The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-61)

“The Cry of the Children”

  1. Is the date when the poem was written important? What is its subject?
  2. What social and political context prompted the author to write on this topic? Who is its audience?
  3. Why do you think the poem is addressed to "Oh my brothers"? What may be implied by notions of "brotherhood"? Should she have appealed to "Oh my sisters"?
  4. Who are the poem's speakers? Are there shifts in the emphasis given to each voice? What may have been the advantages of Barrett-Browning's use of more than one point of view?
  5. What is the poem's stanza form and rhythm? Are there variations? Do you think this is a good stanza form and choice of rhythm for the author’s purposes?
  6. In particular, are there ways in which the rhythms reinforce the theme of noisy, dirty and unpleasant factory conditions?
  7. What metaphors or recurrent themes does the author use to make her points? (nature; death; youth and age; whirring of machinery)
  8. In what ways is the children’s viewpoint different from that of adults? What is their view of death, and how does this reinforce the poem's themes? How do they respond to the death of little Alice?
  9. What view of religion does the author seem to espouse? Who is responsible for the fact that the children are unable to conceive of a beneficent divine being?
  10. How do you think Barrett Browning's Victorian audience would have responded to these charges?
  11. What final metaphors or references conclude the poem, and does this provide a change in tone? Why have the children been sacrificed?
  12. Do you think the final appeal is effective? (eviscerated child's heart splashes on steps of progress; condemnation of greed; children assume the voice of authority)
  13. What is the sequence of the topics treated? Do you think the progression of the poem has been effective?
  14. What do you make of the final menton of a "curse"? Who is doing the cursing, and why is this disturbing? Would this have been common in Victorian poetry? Victorian oratory?
  15. What features of this poem were designed to appeal to a middle-class Victorian audience?
  16. Has the issue of child labor disappeared since Browning’s day?

“The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”

  1. What is the poem’s plot? Would it have been a familiar one to EBB’s readers?
  2. Where is “Pilgrim’s Point,” and why does the poet choose it for her setting?
  3. As a poem writen in 1848, what contemporary controversies would the poem have addressed?
  4. Describe the poem’s rhythm and stanza form. Why do you think the poet chose it for this narrative?
  5. What are some results of casting the speaker’s story as a dramatic monologue? What effect is created by the fact that we do not know her name?
  6. What is the speaker’s position at the beginning of the poem? What points does she make to defend the equality of black people?
  7. What account does she give of her past? Why do you think the poet chose to describe the speaker’s past romantic life for her Victorian audience?
  8. What seems to be the setting of the poem? Could the speaker have travelled from the land of the mangoes to Massachusetts? Does it matter?
  9. Who was the father of her child? What problems does this cause for the speaker and her child?
  10. What are some images that structure the account of her child’s birth?
  11. What motivates the speaker’s infanticide? Does she love her child? What explanation for her behavior does the narrative offer?
  12. What act finally gives the speaker relief about her child’s death, and what symbolism is attached to this?
  13. What meaning does the narrative attach to singing? According to the speaker, how were mother and child permitted reconciliation?
  14. What do you make of her call to other slaves to raise their hands in revolt? Would this have been a controversial topic at the time?
  15. Who tries to recapture the speaker? What does she think of her pursuers?
  16. What is the tone of her references to religion?
  17. What is her final attitude toward her oppressors in the moment of death?
  18. What final message does she leave to her destroyers, the United States, and the world?
  19. Why might an Englishwoman members of whose family had plantations in the Caribbean have felt impelled to write on these topics?
  20. What do you think different groups of American and British readers in 1850 would have thought of this poem? Do you think it is effective?
  21. Is there any aspect of the poem that might be altered if one were to write on similar subjects today?
  22. Does the poem have any continuing application?

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  Page updated: August 27, 2012 17:52