A Work of Artifice: ICSE Class 9 English poem notes

A Work of Artifice icse class 9
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Get notes, line-by-line explanation, summary, questions and answers, critical analysis, word meanings, extras, and pdf of the poem A Work of Artifice by Marge Piercy which is part of ICSE Class 9 English (Treasure Chest). However, the notes should only be treated for references and changes should be made according to the needs of the students.

Line-by-line explanation of the poem

The bonsai tree in the attractive pot could have grown eighty feet tall on the side of a mountain till split by lightning.
This line introduces the bonsai tree, which could have grown to a great height in its natural environment. The tree’s potential growth is cut short by the artificial environment of the pot, symbolizing the societal constraints placed on women.

But a gardener carefully pruned it. It is nine inches high.
The gardener represents society, which carefully shapes and restricts the growth of the tree (or woman) to fit a certain aesthetic or expectation. The tree’s height, just nine inches, emphasizes the extent of this restriction.

Every day as he whittles back the branches the gardener croons, It is your nature to be small and cozy, domestic and weak;
The gardener’s daily pruning and his words reflect societal expectations that women should be small, domestic, and weak. This line criticizes the way society often justifies gender roles as “natural”.

how lucky, little tree, to have a pot to grow in.
The pot, while providing a place for the tree to grow, also limits its growth. This reflects the societal view that women should be grateful for their domestic roles, even though these roles can be restrictive.

With living creatures one must begin very early to dwarf their growth: the bound feet, the crippled brain, the hair in curlers, the hands you love to touch.
The poem concludes by drawing parallels between the bonsai tree and various ways in which women’s growth and potential have been historically limited, such as foot binding, intellectual stifling, and objectification.

Word meanings

Bonsai tree: A small tree that is grown in a container and is prevented from reaching its full size by the careful pruning of its roots and branches. It’s a Japanese art form.

Attractive pot: A pleasing or appealing container. In the poem, it symbolizes the societal constraints placed on women.

Pruned: Cut off or removed parts of (a tree, bush, or plant), especially to encourage better shape or growth.

Whittles back: To reduce something in size, amount, or extent by a gradual series of steps.

Croons: Hum or sing in a soft, low voice, especially in a sentimental manner.

Domestic: Relating to the running of a home or to family relations. In the poem, it refers to the traditional role of women in the home.

Dwarf their growth: To stunt or inhibit the growth or development of something.

Bound feet: A reference to the historical practice in China where women’s feet were tightly bound from an early age to keep them small. It’s used here as a metaphor for societal restrictions on women.

Crippled brain: A brain that is unable to function fully or at its full potential. In the poem, it refers to the intellectual stifling of women.

Hair in curlers: A reference to traditional beauty standards and the effort women put into maintaining their appearance.

Summary of the poem

The poem opens with an image of a bonsai tree, which could have reached a towering height of ‘eighty feet’ if it had been allowed to grow freely on a mountaintop until it was struck by lightning. However, it has been kept small and confined in a pot, with a gardener meticulously pruning it to ensure it remains a mere nine inches tall. The gardener joyfully sings to the bonsai that it is its nature to be small and cozy, domestic and weak and thatit is lucky to have a pot to grow in.

At this juncture, it becomes clear that the bonsai tree symbolizes women who are oppressed by men in a male-dominated society. The gardener (representing the men) seems to tell the bonsai (symbolising the women) that she should consider herself fortunate to be in a home, performing domestic tasks, as she is small and weak. Just as the pot shields the bonsai from the ‘lightning strike’, the home safeguards the woman from all external adversities.

The poet, with a touch of sarcasm, indicates that just as the gardener must start early to keep the bonsai small, men or society must start early to stunt the growth of women – physically, mentally, and spiritually – and prepare them for preordained roles such as curling their hair to appear attractive or binding their feet to keep them small. The final two lines ironically suggest that while men inhibit women’s growth, they still seek admiration and comfort from them.

Critical analysis of the poem

The title of the poem, ‘A Work of Artifice,’ immediately grabs your attention. The word ‘artifice’ means ‘trickery’ or ‘sneaky tricks,’ which gives us a hint about the deeper meaning of the poem. As you read the poem, you realize it’s not just about a bonsai tree that’s constantly trimmed by a gardener to look pretty in a pot, safe from ‘lightning.’ The bonsai tree actually represents all women who are unfairly treated and controlled in a society where men have more power.

Just like the plant is stuck living in a pot, a woman is often stuck within the four walls of her home, doing housework and thinking it’s her job to be small, weak, and domesticated. This is because she’s been ‘conditioned’ or trained from a young age to think this way.

The gardener, who could be a husband, a father, or any man, is happy to limit the woman’s growth. He makes sure that the woman happily accepts her role in society. She’s made to look attractive to men by curling her hair and binding her feet.

The last two lines are pretty ironic. The man who limits the woman still wants her to show him love and affection!

Through this poem, Marge Piercy expresses her sadness for women who accept the roles given to them by a society where men have more power, without questioning or protesting. In many cases, the woman doesn’t even realize the sneaky tricks used to make her a pretty decoration in the house, an object owned by her man. She doesn’t know that her growth in all areas of life is being constantly limited to stop her from demanding equal rights and freedom.

The poem, like a story with a hidden meaning, can be understood in two ways – literally and metaphorically. The beauty of the poem lies in the clever use of words and irony.

Themes of the poem

Oppression and Limitation: The poem uses the metaphor of a bonsai tree, which is carefully pruned and kept small, to represent the oppression and limitations placed on women in society. Just as the bonsai tree is confined to a pot, women are often confined to certain roles and spaces.

Societal Expectations and Conditioning: The poem discusses how society conditions individuals, particularly women, from a young age to conform to certain expectations. This is represented by the gardener who starts pruning the bonsai tree early to keep it small.

Gender Roles and Inequality: The poem criticizes the traditional gender roles that expect women to be domestic, weak, and small. It highlights the inequality in society where women are expected to be nurturing and attractive for men, even when their growth is being stunted.

Freedom and Growth: The bonsai tree, which could have grown eighty feet tall in the wild, symbolizes the potential for growth and freedom that is often suppressed in individuals, particularly women. The poem encourages readers to question societal norms that limit this growth and potential.

Irony and Criticism of Patriarchy: The poem uses irony to criticize patriarchal society. The gardener, who represents the oppressive forces in society, limits the growth of the bonsai tree while still expecting it to be beautiful and nurturing. This reflects the irony of expecting women to be nurturing and loving while limiting their growth and potential.

Figure of speech

Metaphor: This is when you describe something by saying it is something else. In this poem, the bonsai tree is a metaphor for women. Just like the bonsai tree is kept small and confined, women are often kept in certain roles and places.

Irony: Irony is when the actual meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning. In the poem, the gardener (representing men) limits the growth of the bonsai tree (representing women) while still expecting it to be beautiful and nurturing. This is ironic because the gardener is preventing the tree from reaching its full potential, yet he still wants it to be beautiful.

Imagery: Imagery is when the poet uses words to create a picture in your mind. The poem uses imagery when it describes the bonsai tree being pruned and kept in a pot, which helps you visualize the situation.

Personification: Personification is when you give human qualities to something that isn’t human. In the poem, the bonsai tree is given human qualities. For example, the gardener tells the tree that it is lucky to have a pot to grow in, as if the tree can understand him.

About the author

Born on March 31, 1936, in Detroit, Michigan, Marge Piercy is an American activist and author renowned for her progressive perspective. Piercy distinguished herself as her family’s first university attendee, earning a scholarship to the University of Michigan. During her childhood, a bout with German measles and rheumatic fever ignited her passion for literature. She expressed, “It taught me that there’s a different world there…”

Marge Piercy and her husband, Ira Wood, reside in a home in Wellfleet, MA that Piercy herself designed. They’ve lived there since the 1970s. Piercy’s extensive body of work includes notable titles like “Woman on the Edge of Time”, “He, She and It”—the winner of the 1993 Arthur C. Clarke Award—and “Gone to Soldiers”, a New York Times Best Seller set during World War II. Influences from her Jewish heritage, Communist activism, and feminist ideals are evident in her work.

In her poem “A Work of Artifice”, Piercy employs the metaphor of a bonsai tree. The bonsai, indicative of stunted growth and restricted freedom, symbolizes women in society. The poet probes the societal expectation of women as merely decorative fixtures, confined within domestic spaces and bound to household duties. Just as a bonsai tree is pruned and restricted from reaching its full size, women are likewise expected to know their boundaries and remain tethered to their responsibilities.

Workbook answers/solutions

Text-based Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)

1. What does the word ‘artifice’ in the title of the poem ‘A Work of Artifice’ mean?

Answer: (b) trickery

2. Which of these statements is NOT true?

Answer: (a) Women are themselves responsible for their plight in society.

3. Which of these attributes are NOT generally associated with women by men in patriarchal societies?

Answer: (b) 1, 2, 5 and 6

4. How does the gardener feel as he addresses the bonsai tree?

Answer: (d) happy and proud

5. Why are women’s feet bound in some cultures?

Answer: (d) to make them small and look attractive

6. The structure of the poem is

Answer: (c) metaphorical

7. The tone of the speaker in the poem is

Answer: (a) condescending

8. Select the option that best suggests that the poem is talking about women.

Answer: (b) the crippled brain/the hair in curlers

9. What is the theme of the poem? Select the correct option:

Answer: (b) Social standards are used to prevent women from flourishing to their full potential.

10. Which of these figures of speech is extensively used in the poem?

Answer: (b) metaphor

Comprehension Passages

PASSAGE-1

(i) What kind of tree is the bonsai? What does it stand for in the poem?

Answer: The bonsai tree is a miniature tree grown in a pot. It represents women who are stunted and oppressed by men in a patriarchal society.

(ii) Where could it have grown fully? What has stunted its growth?

Answer: The bonsai tree could have grown fully on the side of a mountain. But the gardener, representing men/patriarchal society, has stunted its growth by constantly pruning it.

(iii) What does the gardener stand for in the poem? Why does it not let the ‘bonsai tree’ grow to its full potential?

Answer: The gardener represents men/patriarchal society. He does not let the ‘bonsai tree’ or women grow to their full potential.

(iv) Why does the gardener want the bonsai to remain small and weak? What is its implication in the poem?

Answer: The gardener wants the bonsai to remain small and weak as he thinks it is in the nature of women to be domesticated and subservient. This implies women are conditioned and forced to accept limited roles in society.

(v) What is the main idea projected in the poem?

Answer: The main idea is that men oppress women by stunting their growth – physical, mental and spiritual. Women are tricked into happily accepting the roles predetermined for them by patriarchal society.

PASSAGE – 2

(i) What is the function of the ‘gardener’? What function of the ‘gardener’ alluded to in the poem is in reality regressive and harmful? How?

Answer: The gardener’s function is to prune the bonsai tree daily. This symbolizes how men in patriarchal societies curb the growth and development of women.

(ii) In what tone does the gardener speak? What picture do you form of the ‘gardener’ in your mind as ‘he’ speaks to the bonsai tree?

Answer: The gardener speaks in a happy, proud tone as he justifies stunting the tree’s growth. This hints at the arrogant stance of men who deliberately dwarf women.

(iii) In what way is the gardener wrong?

Answer: The gardener is wrong in assuming it is the bonsai tree’s nature to be small and weak. He stunts its growth for his own satisfaction.

(iv) What do the last two lines suggest?

Answer: The lines suggest the gardener has convinced himself that the bonsai is meant to be weak and domesticated.

(v) What does the word ‘croons’ mean? What does it imply?

Answer: ‘Croons’ means sings softly. It implies the gardener soothingly coaxes the bonsai into stunted growth.

PASSAGE – 3

(i) Who is the speaker? Who is being addressed?

Answer: The speaker is the gardener. The bonsai tree/women are being addressed.

(ii) What does the ‘pot’ mean in the metaphorical context of the poem? Give its relevance in the growth of women.

Answer: The ‘pot’ symbolizes the home/family where women are confined by men. It limits women’s growth and development.

(iii) What do males do to stunt the growth of women?

Answer: Males begin early to condition women into accepting stereotypical roles in society, stunting their potential.

(iv) Bring out the significance of the last two lines.

Answer: These lines highlight how men deliberately dwarf women right from childhood to fit them into subordinate roles.

(v) What stereotypical role do women play in life? How are they tricked to perform it?

Answer: Women play nurturing, domestic roles in patriarchal societies. They are conditioned psychologically to happily accept such roles.

PASSAGE – 4

(i) What shift in context is brought out with these lines?

Answer: These lines shift the context from the literal bonsai tree to the metaphorical implication for women.

(ii) In which context are women’s ‘feet’ bound? Why?

Answer: In some cultures like China, women’s feet were bound to keep them small and “attractive” to men.

(iii) Why are women made to look attractive?

Answer: Women are forced to look attractive through bounded feet, curled hair etc to cater to male gaze and satisfaction.

(iv) The last two lines are ironic. How?

Answer: It is ironic that men who stunt women’s growth still seek their admiration and nurturing touch.

(v) What does the poet seem to lament? What does she expect of women?

Answer: The poet seems to lament the lack of protest from women against their oppression. She expects women to recognize and challenge their conditioned suppression.

Additional questions and answers

1. Who is the author of the poem “A Work of Artifice”?

Answer: The author of the poem “A Work of Artifice” is Marge Piercy.

2. What does the bonsai tree represent in the poem?

Answer: In the poem, the bonsai tree represents a woman.

3. What is the significance of the bonsai tree being in an attractive pot?

Answer: The attractive pot signifies the societal constraints and expectations that limit the growth of the woman, much like the pot limits the growth of the bonsai tree.

4. What could the bonsai tree have become if it were not pruned?

Answer: The bonsai tree could have grown eighty feet tall on the side of a mountain if it were not pruned.

5. What are some examples given in the poem that symbolize the dwarfing of growth?

Answer: The bound feet, the crippled brain, the hair in curlers, and the hands are examples given in the poem that symbolize the dwarfing of growth.

6. What does the poet question about women in society?

Answer: The poet questions if women were just materials of interior decoration, expected to remain confined to the interiors and do the household tasks.

7. What does the bonsai tree’s roots and branches being pruned and tightly tied symbolize?

Answer: The bonsai tree’s roots and branches being pruned and tightly tied symbolize the societal expectations and constraints that prevent women from growing to their real size or potential.

8. What does the bonsai tree’s inability to grow to its real size symbolize in the poem?

Answer: The bonsai tree’s inability to grow to its real size symbolizes the societal limitations and expectations that prevent women from reaching their full potential.

9. What does the gardener’s daily pruning of the bonsai tree represent in the poem?

Answer: The gardener’s daily pruning of the bonsai tree represents the constant societal pressures and expectations that keep women confined and limit their growth.

10. What does the phrase “how lucky, little tree, to have a pot to grow in” imply in the poem?

Answer: The phrase “how lucky, little tree, to have a pot to grow in” implies the societal narrative that women should feel fortunate for their confined roles and limited opportunities, much like the bonsai tree should feel lucky for its pot.

11. What does the bonsai tree represent in the poem?  

Answer: In the poem, the bonsai tree represents a woman. This metaphor is used to depict the societal constraints and expectations that limit the growth and potential of women, much like the pot limits the growth of the bonsai tree.

12. What could the bonsai tree have become if it were not pruned?

Answer: The bonsai tree could have grown eighty feet tall on the side of a mountain if it were not pruned. This represents the potential of women to grow and achieve great heights if not for societal constraints. The tree’s potential growth signifies the untapped potential of women, suggesting that they too could reach great heights if not limited by societal expectations and norms.

13. What does the gardener tell the bonsai tree about its nature?  

Answer: The gardener tells the bonsai tree that it is its nature to be small and cozy, domestic and weak. This reflects the societal narrative that women are inherently weak and domestic, and that it is their nature to be confined and limited.

14. What does the phrase “to dwarf their growth” refer to in the poem?  

Answer: The phrase “to dwarf their growth” refers to the act of limiting or stunting the growth and potential of living creatures, specifically women in the context of the poem. It represents the societal practices and expectations that restrict women’s growth and potential, keeping them small and confined, much like the bonsai tree.

15. What are some examples given in the poem that symbolize the dwarfing of growth?  

Answer: The bound feet, the crippled brain, the hair in curlers, and the hands are examples given in the poem that symbolize the dwarfing of growth. These symbols represent various societal practices and norms that limit women’s growth and potential. The bound feet symbolize physical constraints, the crippled brain represents intellectual limitations, the hair in curlers signifies beauty standards, and the hands represent the domestic roles women are expected to fulfill. These symbols collectively depict the various ways in which society restricts women’s growth and potential.

16. What does the gardener’s daily pruning of the bonsai tree represent in the poem?  

Answer: The gardener’s daily pruning of the bonsai tree represents the constant societal pressures and expectations that keep women confined and limit their growth. It signifies the daily reinforcement of societal norms that restrict women’s potential.

Additional/Extra MCQs

1. Who is the author of “A Work of Artifice”? 

A. Emily Dickinson B. Sylvia Plath C. Marge Piercy D. Maya Angelou

Answer: C. Marge Piercy

2. What is the central metaphor in the poem? 

A. A mountain B. A river C. A bonsai tree D. A garden

Answer: C. A bonsai tree

3. What does the bonsai tree represent? 

A. A child B. A man C. A woman D. An elder

Answer: C. A woman

4. Who prunes the bonsai tree in the poem? 

A. A child B. A gardener C. A woman D. A man

Answer: B. A gardener

5. How tall could the bonsai tree have grown if not pruned? 

A. Eighty feet B. Fifty feet C. Twenty feet D. Ten feet

Answer: A. Eighty feet

6. What does the gardener tell the bonsai tree about its nature? 

A. Strong and wild B. Tall and mighty C. Small and cozy D. Large and intimidating

Answer: C. Small and cozy

7. What does “to dwarf their growth” refer to? 

A. To enhance growth B. To limit growth C. To accelerate growth D. To promote growth

Answer: B. To limit growth

8. What does the bonsai tree’s inability to grow to its real size symbolize? 

A. Freedom B. Potential C. Limitations D. Strength

Answer: C. Limitations

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