Skip to main content

Diving Into the Wreck Analysis


Adrienne Rich Diving Into the Wreck Analysis

Here I share a complete explication of the poem Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich. It is a complex tale of a woman's journey in a male dominated society and the roles a woman must play. This poem is rich with imagery and symbolism. Here you will find a complete Diving Into the Wreck summary to help you better understand this intriguing poem.

As a college student, I had to write a detailed explication of this poem by Adrienne Rich and as an English teacher I explained it to my students. Below you will find an analysis of Diving Into the Wreck based off of my college studies and my lecture notes as a teacher.

Image courtesy of AllPosters.

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich the Poet

About the author of Diving Into the Wreck

Adrienne Rich was a degreed, award winning poet by the age of twenty-two. Two years later she married. By the time she was twenty-eight she had given birth to three sons. Rich was unsatisfied just being a wife and mother. She felt conflicted between her duties to her family and her desire to write. This discord is evident in her poetry.

Rich's poem, Diving Into the Wreck explores the struggles of a woman in a patriarchal society. This poem tells the story of a woman's voyage into the male dominated workforce. She dives into the wreck and comes out transformed.

Adrienne Rich poster on

Diving Into the Wreck Analysis Stanza 1

Summary of Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

The first stanza of Diving Into the Wreck describes the heroine, or diver, preparing for her courageous journey. She must prepare in both mind and body:

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave awkward mask.

The book of myths represents knowledge of the male-dominated world. The book of myths contains the traditional views of gender roles. In continues to teach our nation that men have a place in the professional world, while a woman's place is at home. The diver has read the book of myths so that she may combat the female stereotypes. Her camera will record her journey so that other women will benefit from what she learns and accomplishes. The knife is for her protection. The body-armor is the business attire she must wear before the male-sominated business community will take her seriously. Wet suits, like her work clothes, are genderless so that she will blend in. The flippers are "absurd" because she must go to extremes in order to conform to the professional world. The mask is "grave" and "awkward" much like her journey into corporate America must be.

Diving Into the Wreck Analysis Stanza 2

Summary of Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

The second stanza explains that the opportunity for women to climb the corporate ladder has always been there. "The ladder is always there / hanging innocently" (14-15). Rich poses a very important challenge to all women, which can be read into the very important word change from "I" to "we" that occurs in this stanza.

We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

Rich is saying that the women are aware of the quest for equality that lays before them, but few choose to accept the challenge. The journey for a women into the tip top of corporate America is a difficult one, and it was even more so in the 1970s when this poem was written. The idea is that women have a difficult battle when it comes to trying to break into the male-dominated corporate America and that women need to rise up together. When some women choose not to take the "ladder," or the challenge, it hurts all women.

Driving Into the Wreck Analysis Stanzas 3-4

Summary of Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

Stanzas three and four of Driving Into the Wreck are describing the heroine's journey down to the wreck. This journey, though it dives deeper into the ocean, represents the climb up the corporate ladder.

I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

The "flippers" or the attire required for our heroine to fit into corporate America, are now crippling her. As she adopts the masculine clothing, demeanor, and mindset she is losing herself.

Diving Into the Wreck Analysis Stanzas 5-6

Summary of Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

She finally dove so deeply into the male-dominated corporate world and submerged herself in their masculine, business culture that now, having taken this intense journey, she finds it difficult to remember her original purpose.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs

The main reason she says "it is easy to forget" what she came for is because all of the women who took this treacherous journey before her are now deep in the corporate world and unrecognizable as women. These women have had to fully assimilate into a man's world in order to further their careers. They even had to learn to sway "their crenellated fans" in self defense against this now hostile territory.

Scroll to Continue

I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

Ahh, now she remembers her purpose. She came to explore and investigate the business world. She wanted to see first hand the damage inflicted on all of womankind by assimilating into this culture and the rewards they could reap if they successfully penetrated the male-dominated corporate America. She shines her light on this world in hopes of revealing all of its hidden secrets. She is searching for the permanent rewards of breaking the glass ceiling.

Diving Into the Wreck Analysis Stanza 7

Summary of Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

We've all heard stories about corporate America and the glass ceiling and discrimination faced by women who choose to have a serious career in business, but our heroine didn't want to rely on the tales of others. She wanted to experience it for herself.

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun

Now that she's there, deep in the corporate world, she sees how being apart of this world kills our womanhood (drowned faces). In order to succeed in business, women must allow the feminine part of themselves to die. Many don't even realize they've killed off a part of themselves and that's why they still stare "toward the sun."

Diving Into the Wreck Analysis Stanzas 8-10

Summary of Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

The final three stanzas of Adrienne Rich's "Diving Into the Wreck" describe the transformation our heroine has undergone now that she has arrived at the wreck.

And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

This is one of the easiest stanzas to understand. The transformation she has undergone has caused her to lose her femininity and adopt masculine traits.

She closes the poem by saying she's carrying "a book of myth's in which our names do not appear." In other words, she has penetrated the corporate world as other women before her, yet even after their accomplishments, we women still will not find a recorded history of these accomplishments.

Diving Into the Wreck Summary - Summary of Adrienne Rich's Diving Into the Wreck


Adrienne Rich's poem "Diving Into the Wreck" is the record of one woman's journey into corporate America. It's intended to be ironic that the poem uses the image of diving down to describe the climb up the corporate ladder. As the narrator dives deeper into the ocean, she is climbing higher on the corporate ladder. This is intentional imagery because the deeper you go in the ocean, the more pressure there is and the darker and murkier it gets. Once she arrives at the wreck, she has reached the glass ceiling.

Before the narrator embarks on this journey, she equips herself physically and mentally (stanza 1). This portion of the poem is very important because it shows that she will examine the wreck for herself. She is not interested in reading the book of myths and believing the stories and ideas of women in the workforce as told by men. She wants to dive down, experiencing the wreck for herself, all the while recording (camera as mentioned in stanza 1) what she sees so that other women my benefit from what she learns.

To fully understand this poem, you must understand the culture and society that existed at the time Rich wrote it. The 1970s were a time of great change and dissatisfaction. America was in Vietnam and women were burning bras. This was long before the day that Heather Lockleare's roll on Melrose Place made it acceptable for women to wear feminine and sexy attire in the workplace. During the 1970s if a women chose to pursue a career in business, she had to adopt the clothing and demeanor of a man just in order to be taken seriously.

This poem illustrates the challenges women faced when attempting to climb the corporate ladder in the 1970s. It shows how they had to shed their femininity in order to be accepted by corporate America. It challenges all women to dive into the wreck, thus helping to pave the way for future generations of women. It shines a light on the ugly business world that is controlled by men and the absurd lengths a woman must go to just to be a career woman.

If you need a copy of the poem to read, you can find the full poem "Diving Into the Wreck" here.

Diving Into the Wreck and Other Poems - Adrienne Rich poetry

This book of poetry includes over twenty poems by Adrienne Rich. Rich's poems are unique in that they express the voice of a woman trying to find balance between being strong woman in a society where feminism was starting to brew and being a good wife and mother. Rich is a highly respected American author. Her book is a must have for any fan of woman's literature.

Most of the information I share on this page was taken from a college paper I wrote in American Literature my Senior year of college. While doing online research to gather more information to put together this page, I found an alarming amount of misinformation regarding this poem. I found one reputable site with a line by line summary of Rich's poem and around 75% of it was completely wrong. If you are researching this poem for a school paper, be careful what information you rely on. I only include links here that I have checked and believe to be providing good information.

This Page Protected by Copyright

The content found on this page was all written by me, that makes it my intellectual property. You may not copy it and put it on a blog, website, forum, etc and claim that any of it is yours. You also may not turn my words into an essay or term paper and hand it in for course credit. Not only would doing so be plagiarism, which would earn you a zero and possible expulsion from most schools, but it would also be illegal.

Share Your Own Diving Into the Wreck Analysis - Thank you for visiting

Robin Carretti from Hightstown on February 27, 2018:

Very explanatory to understand and read the women are more powerful than ever thank God we can voice an opinion it should have never been said the Male should dominate over any women but this word is competative playing a game of chess. But we are generation of fighters we know whats right from wrong and we know exactly where we belong interesting read

Wendy Leanne (author) from Texas on December 02, 2013:

@fufupat19: No. As a certified English teacher myself, I can tell you that teachers want reputable sources rather than opinions posted online. I did research to learn the information I share here. I expect students to do the same.

fufupat19 on December 01, 2013:

how can i cite this blog as a source for my paper?

Wendy Leanne (author) from Texas on March 25, 2013:

@Ecking: Thank you so much for sharing. Poetry can be a powerful form of expression.

Ecking on March 25, 2013:

I was so happy to come across this Lens! I quote Diving Into the Wreck quite often so it was lovely to see someone is bringing it up and talking about it!

I first learned of the poem when I was into my eating disorder. The words rang true as I had to step back and look at the problems behind it---

"I came to explore the wreck...

the thing I came for:

the wreck and not the story of the wreck

the thing itself and not the myth

the drowned face always staring

toward the sun"

These words were so powerful to me and explained my situation at the time.


anonymous on December 29, 2012:

Let us not forget that Rich's ex husband committed sucide after she left him. This is part of the entire wreck. A in a society, at the time, so wrought with homophobia that he was driven over a cliff rather than realize his wife's happiness, in a place of "freedom" Either way, to each their own as far as poetic interpretation goes.

Wendy Leanne (author) from Texas on October 05, 2012:

@anonymous: Actually, I'm not personally a feminist. I am a stay at home mom and have very traditional views when it comes to male and female roles. Adrienne Rich, however, was one of the biggest feminists of her time. It's important to keep that in mind when reading her works. Also, she wrote this poem during the time when many women were leaving the domestic world behind in order to climb the corporate ladder and develop careers. They encountered the glass ceiling time and time again and that is what prompted her to write Diving into the Wreck.

anonymous on October 05, 2012:

You sound sexist? Maybe your analysis is a little biased and has a "tunnel vision" perspective. I think there's more to it than just her struggle, but maybe a global struggle of life as a person.

anonymous on June 13, 2012:

I disagree with your analysis. I think it is context heavy, relying too much on assumptions of meaning because Adrienne Rich is a "feminist" poet or a "bisexual" poet in a "patriarchy". Rich is those things, but she is also a straight up good poet, exploring human themes. I think the only context you might need to "get" this poem is the fact that she left her marriage shortly before writing this. This poem is about the end of a relationship, the way we face it, the way we slip into melodrama and mythology to deal with it, the grave and awkward mask we put on before we explore its remains, the insight into both the male and female that we find there, the loss of direction (the rusted navigation instruments) the size and impersonal quality of the world that we are forced to face when we leave the confines of a shared craft, and the ultimate realization that we are not mythological figures, our drama means nothing.

anonymous on January 27, 2012:

very useful! thank you very much..

james g pete on December 13, 2011:

I'm glad you picked this poem for the Squidoo community. I think it's appropriate in several ways.

Lisa Auch from Scotland on October 27, 2011:

I agree, a stellar job here! Blessed by a passing Angel

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on June 10, 2011:

Very powerful verse. You have done an excellent job in analysis. Best wishes.

Related Articles