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NOTE: In this review i want to make clear that i am fully reviewing the play and taking it from a very diffrent angle. I am looking at how the voice of the narrator i.e. speech and use of poetic description play a major role in this highly succesfull poem. I want to be judged on a sort of essay style review with my feeling been writtin as the reader gets the feeling... and such.
REVIEW: In a dramatic monologue the voice of the narrator is an important element in revealing his personality to the reader, thus affecting how the reader reacts to him. In “Porphyria’s Lover,” by Robert Browning, the narrator murders his lover but also tries to make the reader feel sympathy for him. The poet reveals the narrator’s personality through language, characterisation, imagery, setting and narrative point of view.
The opening of the poem uses language relating to the weather to reveal the narrator’s mood: “The sullen wind………………..., tore the elm-tops down for spite, And, did its worst to vex the lake.” The word “sullen” suggests the narrator is feeling gloomy, while “spite” shows he has malicious thoughts and intentions. “Vex” continues this idea, showing the narrator is feeling angry.
At first the narrator seems to be in a foul mood but it becomes evident that he is in fact longing for a visit from someone as he, “listened with
heart fit to break.” Here the reader feels sympathetic as no one is there for him. This apparently sad personality makes the reader react to him in a sympathetic way. Then Porphyria, the narrator’s lover, arrives.
The poet describes Porphyria’s effect on the cottage and on the narrator. When she “shuts out” the storm, she brings something positive to the cottage making: “ The cheerless grate blaze up, And all the cottage warm.” Porphyria has changed the cottage from “cheerless,” to a bright, happy environment. It is the narrator who is making the cottage cheerless but Porphyria brings her own inner warmth to everything. The narrator and Porphyria are a contrasting couple; the narrator is sad and lonely while Porphyria seems to be almost angelic as she “glided” in to the room. The narrator seems depressed, and appears to almost enjoy feeling this way.
When Porphyria calls the narrator and “ no voice replied” we see that he does not like being controlled by her. This changes our mind about him slightly as she has left a party to come to see him because she loves him. Now we do not feel quite so sorry for him. We start to question his personality because he loves her, yet he acts in this way. He does not forgive her even though she has dropped everything to be with him.
The narrator goes on to describe the love he and Porphyria share. He recognises that he is still being controlled by Porphyria: “And, stooping, made my cheek lie there.” He wants to feel in control and this eventually leads him to kill her because he wants power over her. We get the impression now that the narrator is mentally unstable.
We then begin to see the narrator’s twisted thoughts emerge. The repetition of “all her yellow hair” is significant because the narrator later uses her hair to strangle her. The narrator decides Porphyria is not strong enough to give up her life for him but he knows that she wants to because she loves him. The narrator uses religious connotations to show what Porphyria thinks of him: “Happy and proud; at last I knew Porphyria worshipped me” The narrator’s personality has now changed from being depressed to delighted and proud, while the reader’s reaction to the narrator has changed from being sympathetic to almost anxious. The reader becomes uneasy about what the narrator is going to do because his mental state suggests he is unstable.
The narrator decides he is going to kill Porphyria and describes how he does this: “In one long yellow string I wound Three times her little throat around, And strangled her.” The narrator uses “her little throat” to suggest an almost loving gesture making the reader realise that the narrator thinks he is doing nothing wrong; he is only killing her because he loves her. The short sentence “And strangled her” makes the killing sound matter of fact and straight to the point. He then comments that ‘No pain felt she’ using very innocent language. This, coupled with the use of inversion, suggests that nothing bad has occurred, making the reader think the narrator has seen nothing wrong in his actions. We now do not feel any sympathy for him because he has just killed Porphyria even though she has done everything he wanted.
After the murder, the narrator begins to behave as if Porphyria is still alive and opens her eyes which: “Laughed the blue eyes without a stain” The idea that he can see emotions in her eyes shows us his deteriorating mental state. He treats Porphyria as an object that is “so glad it has its utmost will.” Our feeling now is that the narrator has totally lost all sanity if he can think that she wanted to be killed and can convince himself that he is right.
By the end of the poem the narrator is showing definite signs of madness. As he sits with Porphyria’s dead body he comments: “And yet God has not said a word!” He believes he has done nothing wrong because, if he had, then God would have punished him. Readers now have no sympathy for him, only disgust that he has killed someone and does not recognise his guilt.
The reader’s reaction to the narrator at the start of the poem is one of sympathy, as he seems to be someone very lonely, sad and filled with anger. By the end of the poem, however, the reader feels no sympathy as we see him as delusional and mad.