An Explication of Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott

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An Explication of Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott

Children often grow up listening to fairy tales. Repunsel is one fairy tale about a girl cursed to live a life of isolation in a tower. She longs to break free from seclusion and become part of the outside world. She eventually finds her one true love and risks her life to be with him. "The Lady of Shalott" by Lord Alfred Tennyson relates to Repunsel in many ways. In this poem, Tennyson tells a story of isolation. The woman in this ballad is also doomed to remain on her sheltered island eternally. If she even looks out at Camelot, she will die. She finally sees her "red-cross knight" (line 78). The Lady of Shalott escapes from her "silent isle imbower[ed]," yet dies a tragic death before she even meets Lnacelot (17). In reality, many people do not experience this extreme form of seclusion, although it is very common for someone to change his/her life or even risk it to be with the person he/she loves.

Tennyson starts out with the total seclusion of the beautiful, young Lady of Shalott surrounded by "Four gray walls, and four gray towers" (15). She knows nothing of the humanity outside of her chambers. Her only knowledge of reality is the shadows she sees through her "mirror clear" (46) and the web she "weaves by night and day" (37). At this point in the ballad, the reader does not know whether the Lady of Shalott is forced to be in this situation or chooses to live a life of complete isolation. She seems quite content with her present surroundings. Looking through her crystal mirror is all she needs to sing her "song that echoes cheerly" (30). The lady has no desire to leave her private world because she is unaware of any other kind o...

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...ever given to justify her being forced to remain in the chamber by an outside source. Also, why did she have to die in the end? Is it possible she eventually committed suicide because she realized her love for Lancelot was futile? These are questions that may stay on your mind after reading Tennyson's poem. Even today it is possible to feel the infinite struggle the Lady of Shalott had to face. Tennyson shows the development of a young lady who is dealing with one of the most difficult times in life, growing up in a world full of rules and restrictions while becoming a woman. His subtle description of a girl's problems is slightly exaggerated, yet even valid today.

Works Cited

Tennyson, Lord Alfred. "The Lady of Shalott." Literature of Britain. Elements of Literature 6th Course. Austin: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc., 1993. 784-788.
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