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Jenny Joseph’s Poem “Warning” Essay

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Updated: Dec 4th, 2021

In the Poem, “Warning”, Jenny Joseph lists all the things she would do when she grows old. All the things in the list are against the social norms and she cannot or does not dare to do them as a young woman. However, her wish to do all these things reflects her desire to rebel against society which prescribes certain dos and don’ts for everyone. Joseph hopes to one day break the rules of society and live her life the way she has always wanted to.

In the first paragraph, Joseph lists all the things that most people are forbidden from doing because they are not considered either polite or practical. Most people would consider it impolite to spit or pick flowers from other people’s gardens. Similarly, spending all the money on frivolous pursuits while letting important needs go unmet, would not be practical. But Joseph expresses her desire to do just that when she says that she wants to “spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves/ And satin sandals, and say we have no money for butter”. Here “butter” signifies important needs and “brandy”, “summer gloves” and “satin sandals” are frivolous pursuits that the author does not dare pursue in her youth. However, she hopes that one day she will not have to worry about these needs which prevent her from doing all that she wants to do.

Joseph then goes on the give the reason why she cannot do all these things that she would like to do. Besides being impractical and impolite most adults do not do all the things that they would really like to do because they are always reprimanding their children when they do these things. If they were to go out in the rain or swear in public, they would not be able to “set a good example for the children”. But by the time she is old, her children would be grown up and would have learned their social manners and she could go ahead and break all these rules of the society.

In the last paragraph, Joseph shows her impatience with having to wait till old age to live her life the way she wants to. The last paragraph also betrays that even though she does not want to conform to the rules of society, she does care about what people think. She expresses this desire when she says “But maybe I ought to practice a little now/ So people who no me are not too shocked and surprised”. The first line shows her impatience in wanting to rebel against the social norms and live her life the way she wants to. However, being young and still bound by these social norms she feels a need to justify her rebellion and says that she would be doing it to avoid people from getting “shocked and surprised.” This line also exposes her fear of social ridicule which is preventing her from doing all the things she would really like to do.

The poem successfully brings out the dilemma that most people face in their lives between doing what they really want to do and what they must do. It is a form of muted rebellion, wherein she delays to old age her desire to live her life the way she really wants to and thus resolves this dilemma.

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