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The Oppressive System Influence in "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point"

‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is a dramatic monologue spoken by means of the voice of a female runaway slave. Browning was an abolitionist. In this poem, Browning deviates from the traditional values of motherhood and creates a narration exactly where the speaker kills her youngster, who is a solution of this oppressive method. The narrator of this poem recounts the details and circumstances below which she murders her child the speaker depicts the extent to which slavery has dehumanized and deprived her of her maternal instincts.

The narrator’s tone imbues an overwhelming feeling of unease and eeriness in stanza XIX. The structure of the stanza reveals flaws about this mother-child connection. Very first, the rhyme scheme in this stanza, ababcdb, is irregular. Despite the fact that the very first four lines have an alternating rhyme scheme, line 131 ends with the word ‘mother’ while line 132 ends with the word ‘child.’[1] The two words do not rhyme and therefore develop a jagged flow to the stanza. There is one thing distinctive about the narrator’s partnership with her child, but up to and like the phrase, ‘little feet’ (128), the nature of the relationship is unclear. The emphasis on the baby’s feet and the adjective ‘little,’ is a generic and a widespread description for a mother to use about her child even so, the subsequent phrase, ‘that by no means grew’ (128) creates alarm and hints at the baby’s fate. A semi-colon is attached to the end of this phrase, which according to The Poetry Handbook is ‘an intermediate stop’ and supplies a indicates to modify subjects.[2] The narrator is foreshadowing but does not expand on the brief premonition. The speaker says the infant ‘beat with his head and feet, / His tiny feet that never ever grew / He struck them out, as it was meet’ (127-129). Consonance perforates these lines—the “t” sound is usually repeated—forcing readers to enunciate each and every word very carefully. As a result, even although the phrase “never grew,” is only two words, the narrator tends to make positive that it is not overlooked. The meter here generates a steady beat, as it is dominated by iambs. This creates an even beat, which juxtaposes against the unevenness of the rhyme scheme. The line ‘He struck them out, as it was meet,’ (129) is in iambs, and this song-like beat contributes to the ominous mood. She makes use of the phrase ‘like a mother— /’ (131) followed by a dash and a line break. The mixture of the punctuation mark and particular lineation displays her inability to full her thought. The speaker seems to be preoccupied with the word ‘mother,’ and takes time to regain her speech. While the narrator stresses the second and fourth syllables in the starting half of ‘I may possibly have sung,’ she stresses the 1st and third syllables in the following phrase ‘like a mother’ (131), which reverses the iambic meter. The noticeable change from iambic meter to trochee creates further friction within the stanza. The notion that the word ‘mother’ distracts the narrator generates unease. [1] All quotations in this essay are taken from the poem, ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [2] J. Lennard, ‘Punctuation’, in the Poetry Handbook: A Guide to Reading Poetry for Pleasure and Practical Criticism, John Lennard (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005), 115-116.

In stanza XX, readers observe the occurrence that tends to make the narrator irate. When the speaker ‘pull[s] the kerchief close’ (134) she moves the blanket covering the child. She and the child ‘look at one particular another’ (139) for the 1st time in the passage. The colon, situated after the word ‘close’ (134), represents ‘the second heaviest cease.’[1] The colon connects the line with value, and is important because it is a warning signal to the reader. She sees the baby’s face when she moves the kerchief. Commas—or brief breaks—permeate the line, ‘More, then, alive, than now he does’ (136). The narrator also alterations the verb tense in this line, as she transitions from previous to present tense. The word ‘then’ indicates the past, whilst the phrase ‘now he does,’ indicates the present. The speaker is going off on a tangent and becomes distracted. Her mind wanders to the situation of the baby in the present, once again warning readers of his tragic fate. The curt query ‘where?’ (137) is a delineation of her original story, but is poignant and additional captures the reader’s focus. The dash prior to the question indicates her short-term distraction, as she goes from recounting particulars to unguardedly voicing her concerns by asking a query. Nevertheless speaking in the present tense, she exclaims, ‘Close!’ (138). The narrator snaps back into reality, shown by the use of the exclamation point, and returns to her monologue in the previous tense. There is a line break after the phrase, ‘child and mother,’ (138) and she states that they ‘do wrong to appear at one particular another’ (139). The primary connection in between a kid and mother is their mutual gaze, so the compunction the narrator feels when searching at her baby is disquieting. At this point, the connection among a youngster and mother below slavery diverges from traditional Victorian familial relationships. The line break right after ‘a kid and mother’ (138) magnifies the contrast in between the narrator’s partnership with her son and a free of charge woman’s connection with her kid. The words ‘black’ and ‘fair’ are stressed in the meter of the last line, ‘When 1 is black and one is fair,’ (140). The narrator’s kid is at the centre of the conflict among slaves and masters. Her emphasis on the words ‘black’ and ‘fair’ highlights her aggravation for the distinction in between the two populations—slaves are bound by servitude even though masters are cost-free. [3] See Lennard, the Poetry Handbook, 115

The narrator exhibits various emotions in stanza XXI. She uses the possessive noun in the phrase ‘my child’s face’ (142). This is the first time in the passage where she straight acknowledges that the baby is her youngster, enabling the reader to perceive a visceral emotion of the maternal connection amongst a kid and a mother, regardless of race. This, in impact, magnifies the horror of the infanticide. The narrator expresses her emotions via punctuation. The speaker says, ‘—I inform you all,’ (142) followed by a dash and a line-break. Characteristic of the rest of the poem, she has to push herself along to get through the difficult portion. She fights against the urge to either forget or not disclose information, shown by the comprehensive use of punctuation. She uses commas and compounds it with dashes in this phrase, signifying her hesitation. She emphasizes the word ‘master’ in ‘master’s look’ (144). The italicization underscores the narrator’s sharp and bitter intonation. Her anger towards her master is manifested by the increase in pauses. The caesurae allow the speaker to breath and calm down just before continuing. The narrator says, ‘the master’s appear, that utilized to fall/On my soul like his lash…or worse!— /’ (144-145). She gains occasions to feel about the ‘worse’ issues the master had accomplished by using an ellipses following the word ‘lash.’ The exclamation point confirms her acrimonious spirit. The enjambment amongst the line break ‘to save it from my curse / I twisted it round in my shawl’ (146-147) contrasts with the lack of fluidity of the rest of the stanza. Following the word ‘Therefore,’ (146) she gathers the courage to fluently and succinctly describe her murder. Although the murder makes the narrator seem deranged, her range of emotions displays humanness and vulnerability. She is not intrinsically crazy—her scenario has led her to infanticide. While the murder horrifies Victorian society, it also appeals to women—even mothers—in the Victorian period. The narrator’s story illustrates how slavery properly destroys the bonds amongst a mother and her youngster. Her child’s face reminds the speaker of ‘the master’s appear,’ (144), and she inevitably becomes spiteful when reminded of her oppression. The most primitive instinct of a mother is to protect her youngster. Slavery has led the speaker to communicate her aggravation in the only way she can, by killing her infant, who represents the bridge among black and white people—a hyperlink she cannot accept.

The speaker is not totally insensitive as a mother, as she recounts the death of her child with fright. In stanza XXII, she states ‘Till, after a time, he lay, alternatively, / Also all of a sudden nonetheless and mute. / And I felt, beside, a creeping cold— /’ (150-152). She later says, ‘As in lifting a leaf of the mango-fruit’ (154). The narrator peppers the stanza with alliteration, employing phrases such as ‘suddenly still’ (151), ‘creeping cold,’ (152) and ‘lifting a leaf’ (154). She utilizes consonance to emphasize “t” sounds, forcing the reader to enunciate and acknowledge each and every word. In the line, ‘I dared to lift up just a fold,’ (153) the meter returns to iambs, restoring the calm following a handful of hectic lines. She states that ‘he moaned and trembled’ (148). There is repetition with the initial line of stanza XIX where he ‘moaned and beat’ (127). Whilst in the starting the baby fought, he is now also weak. The speaker uses the dash in the end of the lines ‘he shivered from head to foot,’ (149) and ‘I felt, beside, a creeping cold’ (152). The abundance of commas further indicates that the narrator is pushing by way of each her own and the reader’s horror. Her use of the words ‘shiver’ (149) and ‘creeping’ (152) elicits chills, and the icy mood of this stanza compares to the eeriness in stanza XIX. The narrator is living out a certain logic that is not necessarily sane, but her diction shows that she is affected by her actions. She uses the word ‘dare’ (153) to show her vulnerability and fear. She did not just kill her child and emotionlessly lift the ‘fold’ (153) to examine the corpse. The speaker feels a ‘creeping cold’ (152) and hesitates in the course of the line break in an effort to collect courage to see the child. This indicates she is not entirely devoid of purpose or the simple maternal connection with her kid.

In the final line of the passage, the narrator makes use of simile to compare the shawl to the leaf of a ‘mango-fruit’ (154). Leaves cover and wrap around mangoes, even though the insides are tender. The narrator suggests that her infant was sweet. She does not hate her infant she is just unable to enjoy him, as the infant is too strong a reminder of her oppression. The narrator’s reaction to the infanticide forces the reader to re-evaluate no matter whether or not she is just a madwoman the monologue reveals her despair and societal aggravation to be what drives her to the radical action. The narrator, a black woman, was bound by society and lacked manage more than her life. She unfurls her tragic monologue with conflict, desolation, and desperation. This abolitionist poem appealed to Victorian society due to the fact it conveyed the horror of infanticide, a ramification of the narrator’s hard situations as a slave-lady.


Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,’ lines 127-154. Lennard, John. “Punctuation.” In The Poetry Handbook. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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