Joy Harjo

A Study Of A Woman Dangling From A 13th Floor Window

June 15, 2022 by Essay Writer

Analysis of “The Woman Hanging From the 13th Floor Window”

In the poem, The Woman Hanging From the 13th Floor Window, you open with a woman hanging on for her life, while contemplating suicide. However intricate and elaborate her story may seem, though, she doesn’t actually exist. Through special wording and vague details, Joy Harjo is able to make readers think they are reading a poem about one single woman, but in actuality the woman doesn’t, nor ever has existed. After reading through to the end of the poem, the reader may realize that the woman was not the focus of the poem, but rather themselves. Such a realization is shocking, especially given the ambiguous ending, but the details of her life are easily construed into personal memories and feelings throughout the stanzas.

The first stanza of this poem begins with the first of many lines to repeat the title. This sets up the mod for the rest of the poem. The next lines, “Her hands are pressed white against the concrete molding of the tenement building” (2-3) gives the reader a sense of distress and worry. Then, the forth line makes the reader begin to question the poem; “She hangs from the 13th for window in east Chicago,” (4) almost all buildings in Chicago or any city that exceed such a number often skip it, in favor of just calling it the 14th floor, or not including any offices or apartments on the floor. The choice of the author to place this woman on the 13th floor then makes the reader question the reality of the rest of the poem, and even offers up the first of many opportunities to offer their own insight and experience into this poem through eyes of the woman.

Although the second stanza is but one line, it gives the reader a bit of information about the woman. “She thinks she will be set free.” (7) This is a common thought for people who contemplate suicide, but it has an almost airy quality in this poem, like it is being said in a gasp of breath in between saying the first and third stanzas, making the notion of being set free a happy thing, even though it would only be achieved through her death. This line also makes the reader wonder what she wants to be set free from, encouraging them to read on, further intrigued by the ambiguity offered in this poem.

In the third stanza, the beginning seems to give this woman a past, an identity, but that is taken away in the next lines as more ambiguous “facts” are given about this woman. The first obvious line from this stanza that seems so strange is “She is her mother’s daughter and her father’s son.” (12) Such a strange split in personality is taken to mean something more than just one woman, but rather anyone, perhaps everyone, in the world who has ever seen themselves as the woman hanging from the 13th floor window. This issue is supported by lines 14 and 15, “She is all the women of the apartment building who stand watching her, watching themselves.”

The forth stanza makes more common experiences seem to be specifically for this one woman and her experiences, but are actually something common, and the reader can relate, possibly without even realizing it. “It was the farther north and she was the baby then. They rocked her,” (17-18) is a very vague line that many people can insert their own memories into the little story. Harjo seems to be writing this poem in a way that is simply vague enough to include many people’s opinions and stories. This line also serves to offer a contrast to the way her young life was happy and warm, while her life as an adult is cold and hard, which is why the woman is contemplating suicide.

In another way, stanza five gives more background, but this time, even though the woman is still referring to a time she was probably a child, she has begun to see the world in a more cynical way, “It is a dizzy hole of water… it just sputters and butts itself against the asphalt.” (20, 22-23) These feelings, even if one has never been to Lake Michigan to see the water “speak softly,” many people can relate to, because they can look back at a time in their life when a once thought kind and beautiful thing has now turned into something that simply is, if not has become something taken over by the rich “living in tall glass houses.” (21) The second part of the stanza is another nod to the Woman being all women, because she “sees other women hanging from many-floored windows counting their lives.” (24-26) She has now changed from being a representation of all women, but has now expanded to each individual woman who has contemplated suicide, and now they may no longer be on the 13th floor, now they are each in their own floors, because these new women exist, whilst the woman of the poem stays on floor 13, because she is not real, and neither is the 13th floor.

In the sixth stanza, the author continues talking about how many women base their worth around their children, where it was also mentioned in the fifth stanza, “She sees other women…counting their lives in the palms of their hands and in the palms of their children’s hands” (24-27) and now the sixth stanza talks about the woman’s “soft belly.” Her heart is also named the lowest part of her that is dangling, which is a result of her possibly losing her children as they grow up. Almost all adult women will relate to the unconditional love of their children, and these lines call for that love to come forth, and place yourself in her shoes, placing your worth on your children, no matter how young or old.

The seventh and eighth stanzas deal with voices the woman hears. Such voices that anyone could relate to; “cats mewling,” “her grandmother’s voice,” “gigantic men of light,” all of which are general and apply to anyone. The gigantic men, for instance, for a religious person, could be referring to angels, which might be why they call for her to “get up, get up, get up” (38) but for a nonreligious person, it could be male authority figures or simply a masculine vision, because they are seen as strong, and that’s what the woman wants to be at this point, to pull herself up; to be “strong.” The next stanza talks about the voices of those below her, some calling for her to fall, and others wanting her to climb back up, bringing this woman to a state of heavy confusion, one that women in her situation would face.

This confusion is continued on into the ninth stanza, where she knows that she is only holding on through her “own thread of indecision.” (48) This could be left open in a way for readers to wonder what they would do, knowing that anyone who has been in her place has been on this same thread, and some women’s snapped, while others’ pulled them up again.

The tenth stanza brings more confusion over her ambiguous character, as it states that she “thinks of all the women she has been, of all men.” (51-52) It brings forth again, who she is or isn’t, and that “she” doesn’t exist at all except in our minds. Again, “she thinks of the color of her skin,” (52) while we know that the author is Native American, she does not give a name for the color, and in the context of the poem, is open to interpretation of any color, white, black, yellow or brown. The rest of this stanza is filled with general memories, noises, sights, and feelings that any and everyone knows.

The last, eleventh stanza, begins again the repetition of the phrase “the woman hanging from the 13th floor window” and also brings back from the fourth and fifth stanzas the feeling of a loved childhood with the line “crying for the lost beauty of her own life.” (61) However, the last few lines are again ambiguous and vague. The author gives the reader the option to “pick” what fate the woman has, but in reality there is no fate at all, because the woman is not a woman, she is you.

The Woman Hanging From the 13th Floor Window is a poem that gives the reader a sense of free will in “controlling” the character, especially in the last few lines of the poem. Because the stories the woman has of her past and the things she feels, they are able to fit their own life into her, and one can realize that this woman, though the focus of the poem is on her, and that she has a “past,” doesn’t exist. The first clue for the is that she is hanging from the 13th floor, which doesn’t exist, and the poem often mentions how she is many people, or has seemingly split personalities. This poem caters to the minds of women who have thought of suicide, inserting things about children, or other things that women often find especially meaningful, but it does offer some experiences and feelings men feel as well. Throughout the poem, Harjo gives the reader chances to include themselves into her story without realizing it, and this leaves people shocked when it is up to them to decide her fate, and then when they also realize that that fate could be theirs.

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