Louise Gluck uses this poem to create awareness to show how fear can affect a child throughout their life and to show how everything isn’t gumdrops and lollipops. Gretel is reciting the poem, so it is written in first person. The monologue has many purposes. The most distinct purpose is how it takes a fairytale, which are normally romanized and made to seem as if the protagonist(s) have no true consequences from their actions and exposes the reality behind them. For this reason, I think this monologue is directed at a more mature audience as older individuals and adults will be able to understand the depth and truth of what she is talking about.
Originally, in Hansel and Gretel, the children return home to their father after their time at the witch’s candy house and have a happy ending. This poem conveys that Gretel due to her actions is not living her happily ever after and instead is negatively affected from her disturbing memories. Gretel says she is “far from women’s arms/and memory of women” at one point in the poem. This is because she kills the witch, which is a combative action of itself and is not ordinary for a woman to perform. By doing that she now feels she has lost a part of her femininity. She finds it difficult to harmonize with the part of herself that is a woman.
This poem also gives a voice to all people who have endured a impactful event. After the killing incident with the witch, memories of Gretel’s past keep resurfacing, making it tough to move on and live a happy life with her family the way she intended. She keeps recalling what she did, which bothers her daily lifestyle. Her bad dreams and unsettling feelings are actually normal symptoms of someone with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Her brother who she normally relies on, does not give her any support, making it more difficult to move on and live her life. She is upset by the fact that Hansel isn’t phased by what happened and how he does not acknowledge her. She’s so desperate for his attention and wants him to hear her feelings. Readers can detect her desperation when she says, “Nights I turn to you to hold me but you are not there. Why do I not forget? Am I alone?” This makes the tone of the monologue very sad and depressing.
Gretel in Darkness is an exemplary voice for those who wish to find an identifiable character who has experienced something very upsetting and is now learning how to cope with the aftermath. Gluck also uses imagery to help the reader further understand Gretel’s depression. The witch’s cry and burning body tells readers that Gretel still sees and hears the witch dying. Symbolic imagery is seen as well through the bared hut to help the reader understand the mental prison Gretel is in. The poem’s message is past events affect us for long periods of time afterwards even if the setting we are put into is safe (her father’s hut).
Personally, I think the lack of rigidity in the form of the poem contrasts the way fairytales are normally written. I also think the way the lines narrow in the middle of each stanza represents Gretel drawing into herself and then exploding to communicate the way she is feeling.