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Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning

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1 Porphyria’s Lover by Robert Browning
A Study in Cliffs Notes

2 Porphyria’s Lover: the Poem
The rain set early in tonight, The sullen wind was soon awake, It tore the elm-tops down for spite, And did its worst to vex the lake: I listened with heart fit to break. When glided in Porphyria; straight She shut the cold out and the storm, And kneeled and made the cheerless grate Blaze up, and all the cottage warm; Which done, she rose, and from her form Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl, And laid her soiled gloves by, untied Her hat and let the damp hair fall, And, last, she sat down by my side And called me. When no voice replied, She put my arm about her waist, And made her smooth white shoulder bare, And all her yellow hair displaced, And, stooping, made my cheek lie there, And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair, Murmuring how she loved me – she Too weak, for all her heart's endeavor, To set its struggling passion free From pride, and vainer ties dissever, And give herself to me forever. But passion sometimes would prevail, Nor could tonight's gay feast restrain A sudden thought of one so pale For love of her, and all in vain: So, she was come through wind and rain. Be sure I looked up at her eyes Happy and proud; at last I knew Porphyria worshiped me: surprise Made my heart swell, and still it grew While I debated what to do. That moment she was mine, mine, fair, Perfectly pure and good: I found A thing to do, and all her hair In one long yellow string I wound Three times her little throat around, And strangled her. No pain felt she; I am quite sure she felt no pain. As a shut bud that holds a bee, I warily oped her lids: again Laughed the blue eyes without a stain. And I untightened next the tress About her neck; her cheek once more Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss: I propped her head up as before, Only, this time my shoulder bore Her head, which droops upon it still: The smiling rosy little head, So glad it has its utmost will, That all it scorned at once is fled, And I, its love, am gained instead! Porphyria's love: she guessed not how Her darling one wish would be heard. And thus we sit together now, And all night long we have not stirred, And yet God has not said a word!

3 Cliffs Notes: Character Analysis
For each character in the play you must create a detailed analysis of their role within the overall story and how they symbolically fit into our discussion of Marxist and Feminist ideals. Include the following: Physical description and age Role within the family or how do they impact the interactions of the Younger family. Symbols associated with the character Marxist interpretation of the character’s interactions and role within the play. How do they reinforce or challenge Marxist theoretical ideals? Feminist interpretation of the character’s interactions and role within the play. How do they reinforce or challenge Feminist theoretical ideals?

4 Character Analysis: Porphyria’s Description
Porphyria is a young woman with “yellow” or blond hair who, though she says little, has the power to block out the storm outside. She manages to change her lover’s gloom demeanor into joy.

5 Character Analysis: Porphyria’s Role in Relationship
Porphyria first takes a dominant role in the relationship. Her lover, nameless, sits around alike a bump on a log, moping. She takes off her coat and hat, she arranges him on the couch to snuggle. At the halfway point in the poem, though, he becomes active and she grows passive, resting her head on his shoulder.

6 Character Analysis: Symbols Associated with Porphyria
One interesting symbol associated with Porphyria is her hair. In line 13, Porphyria lets her hair “fall,” implying sin. Porphyria, here, travels alone to meet her lover. During the Victorian era, women who had sex outside of marriage were viewed as “fallen women.” This may be the irrevocable step she takes to meet her lover.

7 Character Analysis: Symbols Associated with Porphyria
Browning describes Porphyria’s hair as “yellow,” which in Victorian times was associated with angelic purity and children. She has a childlike innocence with her lover, especially in the way she lays her head on his shoulder and trusts him without reserve. She lays her “yellow” hair on his chest, as if to cover him with innocence. That’s a big fail.

8 Character Analysis: Symbols Associated with Porphyria
The number three takes on a special significance when considering the religious atmosphere in the Victorian era: does her own innocence kill her, her own fallen piety? Perhaps it is her sin, reflected in her fallen innocence. If the number three represents the trinity, this connection makes a good deal of sense.

9 What is Marxism? Marxist critics base their theory and practice on the following economic and cultural theoretical claims: History, humanity and its institutions are based on economic organization. Economic changes equal changes in how a government and its people function. People are in a continual struggle for economic, political, and social advantage. Human consciousness is constituted by ideology, which is the set of values, beliefs, thinking and feeling that guide how we perceive and explain reality. Our ideologies reinforce our economic and social class.

10 Why Marxism? Marxism remains one of the most influential philosophical and literary theories of modern time. Our way of life is determined by the economic system that we inhabit. You can not separate yourself from the economic “machine” that you are a part of. The theory also glorifies and examines the plight of the “worker” or common person.

11 Character Analysis: Marxist Interpretation
One gets the sense that the narrator lives in humble surroundings: the dull cold in the home is evidently out of reach of society. Porphyria is part of high society and though she murmurs how much she loves him, the narrator understands that she will not leave her social station to be with him; thus, he kills her with her own “yellow” hair. In killing Porphyria, the speaker takes on the powerful role even though he isn’t wealthy.

12 Feminist Theory Feminist critics look to see how male dominated cultural and economic institutions have alienated women, giving them the “other” status in our society. Feminist critics hold these traits in common: Our civilization is patriarchal Gender is socially/culturally constructed by patriarchal biases in our civilization Patriarchal ideologies are represented in “great” literature Authentic female characters, voices and experiences are left out of literature. Most literature is written by men towards male audiences.

13 Why Feminist Theory? Feminist theory asks us to examine not only how we view women, but how men and women interact with each other in literature. Understanding feminist perspectives will help you to see not only literature, but advertising, music videos, television, feature films, school, relationships, and the workplace different.

14 Character Analysis: Feminist Interpretation
Challenging feminist theory ideals, the narrator sets up traditional male/female roles from the very beginning of the poem: instead of starting the fire to warm his home as he awaits his beloved, he sits in the cold and waits for Porphyria who completes this unmanly task. Interestingly, it is only after starting the fire and making sure her man is comfortable that Porphyria finally removes her wet clothing. Browning portrays Porphyria as modest, unassuming, and self-sacrificing. Even the way she “glides” into the room reveals the feminine ideal. Still, despite her subservience, Porphyria maintains a touch of independence, which the speaker punishes through murder. His final triumph subverts the feminine ideal.

15 Cliffs Notes: Themes and Symbols
In this section identify as many of the themes and symbols present in the play. A theme is a fundamental and often universal idea explored in a literary work A symbol can be an object, character, figure, or color used to represent abstract ideas or concepts Divide the themes and symbols into the follow three categories: Marxist Feminist Other Answer the following questions for each theme and symbol that you identify: What role does the theme/symbol play in the action of the story? What characters of the play are associated with the theme/symbol? How does this theme/symbol reinforce Marxist/Feminist readings of the text? If you can not classify a theme/symbol as Marxist/Feminist, what other larger ideology does it fall under? How does that challenge/change how you have been reading the text?

16 Themes and Symbols Robert Browning reveals that when two people of two different stations in life fall in love, their relationship will ultimately become a “power play” where the working class person tries to gain power in whatever means necessary, even if it’s destructive. Robert Browning shows that a woman’s sin of acknowledging her sexual desires is a sin more deserving of punishment that the sin of murder.

17 Themes and Symbols Porphyria symbolizes several things: purity and goodness (“Perfectly pure and good: I found a thing to do, and all her hair in one long yellow string I wound three times her little throat around…”); the speaker’s need for comfort (“She shut the cold out and the storm, and kneeled and made the cheerless grate blaze up, and all the cottage warm”); speaker’s fantasy of being worshipped and desired (“…and called me. When no voice replied, she put my arm about her waist...Murmuring how she loved me”).

18 Adapt your Cliffs Notes for A Raisin in the Sun using this example.
It’s your turn. Adapt your Cliffs Notes for A Raisin in the Sun using this example.

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