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Käthe Kollwitz by Muriel Rukeyser

What Muriel Rukeyser mean when she writes in her poem, “Kathe Kollwitz,” “What would happen if one woman told the truth about/ her life? / The world would split open”?

The question “What would happen if one woman told the truth about/ her life? / The world would split open”? is asked by Muriel Rukeyser in her tribute poem to a German artist and sculptor, Kathe Kollwitz. The question is meant to address the powerful and life-changing effects that feminism has had on the women of the 20th century. Muriel Rukeyser, in this question, suggests the important role that women poets have played in voicing and shaping feminists ideologies in the 20th century. By speaking through the voice of Kathe Kollwitz, Muriel Rukeyser presents this question to develop a dialogue between feminism’s two main reiterations; one of the 1910s and the early 1920s, and the late 1960sand 1970s. The question shows how the art by Kathe Kollwitz charted the struggle of women before World War I when modern feminism was cropping Germany and traveling to the US, where Muriel Rukeyser identified it as a social weakening of women all over the world.

When Muriel Rukeyser writes, “what would happen if one woman told the truth about/ her life? / the world would split open”, she wants to capture the truth on how feminism has hindered women from speaking their truth. The line implies that women have been prevented throughout history from telling what they believe and what they know or want about their lives. Muriel Rukeyser means that the act of speaking that tells the truth about women’s lives can split open the world. This implies that if women are allowed to tell the truth about their life, they can transform and potentially destabilize the vague construction called “the world” that has often been fabricated by or for men (Rukeyser, 1973, lines 25-26).  The part “The world would split open” indirectly shows that the world can be transformed from its status or be destabilized if women talk the truth about their lives…

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