As our experience tells us, Mary Savage's `The Disaster' is relatively
unusual in its topic -- female rage - and in its explicit and
metaphorical examination of one woman's power. As a poem about `dead
little animals', it uses `death' (the idea expanded to encompass social
death or the death of freedom) as the circumstance to which the less
powerful member of an interaction becomes subject. Essentially it is a
poem that uses the paradigm of violence to amplify the stakes in any
unequal relationship. Savage's poem is of special intricacy as it uses
two sparrows, a fly, and a cat, and describes versions of an ultimate
condition, the death of one of the former and the banishment, or social
death, of the later.
The cat cannot represent `female power' [and it would be a negative depiction] as she effectively destroys the narrator's access to freedom=power. Although the catís gender and characterisation are probably significant, there is not enough textual evidence to determine precisely what the cat is intended to represent/accomplish/imply and we must assume that it is not a general depiction but a more personal one, consistent and completely coherent only to Mary Savage (if at all). As readers, we can infer what we will within the bounds that the can is an `other', a female, whose interaction is violent and destructive and inhibits freedom, and who is for some reason `jealous'/ `imperious'/ `fiendish'. The cat does destroy the idea that there is a blunt female-male dichotomy, a gender war. Instead we have a more complex and realistic depiction of individual struggles against other beings, heightened by a general circumstance of socially enforced gender roles.
1. Savage concludes the poem by speaking of her doom Ė her death. And
neatly emphasizes that as unequal as some relationships must be, death
is a power to which everything succumbs.
2. However, her ending as a whole is ambiguous and could be read as a
statement of submission, a declaration of choice, or an acceptance -- not
necessarily of society's gender role -- of a larger conglomeration of
circumstances that overpower Savage with practical necessity.
3. Savage's description of several relationships as power struggles and
her use of violence as a means for gaining power coalesce into a
perspective and method that is contrary to the gender stereotyped idea
of a feminized perspective and potential. Ultimately, Savage describes
how fleeting and incomplete human power is, especially in the face of
something absolute like death, by demonstrating the vicariousness of
power and its contexts.
4. She undercuts any overt emphasis on her own submission to her gender
role. She is inexplicit about her gender at moments and undermines the
absoluteness of it, and, as possible readings of the end posit, is
conscious of relationships between individuals before relationships
She places emphasis on voice as power and recognizes that her `lament'
demonstrates that she has not been silenced.