37 pages • 1 hour readCharlotte Perkins Gilman
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“An Obstacle” is a parable, or short poetic narrative that teaches the reader a lesson. Perkins Gilman has been characterized as didactic rather than poetic; this means she preferred to teach lessons rather than explore aesthetics or beauty. In an 1896 interview, Perkins Gilman referred to her book of poetry as “a tool box. It was written to drive nails with” (from the introduction of In This Our World & Uncollected Poems, edited by Scharnhorst and Knight).
“An Obstacle” utilizes a consistent rhyme scheme and plays with formal structures of poems that have six-line stanzas, which are called sestets or sestines. The rhyme scheme is ABCBDB; it includes three rhymed lines alternated with lines that do not rhyme. Rather than the most common form of poetry that includes six-line stanzas—the sestina, which Perkins Gilman uses in other poems—“An Obstacle” includes eight stanzas. The turn of the poem occurs at the end of stanza six. The speaker is only able to overcome her obstacle in the seventh and eighth stanzas, showing that breaking with formal, mostly male-written and male-enforced rules is a key to
By Charlotte Perkins Gilman