Comparing Power in Browning’s My Last Duchess and Cheever’s The Five-Forty-Eight
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Power in Browning’s My Last Duchess and Cheever’s The Five-Forty-Eight
"That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall," begins Robert Browning’s "My Last Duchess" (594). The Duke of Ferrara, Italy makes a dramatic monologue to the count’s representative in poetic form. The count, being a friend of the Duke’s, has offered to provide the Duke’s next wife. The Duke informs the representative of all the habits he found annoying in his former Duchess as an instruction of the customs his next wife should and should not do; or she will find the same fate as his previous wife. He found these habits so annoying that he had her killed. The power that the Duke has starkly contrasts with the helplessness Miss Dent feels in John Cheever’s "The Five-Forty-Eight." Blake hires Miss Dent as his secretary, after she has been in the hospital for eight months. She is very grateful to Blake for giving her the position because she has had a difficult time finding a job due to her prolonged stay in the hospital. Miss Dent forms an affection for Blake, who uses her vulnerability to carry on a one-night stand with her. The next day he has her fired while she is at lunch and he then takes the afternoon off from work. Miss Dent tries to contact Blake every day for the next few weeks, but he avoids her until she finally confronts him in hostility. The presence or absence of power in Miss Dent’s or the Duke’s lives is the impacting factor in their personalities, "love lives," and the concluding results each of them gains.
Power, or the lack of it, forms the Duke’s and Miss Dent’s personalities. The Duke achieves his initial power from his materialistic strengths. A few of these are emphasized in lines 27-29 at which point he states "The bough of cherries some officious fool/ Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule/ She rode with round the terrace" (594). His home life includes an assemblage of servants and maids, whom he passingly refers to as "officious fool[s]." He has an enormous house that extends onto a terrace, where the Duchess rides her white mule, and then on into an array of gardens, from these orchards her cherries are picked. Not so fortunate is Miss Dent who lives in "a room that seem[s]...like a closet" (81).