In the early Victorian period, a number of poems were composed which served to highlight a specific troubled spot in society. The poets often wrote for human rights groups and the like in order to convey a message to those members of society who could make a difference, namely, the educated white men. Among these poems is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point.” This piece deals with a female slave who has killed her newborn son and fled to Pilgrim’s Point, where she speaks of her feelings leading up to the present moment. Another poem, which can be placed in comparison to Browning’s, is Augusta Webster’s “A Castaway,” a dramatic monologue of a prostitute who struggles to justify her lifestyle both to herself and to her reader. In each of these works, the female speaker has acted in a morally questionable manner that initially appears condemnable. However, the issue is not clearly defined; many questions arise as to the motives behind and the circumstances surrounding each woman’s behavior. Do the choices made assert the freedom of each woman? That is to say, is the woman to be held entirely accountable for her actions based on the idea that she has freely chosen to carry them out? Upon careful reading of the two poems in question, the answer becomes much clearer. The choices made by the castaway and the runaway slave are in reality not the uninhibited decisions they at first appear. Restricted on all sides by their respective society’s powerful men, each woman faces very limited options. In each of the poems, the idea of choice (and subsequently, the question of its validity) emerges in the areas of materna...
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...both “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” and “A Castaway,” the women make choices based on only a few limited options, which can be seen in their approaches to maternity, God, and freedom. Generally speaking, each woman is held accountable for her actions, but the issues have actually stemmed from larger scale problems. Even the castaway, a white woman, has no real freedom in deciding how to live her life. She chooses prostitution out of a need to support herself while still maintaining individuality. As for the runaway slave, she has run away seeking freedom, but finds none and will be killed for her insolence. Many of the factors leading to each woman’s decisions are based on the outside influences of her world. Therefore, neither woman can be entirely blamed for the bad choices she has made; she could not choose better because a better choice does not exist.
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