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

Questions for Frances Harper

"Eliza Harris"

  1. Why do you think the poet chose the experiences of a well-known fictional character for her subject, rather than inventing a new heroine?
  2. At what moment does the poem begin? Why do you think the poet chose this episode as the subject for her poem?
  3. What is the relationship of the narator to the subject? How can we tell her point of view? How does the narrative commentary affect the poem?
  4. What are aspects of the poem's narrative sequence, word choice, and rhythm? Do they contribute to its effect?


  1. What Biblical moment is presented in the poem? Is Vashti a central character in the book of Esther? If not, why do you think this heroine was chosen?
  2. What is offensive about the king's request? What values cause Vashti to refuse? Does the poem's ending provide a satisfactory closure?
  3. In the context of the history of African-American women, why might this poem have seemed to portray an important topic?
  4. What are features of the poem's rhythm, rhyme scheme, and narrative voice?

"Bury Me in a Free Land"

  1. What is important about the poem's date of composition and publication? Why does the poet choose this point of view for attacking slavery?
  2. What does the poem reveal about its speaker? What linguistic and thematic choices reinforce her point?
  3. Does the poem's stanzas form and rhyme scheme help convey its meaning?

"A Double Standard"

  1. What seems to have happened in this poem? From whose point of view is the poem declaimed?
  2. What aspects of her situation does the speaker consider unfair? What aspects of her mode of narration convey her point?
  3. In the context of its time, what may have motivated Harper to write a poem on this topic?

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  Page updated: September 3, 2010 22:56