Powerful Female Essayists: Adrienne Rich

Often, especially in mid 20th century American literature, authors tend to explore and discuss the implications of having a mixed race identity. In the essay, “Split at the Root,” Adrienne Rich explores the frustrations and introspection involved in having a mixed faith identity. While everyone experiences at some point in their lives the process of figuring out their identity and who they are, Rich spends most of her adolescent and adult life figuring out what it means to be a Jewish lesbian. Growing up with a gentile mother and Jewish father in Baltimore in the 1940’s, a time where the nuclear, Christian family was not only expected from Americans, but almost required, Rich had ignored her Jewish heritage. No one else in her school or social group was Jewish and her mother even encouraged her to identify herself as “Episcopalian” when others asked. It was not until she reached college that Rich finally began to socialize with other Jewish women and finally embraced her Jewish side. However, while she was not fully accepted into the Christian community because she was not fully Christian nor did her parents attend church, her Jewish friends did not fully accept her as Jewish because she did not “look Jewish enough” and was not exposed to Jewish customs and beliefs growing up. This left her in a gray space of identify, a space where she would spend the rest of her questioning herself and battling with her multiple identities. She believes that her mixed faith background and conflicting sexual desires contradict who she is as a person. She asks, “If I call myself a Jewish lesbian do I thereby try to shed some of my Southern gentile guilt, my white woman’s culpability?” She believes that certain parts of her identity, such as being Jewish, cancel out other parts of her identity, such as being a Southerner.

By the end of the essay, she has finally accepted her Jewish identity and begins to wrestle with what it means to be a lesbian as well. She leaves us with the thought provoking question, “How was I charting for myself the oppressions within oppression?" This question is also very applicable today in a time where we are starting to question the validity of marking our identity in one box or classifying ourselves into one category (i.e. Male or female, gay or straight, white or non-white, native or alien). After reading her powerful essay, I am left questioning what does it mean to live with multiple identities and can we find a way to accept our multiple identities and fragmented selves as one, whole being?