In the poem “Porphyria’s Lover”, the author Robert Browning uses the ideas of love and sin to create a contradiction and uses this contradiction to explore the relationship between morality and art. The poem is much more complex than a perverse, frightening account of a man with the inability to properly express his feelings for a woman.
The title “Porphyria’s Lover” leads the audience to believe that the woman and the speaker have had a relationship for a good period of time. When the woman enters into the man’s presence, she enters the cabin with ease and starts a fire; something a person would not do unless they were comfortable with the person and the situation. The actions of the ...view middle of the document...
The reason why the speaker and Porphyria physically trade places is to show the transition of power in the relationship from female to male, giving the effect that the speaker is possessive of Porphyria’s love and wants to admire her for its intensity.
Porphyria’s movements show the dominance that she has over the speaker in the first half of the poem. She controls his movements through the first half of the poem as well. When the speaker did not respond to being called, she proceeded to “put my arm around her waist…made my cheek lie there.” Porphyria really wanted to give her love to the speaker. She was just dealing with her heart, but she was “struggling to set its passion free from pride, and vainer ties...” We do not know exactly what those ties were that were restraining Porphyria but according to the speaker, she wanted to sever the ties so that she could “give herself to me forever.”
The passive moment where Porphyria does not do anything after making the man’s cheek lie there is when the view that male should have control of the relationship since that passivity sets the two characters up to switch places. While the woman at first has all command over what is going to happen between them, there is a sudden shift. Once he realizes that she is has the power, he strangles her and then does whatever he wants to do with her, making her more passive than he had been as well as making himself far more aggressive than she had been. The speaker is officially in control once he strangles her. When he realized that Porphyria truly did love him, the speaker decided to show his gratitude by killing her at that moment because Porphyria was “perfectly pure and good,” and the speaker wanted to capture that moment. Why he did this is so Porphyria could “give herself to me forever.” The speaker goes on to take over as the dominant character as in the latter half of the poem the speaker begins to become physically active and switches places with Porphyria. He kisses Porphyria after strangling her stating that her “cheek…blushed bright beneath my burning kiss.” He propped her head upon his shoulder showing the transition of him becoming the dominant partner, which additionally gives the effect of the speaker’s admiration and possession of Porphyria’s love.
This suggests the idea of the male-dominated Victorian society and its inherit male chauvinism. In the beginning of the poem, she shows tremendous agency over the encounter and the speaker does not feel comfortable with this and he does not know how to respond to her. For him, the only way to overcome this and reverse their roles is to murder her, rendering her unable to exercise dominance over him.
There are two types of sin in the poem. The first is the obvious murder; the second is the woman’s sin of sexuality and desire. Women during this time were supposed to remain pure and loyal to their virtue. This meant ignoring their sexuality and pretending it did not exist. If a woman did give in to her...