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Beyond Bars – A Discussion of Puta Oka Sukanta’s “In My Cell” and Alicia Partnoy’s “Rain” by Kyler Hood

Thursday, June 2, 2011 @ 02:06 PM khood4208

In Puta Oka Sukanta’s “In My Cell” and Alicia Partnoy’s “Rain,” water is a central image, but each writer depicts water differently. Sukanta’s unnamed narrator embodies water to show that a prisoner can retain a sense of self. Partnoy’s unnamed narrator hears and touches water to show that a prisoner can only dream of freedom; her blindfold conveys the severity of her confinement. “In My Cell” cultivates thoughts of the future during confinement and “Rain” discourages them.

In each piece, both narrators reflect on their confinement. In “In My Cell,” the narrator immediately embodies water through simile. Confinement allows the individual to separate out “impurities” and observe, “a clear bright morning” (148). The narrator sees confinement as a way to become a better person. Reflecting on her faults she can recognize them and remove them. The prisoner appreciates mornings because she is a distinct individual: “it’s no longer just anyone at all” (148). The captors can take away the narrator’s mobility, but not what makes her unique, and she finds solace in that. Unlike “In My Cell,” the narrator in “Rain”cannot see, “a clear bright morning” (148). A blindfold covers her eyes. The narrator’s heart “dissolves” and she dreams of: “rain…tea, fried pastries and windows framing gray skies” (49). She is more disconsolate because her captors have complete control at every moment. The captors’ presence is also more tangible in “Rain.” The narrator almost cries and a window is closed. She can only enjoy the sound of rain falling in cans.

In “In My Cell,” the prisoner cultivates a connection with the outside world. She relaxes and clears her mind to note, “the figure appearing in its wholeness” (148). She recognizes herself, a distinct person, as the figure who stands within a larger population. She recognizes that she is part of something larger, so her self-image strengthens. The narrator in “Rain” also connects to elements of the world, but she only glimpses fragments in her imagination: “rain…and windows framing gray skies” (49).  She is unable to picture them in connection to humanity, so her self-image is undermined further. And she represses her emotions, so she might, “dodge anguish” (49). Dwelling on negative emotions would consume strength and make her unable to cope with the severe conditions of confinement, so thoughts of the future are avoided.

The forward looking attitude is present in “In My Cell.” By the poem’s end, the inner turmoil dissipates in the prisoner. A new energy bubbles to the surface: “the light shines outward” (148). The prisoner recognizes the ability to move away from herself. She can contemplate the world beyond her prison walls and consider what she will do in it. The prisoner is no longer an anonymous entity; she is a person. The narrator in “Rain” is only a passive recipient of stimuli around her. She must accept the inexpressible burden of her torments or be crushed by anguish.

Both authors capture moments of suffering during confinement, but with distinctly different voices. Sukanta’s narrator recognizes her faults, her opportunity for renewal, and her place in the human team. Her story will continue. Partnoy’s narrator can only experience the room with a steeled heart, a fragmented imagination, and a blindfold.

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