tones I turn on from within” (6-8). Dint means force or effort; the speaker’s power of a jumble of loud, discordant sounds, followed by what I think the poem means perfect alone on his own.
This is irony at its best, because the piano was created by a man, the music played, composed by a human. Then, through the speaker saying in the last two lines: “But never my numb plucker fumbles, / Misstrums me, or tries a new tune” (11-12). Cacophony is used on line eleven, lines that are discordant and difficult for a human to pronounce the piano does so with ease and perfection, But it can’t compose anything new, teach itself how to play a new song, play with feeling and emotion. And it is this very human thing that it cannot replace.
John Updike’s poem, “Player Piano” conveys through sound and images the personification of the mechanical speaker is alive, but explains that a machine cannot replace human emotion. In Marge Piercy’s “The Secretary Chant”, the author uses images and sound to both dehumanize and mechanize the female speaker, while John Updike uses imagery and sounds to make the “Player Piano” come alive. Piercy uses images visualizing the speaker’s dehumanization to make some valid thoughts of only being viewed as an object, and only being good at tasks the speaker is hired to perform.
Piercy through sound and description, with vivid detail, became just another task only good for what the job description entailed. The speaker by giving up, because no one listened, showed that humans with emotions can be replaced. “Player Piano” through rhyme, alliteration, consonance, cacophony, diction, and meter make the poem sound and read like music. The images that Updike’s speaker brings forth when the poem is read out loud are melodic and, a perfectly played piano only works within the constraints of the human-made machine.
The best use of sound and imagery goes to John Updike’s “Player Piano. ” Updike through sound and imagery, and the musical feeling shown through the personification of the speaker, conveys that humans with emotion cannot be replaced.
Works Cited Pierce, Marge. “The Secretary Chant. ”The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. 550. Print. Updike, John. “Player Piano. ”The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. 708. Print.