Thanks to Ryan French, a Brit Lit alum!, for this helpful video on blogging genres and conventions! Some great tips here for your Rethinking Modern British Literature blog projects!
Thanks to Ryan French, a Brit Lit alum!, for this helpful video on blogging genres and conventions! Some great tips here for your Rethinking Modern British Literature blog projects!
According to poets.org, T.S Eliot was born as Thomas Sterns Eliot in St. Louis, Missouri in 1888. He lived in Missouri until leaving to earn both undergraduate and master degrees at Harvard. He then traveled to Paris, until returning to Harvard to gain a
doctorate degree in Philosophy. He did not move to England until he was twenty-six years old. He did not become a citizen of Britain until 1927. Why is Eliot’
s background important? Well, what makes British Literature and American Literature differ in this sense? Although Eliot had both a citizenship of England and America, he is always noted as a British writer, being anthologized in the Norton Anthology of British Literature we use in class. Through understanding Eliot’s works readers can understand what it means to be a British writer.
Due to Eliot living in England during both World War I and World War II, a lot of his work shows the darkness that England, and most of Europe faced during this hardships. His poem “The Hollow Men”, sheds light on the dark times of England. The poem starts out with two different Epigraphs. The first is a quotation from Joseph Conrad’s novel we read earlier in this time period, Heart of Darkness. By starting out with “Mistah Kurtz- he dead” (Eliot 2543), it shows the death of an older man who agreed with Western imperialism. Although this time is “over” due to Mistah Kurtz’s death, by starting the poem out with this allusion, points out the fact that the troubles of England have been ingrained for a while, and are still going on even though imperialism died with Mistah Kurtz. The second Epigraph is referencing to children begging to pennies to guy fireworks to kindle scarecrows for Guy Fawkes’s day, a national holiday for England. These scarecrows, are to represent Guy Fawkes who was a traitor to the British. A holiday basically for kids to set fire to a symbol of a traitor; talk about some national pride! Both of these epigraphs show the death and doom that life in England have. First the imperialism (and death of) and the death of the traitor, we can tell this poem is not light stuff.
In Line 15 and 16 of the poem, the speaker give allusion of parts of Canto 3 of Dante’s Inferno. In Dante’s Inferno, groups of souls were excluded from Hell because they were not bad enough. In Eliot’s poem is states “Remember us- if at all- not as lost violent souls, but only as the hollow men” (Eliot 2543). They cannot take a side, so they are basically in Purgatory. This makes the reader think if the speaker is referring to Britain as a purgatory. The men aren’t lost or violent, they are just- there. The poem also references Dante’s Inferno in line 60 as the speaker states, “Gathered on this beach of the tumid river” (Eliot 2543). The term “beach of the tumid river” gives understanding that this river, most liking the Acheron River, which is a branch of the mythological River Styx, is swollen. Swollen shows that the river is overfull, just how the London streets must have felt to Eliot at the time of his writing. The term “beach” makes a reader think of a vacation, yet this is not a vacation at all. It is the life of these hollow men.
In lines 77, and 91-94 there are references to the Lord’s Prayer that many Christians still know by heart. “For Thine is the Kingdom” (Eliot 2543), refers to Heaven. This is a drastic switch from talking about Hell in previous lines. This relates to how difficult living in England is, especially during the World Wars and how the “kingdom” meaning heaven is the goal, yet it is rather unreachable. This plays into the purgatory idea again, that they are neither in heaven or hell. They are just there. Also, “For Thine is the Kingdom” starts the end of the prayer, which is a prayer often read right before someone passes away, if the death is imminent, and could have meaning that the speaker might be close to death or that they know someone who is. It might also mean that England as a whole is just people close to death.
“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.”
Many scientists believe that the world started with a bang- the big bang. Yet, with this the speaker is showing that war (the bang) will not end the world, but the whimper of the dying will. Although this poem is not very uplifting, I suppose this ending can give the reader a sense of hope that war won’t end the world, yet that’s a stretch.
So, how does this poem show that Eliot is a British writer? Although America also has hardships, this poem relates itself to many different British epigraphs and metaphors. Throughout the entire poem, it relates “the hollow men” to those who are stuffed just like the scarecrows about to explode.It shows the pain living in England has on people, and how it feels like they are living in purgatory. The important of British Literature, is not about the country in which the author was born, but how their literature helps solidify history and culture of the country.
The Great War of 1914 offered a rich basis for the expansion of reactionary literature and, more specifically, poetry. Narratives surrounding WWI were particularly uplifting in 1914, when England offered an idealistic view of what soldiers endured in war through the use of propaganda. Many young men (younger than the age of 18) enlisted in the war, not knowing the full breadth of what they were fighting for. Patriotism rang through the first generation to enter WWI, and many of them died before the war progressed further. Industrialization drastically affected battlefields, and shifted the approach soldiers took when fighting the enemy. Germany had machine guns at the start of the First World War, whereas England still relied on horseback and bayonets. Soldiers quickly learned that the method of fighting would not subdue Germany, and England had to reverse her war strategy. Soldiers in the trenches suffered from disease and severe illness, oftentimes from the rain and lack of hygiene. There was no sign of glory when the soldiers remained in trenches for lengths of time, and it was a wildly dehumanizing experience. Oftentimes, family members back home had contempt for the war because their young sons were put to their deaths. The shift in mindset was critical to keeping up the morale of the war, and the number of soldiers who wrote poems and narratives were plentiful. Soldiers who wrote at the start of the war versus toward the end had contrasting perspectives about what, exactly, they were fighting for.
Rupert Brooke used nature to invoke patriotism in his poem, The Soldier. He passed away early on in World War I, and this fact certainly dictated the pro-war tone in his writing. The glorification of war and death is evident in his work, and the merging of natural imagery with the reality of the industrialization of war. Brooke speaks of death as a possibility, not as a definitive fate: “If I should die…” Brooke creates a persona that does not speak of specific images of war, but he focuses on the generalization of space: “There’s some corner of a foreign field/That is forever England.” War is a very specific and complex endeavor, but Brooke’s language makes the thought of war seem like a dream-like image and a hazy, lovely place. He makes his own death tangible by linking a “foreign field” back to his homeland, England. The image of blood spilling is joined with another vision of English blood seeping into foreign earth: “In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;/A dust whom England bore…” Brooke displays a tint of the “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” rhetoric here in his description that the soil is made richer from his dying on it. His second stanza is over-ridden by natural imagery, the semantic field of: “flowers”, “roam”, “body”, “air”, “rivers”, and “suns of home” solidifies the romantic notion of death caused by war. The first line of his third stanza represents the shedding away of the grotesque-ness that death and war bring: “And think, this heart, all evil shed away”. The pulsing of the English heart beats strong against the darkness of war, and Brooke ends his poem with: “In hearts at peace, under and English heaven.” Heaven becomes a localized object that each English patriot brings onto the battlefield with them, an ethereal image that Brooke injects into both himself and every English solder in the war. Brooke died early on in the war from dysentery and never made it to Gallipoli, so his generational thoughts were never affected by the atrocities which occurred later on.
Unlike Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon was sent home in 1917 after a bullet ripped through his body, literally rupturing the very flesh of his English patriotism. He emerged from the war a more hardened and defiant individual, and he was completely disillusioned with the propaganda and the rose-colored glasses that every soldier was handed before stepping foot on a battlefield. His anger is apparent in the tone of his poetry, and he embeds horrific, grotesque imagery. In his poem, The Rear-Guard, Sassoon makes no attempt to ease the reader into the poem itself, but tosses the reader into the action. Sassoon uses the pronoun “he”, directly contrasting Brooke’s use of “I”, and this change in pronoun offers a distanced perspective. Sassoon deliberately chooses the specific location of a trench, and does not sweep over a foreign landscape as Brooke did. His first line, “Groping along the tunnel, step by step” suggests immediacy and a painful, slow, methodological process. Sassoon ends his first stanza with, “And he, exploring fifty feet below/The rosy gloom of battle overhead.” This rose color is physically separate from where the persona is in the poem, as if the rose-colored glasses were ripped off the face of the soldier and thrown up into the air to be disintegrated into this haze. The romantic thoughts that were once part of his mind are no longer reachable, and become distant. As the persona traverses the tunnel, he stumbles on a dead body: “Savage, he kicked the unanswering heap,/And flashed his beam across the livid face/Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore/Agony dying hard ten days before”. Sassoon does not describe any kind of reaction from the persona, only the image of death in its raw, faceless, reality. The last lines of the poem contrast the natural image of the air surrounding the soldier persona, and the figurative image of his state of mind: “He climbed through darkness to the twilight air,/Unloading hell behind him step by step.” Hell is not capitalized here, thus communicating to the reader that Sassoon does not mean hell in the religious sense of the word. Hell, to the solider in the trench, is a state of mind and lies embedded in the memory of war.
Side-by-side, Brooke and Sassoon offer two sides of the spectrum in terms of the morale of English soldiers and what truly went on in the war. War is most definitely a psychological endeavor, but the damage is not evident in Brooke’s poem. Sassoon clashes with the patriotic thought and offers a raw rendering of his own experiences. As a 21st century reader, one would be inclined to say that the truth is more important; but tethered with the progression of WWI, is it not better to have a dream to live for? Sassoon speaks of loss as a distanced, dehumanizing experience, whereas Brooke personalizes and tethers loss to home. What matters more: remembering the spilled blood, or remembering the reasons it was spilled? It would have been difficult to establish any semblance of a positive outlook or outcome without the artists and dreamers that emerged from the trenches.
Beresford, George Charles. Siegfried Sassoon. Digital image. Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siegfried_Sassoon#/media/File:Siegfried_Sassoon_by_George_Charles_Beresford_(1915)>.
Brooke, Rupert. “The Soldier.” The Norton Anthology English Literature. Vol. F. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 2018. Print.
Dix, Otto. Verwundetentransport Im Houthulster Wald. Digital image. The Guardian. Courtesy The Trustees of the British Museum DACS 2014, 14 May 2014. Web. 13 May 2017. <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/may/14/art-apocalypse-otto-dix-first-world-war-der-krieg-in-pictures>.
Rupert Brooke. Digital image. King’s College Cambridge. N.p., 20 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 May 2017. <http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/news/2015/brooke-centenary>.
Sassoon, Siegfried. “The Rear-Guard.” The Norton Anthology English Literature. Vol. F. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 2024. Print.
World War I was a rough time for Britain, and one for which it was totally unprepared. The Germans were inching closer to Britain country by country, causing the British people to get awfully nervous about their homeland being invaded. The British military had to meet the Germans on the front line with drastically inferior weapons and numbers. Men who were enlisted in the army were getting slaughtered, and as they dropped like flies, people were needed to fill their space! Propaganda was circulated encouraging young British men to serve and protect their country. Here is a BBC article on the underage Brits joining the fight. This was a tragic era for men and women alike. In class we read a sampling of poets who were moved by their country’s condition. Wilfred Owen, May Weddrerburn Cannan, and Rupert Brooke were just a few of the people choosing to write about this tumultuous time. Although Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke both fought in the war, Owen’s poem Anthem for the Doomed Youth takes on a less positive tone toward war than Brooke’s The Soldier, which was widely distributed to encourage men to join up.
The title alone, Anthem for Doomed Youth, gives us some forewarning of what the poem is going to be addressing. An anthem is defined by Merriam Webster as a “song or hymn of praise or gladness,” and the first example listed is a “patriotic anthem” which is about pride for one’s country. Obviously in 1917 when this poem was written, Britain needed some praise, some gladness, and some pride from its people. However, this anthem is not for the country. It is for “doomed youth,” also known as those young men brutally sacrificing their lives for their country. Doomed leads me to believe that the subject to the doom (the youth) do not have very happy futures ahead of them. One’s youth seems so early to already be doomed, but that is the kind of struggle people were having in Britain (and probably world-wide). I assume that they were doomed because they are going on to fight in the war.
Owen is asking in this poem what kind of honor and ceremony can be given to these poor young men dying on the frontline “as cattle,” (2034). Cattle are killed masses at a time, which means that there is some carelessness present. There are no “passing-bells” as they die, but only the sound of gun fire. They do not even get prayers (“hasty orisons”) and the only “voice of mourning” are the “demented choirs of wailing shells,” (2034). The deaths are unceremonious and go largely unnoticed among all the deadly distractions. Without prayers, do they still have God in that moment? I would not think so, although I am not religious. The words “demented” and “wailing” both contrast harshly with the image of the choir. A choir is a group that sings all together at church proceedings. Without prayers, passing-bells, or choir songs, there is nothing to mark the inconsequential deaths of British soldiers.
There are also no candles being held “to speed them all,” (2035). Speed them to where? Heaven maybe? And if they are not being sped there, then where are they going? Hell? And why is speeding necessary? If the journey between death and heaven is a grueling one, then how fair is it that these boys, fighting for the good of their country, are the ones struggling through their afterlife? The falling soldiers’ goodbyes are “Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes,” (2035). Their hands give them control, and are what they have been using all along to enact their orders sent to them from above. Their eyes however are a window to their souls and their subconscious, of which they are not in control. Their opportunity for goodbyes and closure has been ripped from their very hands. Owen’s use of the word “boys” also seems deliberate, as opposed to using “men” or another term. Boys are part of the “youth” that is “doomed” because of the war.
There is a line about how “the pallor of the girls’ brows shall be their pall,” (2035) and I did not quite know what to make of it. Pallor is a pale, unwell appearance, and a pall is the fabric draped over one’s coffin. What I eventually took this to mean though was that the boys went to war, at least in part to prevent the girls from being sickly. It was this hope of prevention that lead them to rush into a fatal situation, thus causing there to be a need for a pall. It also could just mean that the girls back home are sad and unwell alongside the coffins of the dead soldiers.
Words like “tenderness” and “patient” contrast with the rest of the poem. The soldiers who have died receive flowers, and they stand in for “the tenderness of patient minds,” (2035). Tenderness is a very caring and comforting word. I usually think of a mother’s tenderness, which has sympathy and love at the roots. All that these boys get of that tenderness at this point though are some flowers that they probably do not even know are there. The last line: “And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds,” (2035) contains what I found to be two euphemisms for death. The “slow dusk” is the end of the day, and the “drawing-down of blinds” means that one is no longer looking out on the world around them.
Overall this poem’s tone was not a positive one. Words like “monstrous”, “anger”, “demented”, and “mourning” give readers an idea of the emotions and adjectives that go along with something as dreadful as war. There are all of these people dying, and they are not getting the respect they deserve.
Owen, Wilfred. “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” The Norton Anthology English Literature. Vol. F. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 2034-035. Print.
Of the many ideas, concepts, and events of the Victorian Period, the Victorian Temper emerged, and quickly became evident through the writing of the era. In a time where individuals favored earnest behaviors, moral responsibility, and domestic propriety, the Victorian Temper, while it helped to further encourage these behaviors, also urged individuals to repress and discourage any and all notions of reproduction and sex. While the prospective outcome of the Victorian Temper may have been to form a pure society in which individuals are free and cleansed of sexual thoughts and desires, the result may have been the complete opposite. According to Sigmund Freud, because the individuals of the Victorian Period worked with great force to repress all reproductive desires and urges, the people of the period may have thought about sexual encounters more than any other group, as they constantly made efforts to repress these thoughts; however, they remained beneath the surface. Though the people of the Victorian Period made efforts to repress such ideas, and worked to refrain from using sexual concepts explicitly in their conversations, many poets and writers of the period, perhaps accidentally, due to the force of the repression, included implicit sexual and reproductive cues in their writing. In particular, Christina Rossetti’s poem, Goblin Market, may, on the surface, appear to present a story of two children in a rather innocent and imaginary, fairy-tale like manner, the poem presents sexual connotations to the reader, suggesting that Rossetti, herself, may have sexual feelings that she tries to keep hidden, beneath the surface.
While Rossetti claims to write an innocent and imaginary story, she reveals certain implicit sexual connotations to the reader from the beginning of the text. While initially describing the Goblin cries, Rossetti explains, “Maids heard the goblins cry: / “Come buy our orchard fruits, / Come buy, come buy: / Apples and quinces”(Rossetti 1496). Here, Rossetti begins by depicting that “Maids,” which are young and unmarried girls, are able to hear the “goblins cry.” The idea that only “Maids” are able to hear the cries of the goblins appears to relay that the cries are only audible to virgin ears. The goblins then offer many fruits, which are all very different. The first fruit that Rossetti relays is an “Apple,” which appears to be a direct reference to the Christian religion’s story of Adam and Eve, in which the initially pure characters gave into temptation, and consumed the fruits, specifically, the “Apples,” of the forbidden tree. By starting off her list of fruits with “Apples,” Rossetti appears to imply that the pure and untouched “Maids” that she initially depicted, if they were to consume these fruits, will be giving into temptation, and, just like Adam and Eve, risk losing their purity. Though Rossetti may claim to depict an innocent story of children and fruit, the language, and order of her words, appears to suggest that Rossetti’s own implicit reproductive feelings are beginning to present themselves in her story.
Rossetti’s sexual implications continue to present themselves through Rossetti’s depictions of fruit in her text. While Rossetti continues to relay the cry that the “Maids” can hear, she writes, “Apples and quinces, / Lemons and oranges, / Plump unpecked cherries”(Rossetti 1496). Here, Rossetti depicts a range of fruits, all of which are plump and round, which appears to be symbolic of female bodies, which are known for their curvature, especially after the age of puberty. This is significant, and contain juice within them.] Rossetti also describes “Plump unpecked cherries.” Using these adjectives to describe cherries suggests a deeper connotation behind Rossetti’s word choice. “Plump unpecked cherries,” are small and round red fruits, often connected to one another by a small stem, which appears to be symbolic of fallopian tubes, an aspect of female bodies. The depicted “plump” nature suggests that the “cherries” are rather large and juicy. Their claimed “unpecked” nature suggests that the “cherries” are pure, untouched, and in excellent and unused condition. The “unpecked” and untouched nature of the cherries appears to relate back to Rossetti’s initial depiction of the virginal “Maids,” relaying that the innocent girls are “unused,” likely in a sexual nature. This seems to suggest a deeper connotation behind Rossetti’s words. While Rossetti may claim to write innocently about fruit, here, she writes about fruits that are round, plump, and juicy, which appears to relay that Rossetti’s sexual feelings are beginning to present themselves from the start of the work.
Rossetti continues to depict sexual undertones as her work continues. While describing Laura’s initial encounter with the goblins, Rossetti writes, “She clipped a precious golden lock, / She dropped a tear more rare than pearl”(Rossetti 1499). Here, Rossetti writes that Laura “clipped a precious golden lock,” suggesting that she cut a sacred and pure piece of her hair, effectively “clipp[ing]” a piece of herself, or, perhaps, an element of who she is. Laura then “dropped a tear more rare than pearl,” which suggests that Laura became saddened, and a piece of herself, more precious and pure than an untouched orb, has fallen. Rossetti appears to depict that Laura has lost, or “dropped,” her own pureness, or, in other words, her own virginity. This seems to reinforce Rossetti’s depiction of “Maids” giving into temptation, as previously discussed, as, through her language, Rossetti appears to further depict that the “Maids” are giving into temptation, and, as a result, lose a “precious” piece of their “golden” purity. Though Rossetti may have intended to write an innocent portrayal of a girl interacting with goblins, through her depictions of a woman “drop[ping]” “golden” and pure pieces of themselves, Rossetti appears to imply a loss of virginity, subtly adding her own sexual feelings and implications to her work.
The actions and sensations with which Laura lost her virginity become blatantly clear in the following lines, where Rossetti writes that Laura, “Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red: / Sweeter than honey from the rock. / Stronger than men-rejoicing wine, / Clearer than water flowed that juice”(Rossetti 1499). Here, Rossetti depicts that Laura “sucked,” actively, using her own mouth, “their fruit globes fair or red,” implying that Laura orally interacted with the round, plump, and juicy fruit “globes,” of all varieties or colors, “fair or red.” After implying of this interaction, Rossetti elaborates upon Laura’s sexual enjoyment of the experience. Rossetti claims that the round and plump fruits that Laura was “suck[ing]” “flowed” a certain “juice,” which Rossetti writes were “Clearer than water.” Suggesting that her female character “sucked” orbs that began to “flow” a certain “juice” appears to symbolize that Rossetti is depicting her character engaging in a sexual act, as her act of “suck[ing]” on globes, before “juice” begins to “flow,” further implies Laura’s oral intercourse, which Rossetti depicts results in a sort of ejaculation, a “flow[ing]” of “that juice.” [sexual encounters, organs.] Rossetti writes that Laura “sucked” fruits that were sweet, and the fruits had a powerful grasp upon Laura, further depicting that Rossetti’s own sexual undertones were presenting themselves through her writing.
(Round fruit globes with juice inside. Medical News Today. Web.)
Rossetti continues to use language that presents her own repressed sexual feelings within her work. As Laura continues to passionately enjoy the goblin’s fruit for the first time, Rossetti writes, “She never tasted such before, / How should it cloy with length of use? / She sucked and sucked and sucked the more / Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; / She sucked until her lips were sore”(Rossetti 1499). Here, Laura is depicted as experiencing a new sensation, through the fruit, of which she has “never tasted” previously. Having previously been described as an innocent and untouched “Maid,” it appears increasingly evident that Rossetti is writing Laura’s encounters in a sexualized manner, as she repeats the word “sucked,” and she describes that Laura did so, until her “lips were sore.” Rossetti uses words, such as “taste,” and “suck,” which reinforce her sexualizations of Laura’s situation, depicting that Laura became increasingly involved in an oral activity that closely resembles oral intercourse. Rossetti’s implicit sexual undertones present themselves through her writing, as, while Rossetti may have intended to depict an innocent scene of Laura enjoying fruit, the language that she used is blatantly reproductive, suggesting the repression of her own deep sexual feelings.
Rossetti’s repressed sexual feelings continue to emerge through her writing, as she presents more reproductive implications as her work continues. While reflecting on her experience to Lizzie, Laura says, “I ate and ate my fill, / Yet my mouth waters still; / Tomorrow night I will buy more:” / and kissed her…”(Rossetti 1499). Here, Rossetti emphasizes that Laura “ate and ate [her] fill,” repeating her action of ‘eating,’ suggesting that Laura engaged in physical and natural acts of consumption, until she became satisfied. Rossetti continues to draw upon Laura’s “mouth,” in a seemingly objectifying manner, suggesting that her oral fixation is her main source for pleasure. Rossetti appears to further relay her own repressed sexual feelings, as she frequently mentions “mouth[s]” throughout the work, and oral satisfaction, rather than, say, a character’s stomach, after consuming “fruit.” Focusing solely upon oral satisfaction, which is further reinforced by Rossetti’s depiction that Laura immediately “kissed her” sister, it appears that Rossetti may be further implicitly symbolizing oral intercourse, as she places a heavy focus on “mouth[s],” and oral actions. Because she only focuses primarily upon oral aspects and satisfactions, and never mentions a satisfied stomach after consuming “fruit,” it would appear that Rossetti’s own implicit and repressed sexual feelings are presenting themselves through her writing.
Rossetti’s repressed sexual feelings continue to present themselves within her work. While Laura presents the details of her previous pleasurable encounter, she explains that, “You cannot think what figs / My teeth have met in, / What melons icy-cold / Piled on a dish of gold / Too huge for me to hold, / What peaches with a velvet nap, / Pellucid grapes without one seed”(Rossetti 1499). Rossetti continues to describe fruits that are plump, round, and juicy, suggesting that Laura experienced her own pleasure through her interactions with items of this nature. Here, it appears that Rossetti’s own repressed sexual feelings present themselves, as she describes that Laura’s “teeth have met in” the fruit, or, in other words, that Laura has orally penetrated “in[to]” these plump and juicy items. Rossetti describes the fruits in a sexual manner, claiming that they were “Too huge for [Laura] to hold.” After revealing Laura’s oral penetration, it appears, here, that Laura may become involved in further penetration, or, amid her pleasurable experience, the sexual satisfaction may have been too great “for [her] to hold,” and, in response, Rossetti appears to depict Laura’s experience of sexual ejaculation. This becomes further evident, as Rossetti follows this with depictions of “grapes without one seed,” suggesting that the once juicy and round fruits have, perhaps temporarily, lost their fertility, or, their own “seed.” Though Rossetti may claim to portray a young girl’s innocent explanation of the fruits she enjoyed, Rossetti’s words suggest aspects of fertility, such as penetration, and “seed[s],” which carry reproductive undertones, suggesting that her own repressed sexual feelings are presenting themselves in her writing.
(Oral satisfaction; “You cannot think what figs My teeth have met in.” Lausanne Tourisme. Web.)
Rossetti’s repressed sexual feelings continue to present themselves through her writing. While explaining Lizzi’s plea to Laura that they return home for the evening, Rossetti writes, “Come with me home. […] Let us get home before the night grows dark: / For clouds may gather / Tho’ this is summer weather, / Put out the lights and drench us thro’: / Then if we lost our way what should we do?”(Rossetti 1501). Here, Rossetti employs multiple aspects of weather in her writing. By describing that “clouds may gather / Tho’ this is summer weather,” Rossetti appears to relay that the “summer” sun is shining, illuminating light, which appears to symbolize purity, and brightness, upon her characters. In this way, Rossetti appears to be referring to her previous depiction of her female characters as pure “Maids,” using the sun to emphasize their innocence, in this scene. Lizzi suggests that “clouds may gather,” suggesting that, if the innocent females are not careful, and give into the temptations, as previously discussed, “clouds” may gather, and the “light” which illuminates the girls may become obstructed, and “Put out.” The girls would then be subjected to a certain evil “dark[ness]” of the covered sun, and their innocence would be “drench[ed],” covered, in water. Rossetti then asks, “if we lost our way what should we do?”, reinforcing the idea that, if their innocent “way[s]” were to be lost, and “drench[ed],” or, if they gave into temptation, likely through the enjoyment of previously discussed sexual pleasures and satisfaction, the once innocent girls would not what to “do.” Through Rossetti’s depiction of her character’s plea, and her emphasis on weather, of which she presents in a manner that suggests the consequences of giving into temptation, it appears that Rossetti’s own repressed sexual feelings are presenting themselves, implicitly, through her writing.
(If we lose our way, clouds may gather, and we may be drenched in darkness. Wallpaper Up. Web.)
Rossetti’s repressed sexual feelings continue to implicitly present themselves through her writing. While Lizzie encounters the Goblins, Rossetti writes, “Tho’ the goblins cuffed and caught her, / Coaxed and fought her, / Bullied and besought her, / Scratched her, pinched her black as ink, / Kicked and knocked her, / Mauled and mocked her”(Rossetti 1505). Here, Rossetti depicts that her female character is “cuffed,” which limits her mobility, which is often used in certain sexual fetishes, blatantly suggesting that Rossetti’s repressed sexual feelings are boiling to the surface. Rossetti then depicts that her female character is “caught,” which serves to objectify her, depicting that she is under the control and restrain of the “goblin” men. Rossetti then focuses heavily upon movements and verbs, as she emphasizes several words that describe action. Using these words, Rossetti appears to depict that the goblin men are forcing themselves upon Lizzie, and that the creatures are treating Rossetti’s female character as though she were an object, to be acted upon, by the goblins, against her will. While Rossetti may have intended to write an innocent scene regarding a child’s interaction with goblin men, by depicting that the goblins are forcing themselves upon Lizzie, who is “cuffed,” and restrained, in very physical manners, it appears that Rossetti’s own implicit sexual feelings and desires are presenting themselves, through her writing.
Rossetti continues to implicitly express her own repressed sexual feelings through her story, as she depicts interactions with the “mouth” of her female character. As Lizzie refuses the Goblin’s forceful advances, Rossetti writes, Lizzie uttered not a word; / Would not open lip from lip / Lest they should cram a mouthful in”(Rossetti 1505). Here, Rossetti uses words that signify physical movements, such as “cram,” and “lodge,” which represent actions, specifically insertion, which appears to further symbolize penetration, in this piece. Rossetti reinforces these symbols of penetration by writing that Lizzie “Would not open lip from lip,” with “lip,” appearing to represent, and symbolize, female sexual organs, specifically the vagina. Rossetti depicts her symbols of penetration by writing, “Lest they should cram a mouthful in.” The use of the word “in” further emphasizes the theme of penetration, and Rossetti’s use of the word “cram” suggests that “they,” the goblin men, are forcibly attempting to penetrate Lizzi, with a “mouthful” of their own object(s). Once again, Rossetti depicts “mouth[ful]s,” suggesting that her female character is being subjected to oral penetration, by the goblins, and her female character’s “mouth,” is an object that the goblins are attempting to physically “cram” their items within. In this way, Rossetti’s repressed feelings, of reproduction, and of oral intercourse, appear to present themselves, through her writing.
(“Lest they should cram a mouthful in.” Pure Devotion. Web.)
Rossetti’s repressed sexual feelings appear to present themselves, as she uses sexualized language, sensations, and gestures, in her writing. While the goblins finish physically forcing themselves upon Lizzie, Rossetti writes, “But laughed in heart to feel the drip / Of juice that syruped all her face, and lodged in dimples of her chin, / And streaked her neck which quaked like curd”(Rossetti 1505). Here, Rossetti depicts many aspects of liquids, and the sensations that they provide to her female character’s skin. Through her description of “juice that syruped all her face,” Rossetti suggests that her female character is experiencing rather thick fluids releasing themselves over “all her face,” which appears to depict that her face has been ejaculated upon, and she is able to “feel the drip” of the fluids. Furthermore, Rossetti claims that these liquids “lodged” themselves within her female character’s skin, which appears to symbolize seminal ejaculation, while further emphasizing Rossetti’s theme of penetration. Though Rossetti may claim to have written an innocent story about children and goblin creatures, through her use of language, which appears to depict penetration and ejaculation, it seems that Rossetti’s own repressed sexual feelings are presenting themselves, through her writing.
Rossetti’s repressed sexual feelings continue to implicitly present themselves through her writing. After Lizzie returns from her own encounter with the Goblins, and greets Laura, Rossetti writes, “Come and kiss me. / Never mind my bruises, / Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices / Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, / Goblin pulp and goblin dew. / Eat me, drink me, love me; / Laura, make much of me: / For your sake I have braved the glen / And had to do with goblin merchant men”(Rossetti 1506). Here, Rossetti further objectifies her female character, as she depicts her character’s desire to act upon her, in various physical ways. Rossetti sexualizes this scene, as the physical movements that she mentions all represent affectionate and sexual actions. Rossetti uses words such as “suck,” “Eat,” and “drink,” with regards to “me,” which further relate to oral acts of consumption, as though Rossetti is suggesting that her female character is an item for oral pleasure and satisfaction. Rossetti also continues to depict liquids, which were “Squeezed from goblin fruits,” which appears to further suggest ejaculation, as these thick fluids and “dew[s]” where physically “squeezed” from fertil goblin “fruits,” which seems to symbolize their own reproductive organs. Though she may claim to have written an innocent story about a child’s return from goblins, and their fruit, because of the language, which seems to depict physical movements, consumption, and oral satisfaction, Rossetti’s own implicit and repressed sexual feelings appear to present themselves, through her writing.
(“Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices.” 123rf. Web.)
During the Victorian Period, individuals favored earnest behaviors, moral responsibility, and domestic propriety. The Victorian Temper emerged, which, while encouraging these behaviors, encouraged individuals to repress any and all notions of sexual reproduction. Because of the sheer force with which these reproductive feelings were repressed, some aspects of these ideas, though buried beneath the surface, appear to present themselves through the writing of the period. For instance, Christina Rossetti, though she may claim to write an innocent story, she depicts several sexual undertones in her piece, Goblin Market. In Rossetti’s work, she uses language to depict seemingly pure topics in a rather sexualized manner. Rossetti depicts “fruit[s],” which are all plump, round, juicy, and “unpecked,” which appear to symbolize the curvature and roundness of female bodies. Rossetti also describes physical movements, such as “suck[ing]” and “cram[ming],” which appears to symbolize sexual actions, along with means of oral satisfaction, and oral intercourse. Rossetti also places an emphasis on “juices,” elaborating upon their thickness, and “syrup[-like]” quialities, which appear to depict reproductive ejaculation. Finally, Rossetti elaborates upon the sensations that each of these items and actions provide, upon the “face” of her female character. Though Rossetti may claim to have written an innocent and imaginary story about children, her word choice, and use of language, all suggest sexual symbols and implications, suggesting to readers that Rossetti’s own repressed sexual feelings may be presenting themselves, through her writing.
To continue learning about the Victorian Period, please watch the video below.
Adam and Eve Apple. Sargents Fine Art. Web.
Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Volume E. Print.
Overcome by a deep, unrequited love, as well as suffering from the withdrawal symptoms from opium, Samuel Taylor Coleridge had a lot of heavy topics on his mind when writing his poem “The Pains of Sleep”. On the surface, Coleridge’s poem seems to be simply about how painful Coleridge finds it to fall asleep over the course of a few nights. However, a deeper analysis reveals that Coleridge is making a confession of some sort- of a lack of religion in his life, a lack of love, and an opium addiction that has sparked for withdrawal symptoms to begin appearing in the life of Coleridge- in his sleep and in his poetry.
“The Pains of Sleep” is broken up into three stanzas, each appearing to be about falling asleep, and each growing more restless than the one proceeding it. The first stanza can be compared to one praying before falling asleep. Coleridge uses words such as “pray” and “bended knees”, bended knees providing the reader with the imagery of one kneeling beside their beds to pray before climbing in for rest. “Spirit”, “reverential resignation”, “my soul”, “unblest”, “Eternal strength and Wisdom” also tie into religious imagery within the mind of the reader, which may symbolize that Coleridge is facing some sort of religious crisis in writing this poem.
Coleridge goes on to say, “In humble trust mine eye-lids close,/ With reverential resignation” (Lines 6-7), meaning that every night when he closes his eyes to surrender himself to sleep, he places his faith in God, resigning his control over his own life as he is allowing for himself to be in the most vulnerable state possible. Coleridge also goes on to say,
“A sense o’er all my soul imprest/ That I am weak, yet not unblest,/ Since in me, round me, every where/ Eternal strength and Wisdom are.” (Lines 10-13).
In other words, Coleridge means that even though, in the grand scheme of things, he is small and insignificant, he believes that he is still important due to the skill of being able to recognize God’s beauty in the world and convey it through his poetry.
The first stanza maintains an “aabb” rhyming scheme- however, this scheme is interrupted around line 7, switching very briefly to an “abab” rhyming scheme before reverting back, symbolizing a very brief, almost unnoticeable interruption in both the poem as well as Coleridge’s sleep.
Coleridge employs alliteration throughout the poem, relying on the use of the letter “s” to create a softer effect of the poem, and can be compared to a soft whisper that one may use when trying to induce sleep.
Everything shifts in the second stanza- Coleridge’s poem is becoming interrupted with sharper sounds, different rhyme schemes, and is bursting with overwhelming emotion, making the soft whisper found throughout the first stanza ineffective in aiding the quest for sleep that Coleridge desperately seeks.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is interrupted multiple times, more noticeably and often than in the first stanza, and can be compared to the interruptions one finds when finding it difficult to fall asleep. The “s” and “sh” sounds are replaced by sharper sounds- the “s” is usually followed or proceeded by a “t” or “c” to create the sharper sound-effects. For example, Coleridge uses words such as “yester-night“, “up-starting”, “scorned”, “strong”, “thirst“, “still”, “strangely”, “objects“, “fantastic“, and “stifling” to create a sharper effect in the reading, which can be compared to emotions of chaos or violence.
Coleridge also uses words such as “anguish”, “agony”, “fiendish”, “tortured”, “intolerable wrong”, “scorned”, “revenge”, “powerless”, “burning”, “loathing”, “hateful”, “maddening”, “shame”, “terror”, “confused”, “suffered” “guilt”, “remorse”, “woe”, and “fear” to create imagery in the reader of emotions such as feeling fear or being upset. These emotions can be compared to what one may feel when their sleep has begun to be interrupted, be it by something internal (a nightmare, a lot on one’s mind), or external (a loud noise/interruption that causes one to wake from sleep). It is also important to note that Coleridge makes a confession of some sort:
“Deeds to be hid which were not hid,/ Which all confused I could not know/ Whether I suffered, or I did…” (Lines 27-9).
In other words, Coleridge explains that there are deeds that exist that need to be concealed due to a certain shame revolving around them, but have not yet been hidden due to confusion that Coleridge feels towards them.
The third and final stanza, once again, takes a dramatic shift- Coleridge has now suffered through “two nights” of this painful, restless, sleep, and has finally had enough when he writes his climax:
“The third night, when my own loud scream/ Had waked me from the fiendish dream,/ O’ercome with sufferings strange and wild,/ I wept as I had been a child.” (Lines 37-40).
The dreams that Coleridge faces appears to be so terrifying, that it wakes him from his sleep, causing for him to actually cry. This appears to be the climax, because immediately following this event, Coleridge writes,
“And having thus by tears subdued/ My anguish to a milder mood…” (Lines 40-41).
It appears as though Coleridge’s tears act as an emotional purge, allowing for him to finally release the turmoil and restlessness that has built within him for the past few nights. Religious imagery returns once again as Coleridge uses words such as “blessing”, “sin”, and “hell”- these words create emotions within the reader of dread. This dread for Coleridge is a dread of punishment for the sins that he has committed, which signifies to the reader that a confession needs to be made- of the sins that he has committed. Coleridge concludes this stanza and his entire poem with,
“To be loved is all I need,/ And whom I love, I love indeed.” (Lines 50-51).
Although Coleridge has a specific person in mind when writing these lines, as he has a person whom he “loves indeed”, he still maintains his own need for this love to be requited- which it clearly isn’t. The fact that this is mentioned in the final two lines of the poem signifies to the reader that this was the overall point that Coleridge seemed to struggle with throughout the entirety of his poem.
In conclusion, although Coleridge uses many words that symbolize some sort of religious imagery for the reader, his struggle appears to be more spiritual than religious, as he does not mention God’s name anywhere throughout his poem. This turmoil also seems to be a result of some heavy thinking- perhaps about a woman who Coleridge loves, a woman who is unable to return the love that Coleridge feels towards her (Mary Evans perhaps?). Finally, the turmoil that Coleridge describes throughout the entirety of his work seems to be, unbeknownst perhaps even to him, of the withdrawal one faces from opium. The full effects of opium as well as what happens when one stops taking it after consuming it over an extended period of time were not completely understood by those of the Romantic Era, which could explain Coleridge’s night terrors as well as his restlessness.
Mont Blanc has a voice full of power that Percy Shelley brings to light in one of his many poems about the egotistical sublime. Join me in analyzing what we gain by reading the poem, Mont Blanc by Percy Shelley.
Image sourcing from: Pintrest.com and Google Images
Like most writers of the romantic period Percy Shelley’s Mont Blanc is all about himself. Inspired by writers of the same period and a societal rejection of the industrial age the entire poem comes across rather egotistical and uneventful. It is merely the admired account of the tallest mountain in the Swiss Alps. In fact the only purpose it serves is as an inspiration to Shelley. Yet he makes the argument through language and symbolism that this idolization of man in nature gives beauty a reason to exist. Without the advanced mind to comprehend, appreciate and be inspired by, what is the purpose of beauty in nature? Beauty, like art and writing, is meant to be admired and if not talked about then silently appreciated in the mind.
It is important to note first how Shelley achieves this sense of vast glory the mountain has through language. “From the ice gulphs that gird his [the river Arve’s] secret throne/bursting through these dark mountains like the flame/of lightning through the tempest” (Shelley 17-19). There is an overabundance of elemental stimulation here that leaves the reader and the narrator astounded, in awe of the mighty power this mountain has. Not only is ice engulfing a part of the river, there is a power, presumably glaciers, that are large enough to burst through the mountain sides. They are then compared to the “flame of lightning through the tempest”, which is a line that holds the most imagery for this quote, including a contradiction of not only flame against a rain storm but a flame which acts like a lightning bolt as well.
How often are so many elemental forces presented by one object of study? Mont Blanc, Shelley writes, is displaying its power and beauty by being akin to fire, lightning, water, wind and ice all at the same time. It is this overstimulation that inspires the narrator. Again in lines 85-90 does Shelley describe this whirlwind of elements. He uses the terms; “lightning”, “rain”, “earthquakes” and “fiery floods”. Again telling us how Shelley views the mountain. Mont Blanc is a force nature so powerful it commands control of the earth, the sky and the waters around it all at the same time. Shelley also personifies the mountain throughout the poem, “thou hast a voice, great mountain” (Shelley 80). Personifying such a powerful being gives not only Shelley but also the reader a sense of admired apprehension. Mont Blanc is not to be trifled with, it is to be admired and almost worshipped. This mountain is so awe inspiring Shelley is immediately influenced by it, thus we see the reason for the creation of this poem, Mont Blanc. In this way Shelley is giving the mountain a purpose beyond simply being there. He is pushing human comprehension unto it in the most proficient use of the mountain’s beauty.
To create a work of art that is published, admired, then talked about and makes money is arguably the best use for the poetic muse a poet like Percy Shelley gains from nature. In the poem he argues that without the human mind to contemplate nature’s artistry, it cannot exist. “And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea/if to the human mind’s imaginings/silence and solitude were vacancy” (Shelley 142-4). Shelley is speaking directly to the mountain here, asking what would you be if humans did not give nature’s silent beauty meaning through their imagination. There is no purpose to beauty without anyone to appreciate it. The very idea of an aesthetic is to be appealing to the eye. If humans, and in Shelley’s case poets, did not write poems, sonnets, or fictions inspired from great mountains such as Mont Blanc it would merely exist as another part of the earth. Its aesthetic value would be wasted and lost to eyes that can’t create meaning out of beauty.
To further emphasize the through provoking aspect of Mont Blanc, Shelley writes; “And this, the naked countenance of earth/on which I gaze, even these primeval mountains/teach the averting mind” (Shelley 98-100). Because Shelley can comprehend the grandeur of the mountain he can learn from it lessons of life and death. In which he takes a few lines to describe how everything in the world is connected to, is born and dies within the same earth the mountain sits on.
Shelley’s handling of the sublime in these poems, a writing technique used often in romantic period England where man is influenced heavily by nature, reflects more on the author’s personal views than on anything else. Shelley is a man of nature, he admires it and like many other writers during his time, wishes to talk more of nature than of the increasing industrial age that was taking over. Given the time period it is no wonder Shelley and other poets wrote so much about the sublime, egotistical of not. The industrial age was a time of change for England, many feared that by becoming more urbanized England would lose its sense of admiration for natural beauty, ergo the reason for the value of aesthetics in the romantic period.
Shelley takes the sublime a step further however, he makes himself the narrator as the entirety of the poem is told through his point of view. Shelley paints a vibrant picture of the value he sees in this mighty mountain. This technique is referred to as the egotistical sublime and used by many romantic period writers, many of whom were inspired by William Wordsworth. Looking at the footnotes in the Norton Anthology of English literature we can even see that Shelley may have been influenced by Wordsworth’s ideals when it comes to poetry. Not only is the use of egotistical sublime similar to Wordsworth but in the first footnote regarding Shelley’s poem we see part of a preface written by Shelley which states; “It [the poem] was composed…as an indisciplined overflowing of the soul” (Norton Anthology 770). This sounds
conveniently similar to Wordsworth’s claim in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads that poetry should be a “spontaneous overflow of emotion” written when feelings are “recollected in tranquility”. Shelley would not be the first poet of this period to be inspired so by nature and by Wordsworth’s claims to how poetry should be written. Indeed Wordsworth represented, through his writing and essays on poets, an all encompassing ideal of the romantic poet in 18th century England.
Mont Blanc, revolving around egotistical sublime and the beauty of nature does the same, capturing easily the overall values that England held in the romantic period. It talks of everlasting beauty, nature as a force mightier than humankind and as something to be inspired by. Mont Blanc claims that beauty cannot exist without a human mind to comprehend it because if imagination does not give way to meaning there can be no purpose for vibrant trees and mighty mountains. Shelley, like most writers, is influenced by the intellectual works of those around him, namely William Wordsworth. Both of these writers at once teach readers through poetry how mother nature can inspire through grandeur displays of her beauty and power.
Shelley, Percy. “Mont Blanc”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.
At first glance, “The Rights of Woman” seems to be a cry for female equality. Written in 1792 by
Anna Barbauld, the bulk of the poem beckons women to assert themselves in male dominated, Romantic Period England. Barbauld rips into the patriarchy of the era, calling man “treacherous”, and referring to them as women’s “imperial foe” (Barbauld, 18-19). “The Rights of Woman”’s initial stanzas aim to invokes a feeling of power and rebellion, urging women to take back the authority to rule over man.
Despite these strong words, the poem closes with an ominous message, one that turns the previous feminist reading on its head. Barbauld’s final stanzas explain that cultivating love and trust between sexes will diminish a woman’s yearning for power. According to Barbauld, a woman’s appetite for vigorous action will fade with the warmth of a husband. If you slice away the last two stanzas of the poem, it can be viewed as a feminist text. However, with the final stanzas included, the poem takes on a strange, anti-feminist vibe.
Yes, injured Woman! rise, assert thy right!Woman! too long degraded, scorned, opprest;O born to rule in partial Law’s despite,Resume thy native empire o’er the breast!
Thy rights are empire: urge no meaner claim,—Felt, not defined, and if debated, lost;Like sacred mysteries, which withheld from fame,Shunning discussion, are revered the most.
But hope not, courted idol of mankind,On this proud eminence secure to stay;Subduing and subdued, thou soon shalt findThy coldness soften, and thy pride give way.
At this point, the poem begins to shift. Barbauld notes that the “courted idol of mankind”, meaning women, will find “thy coldness soften, and thy pride give away”. The tone of the poem goes from one filled with vigor and ambition into one of vulnerability and defeat. The hoo-rah attitude in the beginning of the poem fades away. Even though women are “subduing”, they will eventually be “subdued”. Successfully rebelling against patriarchy is useless, their will to conquer cannot last.
Then, then, abandon each ambitious thought,Conquest or rule thy heart shall feebly move,In Nature’s school, by her soft maxims taught,That separate rights are lost in mutual love.
This stanza follows the theme of the previous stanza, retracting the battlecry for Romantic women to take up arms. It is replaced with a request: that women “abandon each ambitious thought”, deconstructing the obelisk of rebellious desire, which is exactly what the previous stanzas built in their hearts. So what is causing this sudden change?
Men, of course.
In lines 31-32, Barbauld explains that due to mutual love, women will lose their lust for power in a male dominated society. Barbauld is basically saying that while women can be swayed away from revolution by the love of a man. All the ambition found in the previous stanzas goes to waste under the gaze of a tender man. This, she says, it part of “nature’s school”, which basically means that it is natural for females to lose their social aspirations when in love.
Barbauld has created a literary roller coaster with “The Rights of Woman”. Initially, we have a call to action for women to rise up against patriarchy. By the middle of the poem, the action rises. Barbauld pushes her ambitions for women even further, saying that women should not only be equals, but should also rule over their male counterparts. This attitude is then demolished by the final two stanzas, that basically say that a women’s natural role is to be a lover of man, not a lover of power. Once a woman saddles up and finds herself a husband, she naturally defaults into the housewife role, and her ambition to rule is swept away.
So where is all this coming from? This poem came shortly after Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. By the title alone, one can see that “The Rights of Woman” is reactionary to Wollstonecraft’s novel. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication was known for its outspoken demand for equal education opportunities for women. With this in mind, it is easy to see how Barbauld’s poem conflict’s with that notion; in “The Rights of Woman”, she states that these dreams of equality become unimportant once a woman feels the love of a man. In her mind, it’s pointless to fill a woman with an impassioned, rebellious attitude when it will dissipate under the influence of romance.
Ryan Jace French is an English student, blogger, and
fishing enthusiast attending Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. He can often be found weeping over his student debt while cooking Ramen noodles in the Belknap communal kitchen. Follow him on Twitter today: @RJaceFrench
As the first British Empire began to expand from 1583 until 1783, the popularity of colonialism and slave trade began to grow as well. Many Europeans felt that exploiting the natives of areas such as the West Indies and Africa was an intelligent approach, as they could utilize these tactics to make labor cheap. However, not all members of the British Empire were on board with slavery, one such example being Aphra Behn, an influential female writer of the Restoration period. In Oroonoko, Behn’s true story of an African prince who became a slave of the colony of Suriname, Behn utilizes the noble savage ideal as well as constantly insisting on the validity of her story with the purpose of invoking powerful emotions into her audience. These emotions function to subtly persuade her audience to see slave trade and exploitation colonialism from her more critical point of view.
Before analyzing Behn’s text in detail, it is important to first understand the background of her life, and how she had come to meet Oroonoko, an African prince who was tricked into slavery. As a child, Behn’s father had been appointed governor of Suriname, an exploitation colony located in South America. On their voyage to the colony, Behn’s father passed away, making her visit to Suriname much shorter than anticipated. Throughout her narrative, Behn consistently insists on the validity and honesty of the tale, making the claim right from the start, “I do not pretend… to entertain my reader with adventures of a feigned hero… it shall come simply into the world, recommended by its own proper merits and natural intrigues.” (Behn 95). The purpose of these constant assurances of Behn’s “eye-witness” (Behn 95) accounts, although obnoxious, is to create a rapport within the audience, drawing them into the tale to provide a much more powerful emotional impact later on. As her plot progresses towards its climax, Behn’s utilizes the validity of her tale to instill horror in her audience at the conditions in which Oroonoko and his family were treated. At the end of her tale, Behn describes the atrocity of Oroonoko’s execution in horrific detail, describing how the executioner “… first cut off his members, and threw them into the fire; and after that… they cut off his ears and his nose… then they hacked off one of his arms.” (Behn 134). These grisly details creates feelings of disgust, horror, and astonishment, thus serving Behn’s intent of persuading her audience against the idea of slavery.
The noble savage ideal is a literary term attributed to a type of stock literary character, and romanticizes the idea of supposed innocence within native, primitive societies, and their belief that all human beings are essentially good. This naïve belief is due to a lack of exposure to more civilized, advanced, and corrupt societies. Behn’s account was one of the first literary materials attributed to this term, which she utilizes in her tale to invoke empathy within the audience towards the challenges that Oroonoko undergoes and the betrayal he faces. Behn begins her narrative by describing the slaves of the Suriname colony as people that “… represented to me an absolute idea of the first state of innocence, before man knew hot to sin… Religion here would but destroy that tranquility they possess by innocence; and laws would teach ‘em to know offence, of which now they have no notion.” (Behn 96). Due to a lack of interaction with the more civilized societies, such as that of England, Oroonoko and his native people are accustomed to a much more simpler way of living. This innocence instills almost a protective-like feeling within the audience- due to this lack of experience of the evils of humankind, the audience almost wants to reach out to these native people and warn them of their impending doom in order to maintain the peaceful tranquility among their society.
Although one may argue that Alpha Behn’s narrative would not be an anti-slavery text based on the evidence that Behn is a white settler re-telling the tale of a diseased African slave, as well as on the evidence that Behn does not make any direct critiques against slavery itself, this is not the case. “She never criticizes slavery directly, but the perspective of the victimized hero promotes a critique of slavery nonetheless.” (Nestvold). Having published her account around 1688, slave trade’s popularity had been at its peak, and it would still be well over a hundred years before slave trade would be abolished. To paint the native slaves in her account with such human qualities, Behn is essentially making the subtle statement to her past and much more narrow-minded audience that slaves are just as much of humans as the settlers that captured, sold, and possessed them were. By painting slaves in this light, Behn helps for her audience to feel for the protagonist of her story, emphasizing with him and wanting to take action against the atrocities and betrayals that he had faced by so many of European settlers. For example, the captain that had captured Oroonoko had tricked him into slavery, “The day being come, the captain… rowed to shore to receive the prince… with which Oroonoko was extremely delighted.” (Behn 111), and then later intoxicates Oroonoko and his people, placing iron cuffs on them, and sells them into slavery. This constant process of Oroonoko being treated with admiration and respect by the European settlers is constantly repeated throughout the tale, and with Oroonoko as the protagonist of the entire narrative, it is not difficult for the audience to feel sympathy for the hero’s constant demise due to the disloyalty of the settlers.
Although it is debatable of whether or not Behn’s purpose in writing this “history” was to criticize slavery itself, Behn’s narrative truly speaks for itself. By describing the noble lives of the slaves that she had met and the struggles that they had endured, casting a humanized light upon her subject, Behn creates a relation between her audience and Oroonoko, which thus creates feelings of empathy and sympathy within the audience. By invoking these emotions, Behn is discreetly persuading her audience to see slavery in a much more sinister light. Although she is not direct and to the point in her critique, the time period in which Behn published this text was a time in which female authors had not yet risen to the level and popularity of their male counterparts, nor was slavery anywhere near the point of even being considered abolished. By making her persuasion subtle, Behn is able to create a narrative that would still have the potential to become popular within her audience, while at the same time, would slip the notion of slavery being wrong within the psyche of the reader. By utilizing the noble savage ideal to create feelings of empathy within the reader, Behn achieves her purpose in creating a text that critiques against the slave trade of the Restoration Period itself.
Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko. South Australia: The U of Adelaide Library, 2009.
Nestvold, Ruth. “The White Mistress and the Black Slave: Aphra Behn, Racism and the Beginnings of Novelistic Discourse.” Art-Lit.net. The Aphra Behn Page, 1995. Web. 10 <http://www.lit-arts.net/Behn/begin-ab.htmMar. 2017>