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“I Shall Paint My Nails Red” is a poem by Carole Satyamurti published in her collection of poems titled as “Changing the Subject” in 1990. The speaker of the poem is conflicted on her decision to paint her nails red and states several reasons for why she would like to do so.
About the Poet
Carole Satyamurti is a British poet and sociologist. Her poems mostly involve themes of beauty, control, and power.
Summary and Analysis
Because a bit of colour is a public service. Because I am proud of my hands. Because it will remind me I'm a woman.
The speaker believes that painting her nails red would be a public service to let people know her right of self-expression. It will also make her proud of her hands and remind her of her femininity and womanhood
The title of the poem acts as the first line of the poem. The speaker of the poem through the title proposes a question, shall she paint her nails red?
The poem answers these questions by stating numerous reasons for this. The first line of the poem serves as the first reason, that is, “because a bit of colour is a public service.”
Here, the colour red is very significant as it is considered to be a bold colour, a colour that stands out and represents strong feelings of love or rage. To mention it being a public service is a way of declaring that the speaker can firmly express her feelings, emotions, and thoughts. It also reflects the confidence and the unapologetic stubbornness of the speaker.
The second line claims that the speaker is proud of her hands. This is an uncommon expression as people might not find hands as something to be proud of. Here, this suggests that the speaker is a middle-aged lady with wrinkled hands and loose skin. Her hands are probably worn out by doing most of the housework, yet she is proud of her hands and therefore she wants to display them by painting her nails red.
The third line is very impactful as it claims that painting her nails will remind her of her womanhood. For many women, societal constraints expect them to take care of the home and family. Performing these duties often makes them forget they are women and they feel distant towards femininity. Therefore, by taking care of their looks and grooming acts like stress-relief systems for many women in today’s era.
Because I will look like a survivor. Because I can admire them in traffic jams. Because my daughter will say ugh. Because my lover will be surprised.
The speaker can also be proud of her past self for surviving from all the trauma. She can also admire her nails when stuck in traffic. She would like to see her daughter frown upon this and she would live to surprise her lover.
The fourth line reflects the traumatic experiences that the speaker might have gone through. Despite these hard times, she is out well now, which hints at her survival through the bad times. And also reconnect the lost touch of femininity.
The speaker shifts the tone in the next line, playfully stating that she can admire her nails in traffic jams. The traffic jam also brings out the image of the red traffic lights, that emphasises the colour of red and its motif.
In the next line the speaker says that her daughter would frown upon her choice which suggests the youth does not appreciate older people following trends and current fashions. And in line seven, the speaker claims that this decision will surprise her lover as it is not expected of her, she is growing through her experiences and getting to know herself better.
Because it is quicker than dyeing my hair. Because it is a ten-minute moratorium. Because it is reversible.
The speaker is looking for something quicker, a quicker change that is not much drastic. Not as big as dyeing her hair. A temporary change that can be reversible.
Dyeing one’s hair after a certain age is perfectly accepted by society. It is an attempt to hide their true selves and to appear younger, but at the same time, painting nails or wearing a bold red lipstick for an older woman is not that acceptable. Moreover, dyeing is tedious and time-consuming, the speaker is looking for a quick change.
Although it is quick to do, it is not a big change. And most importantly it is temporary. The last line of the poem says that the speaker will do this because it is reversible.
Here, the speaker still has an underlying fear of change, fear of expressing herself fully. Therefore she is looking for something quick, temporary, and reversible. Something not most people can notice and something she can get rid of too. It also suggests the constant change of identities that a woman has to go through by altering theirselves.