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The Central Conceit it John Donne's "The Flea"

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Much debate has arisen over the years about the moral suitability of taking part in sexual intercourse before being married to your true love. In John Donne's “The Flea” this topic is brought up when the speaker of the poem is trying to convince his addressee to partake in sexual intercourse with him although they are not married, by showing her that the act would be no more sinful or shameful than the bite of a flea. He uses the flea as a conceit in three main ways: first, after they have both been bitten, the flea now represents their union by the mixing of bodily fluids. Second, the flea represents innocence and the potential child they may bear together. Finally, he tries to prove that once she yields to his seduction she will have lost no more honour than when she killed the flea.
First, the speaker argues that participating in sexual acts with him would be no more sinful than the bite of a flea because the flea has bitten them both and now their blood is mingled within the flea representing their union. He compares the tiny flea to the sex that she is denying him: “Mark but this flea, and mark in this/ How little that which thou deny'st me is” (1-2), implying that what she is denying him is trivial or insignificant. The speaker then demonstrates that the mixing of their blood within the flea is not a sin, nor shame, nor loss of virginity: “Thou know'st that this cannot be said/ A sin, nor sham, nor loss of maidenhead” (5-6). He is insinuating that having sex with him would not be a sin either because it is nothing more then the mixing bodily fluids. He continues with his argument saying that the flea doesn't even have to woo her to get what it wants and it is pampered as it sucks her blood, which is more than he gets to ...

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...-27). The speaker has unfolded all of his lovers previous illogical fears, once she give in to his persuasion she will lose no more honour then she lost life when she killed the flea.
The speaker has presented his lover with evidence for his argument that being sexually involved with him would be no more sinful than being bitten by a flea because essentially they both involve the same actions; the mixing of bodily fluids, the marriage of the couple, and the conceiving of an innocent beautiful child. We can conclude that sexual acts are not something to be ashamed of, but something that brings two people closer together and creates a deep passion and beauty that simply should not be considered to be shameful or dishonourable.

Works Cited

Donne, John. “The Flea”. Immortal Poems of the English Language. Oscar Williams, ed. NY: Washington Square Press, 1952, 95-6.
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