Conflict in Cousin Kate
“Cousin Kate” follows the story of a former “cottage maiden” who was jilted by her lover, “a great lord” for her cousin, “Kate”. The poem presents the protagonist’s feelings and thoughts throughout the poem, congruently conveying her motives, and views about the events that have transpired to her. She expresses her discernment in a bitter manner, ultimately feeling vengeful and plotting her retaliation against her cousin, whom she believed wronged her by marrying the “the great Lord”. The conflict throughout transpires between “Kate” and the narrator, displaying her bitterness, however, she also exhibits an acrimonious attitude towards the “Lord”, and at times chagrins herself over any decisions she made.
The first indicator that the conflict may be between the persona and “Cousin Kate” is in the title. If Kate wasn’t a significant individual in the poem, then the title wouldn’t be her name, showing that she has a certain prominence. The narrator introduces her “cousin Kate” in the third stanza, opening the first sentence with “O Lady Kate, my cousin Kate”, suggesting that she is the cause of her troubles, and the reason why when she “moans”, she is an “unclean thing.” In addition her words seem almost mocking or sarcastic as if she’s only taunting the “Lady”, Kate has been elevated to, showing that she believes Kate’s higher status is temporary. The persona had been used and discarded by the “great Lord”, stating that Kate “grew more fair”, leading “the lord” to choose her, and “cast” the narrator “by” She expresses her chagrin here, using the word “cast” as though she was toy that was disregarded because something prettier was found. This quite easily reflects the Victorian society that they lived in, where a male was allowed to have many sexual relationships, however, a female was condemned for having one without being married, and was lessened to “an unclean thing.” Status also plays a huge role as the male involved was called a “Lord”, and the persona used to be a “cottage maiden.”
In the sixth stanza, the narrator openly expresses that she “wouldn’t have taken his hand”, if they were to have opposite roles, stating that she would have “spit in his face”, which is quite a violent reaction, and clearly illustrates the true extent of the persona’s anger towards Kate. Her conflict with her cousin is also reflected in the opening sentence “O cousin Kate”, the use of “O” is somewhat irritated, as if she is enervated of her cousin’s behavior, later expressing that her “love was true” but Kate’s was “writ in sand” once again ridiculing Kate’s relationship with the Lord. Previously she also states that since Kate was “bound” by the Lord’s ring, “the neighbours” call her “good and pure”, however they called her “an unclean thing” The “neighbours” were essentially the Victorian society which disproved of non-monogamous sexual relationships, meaning that the persona was shunned from their social relations. Nevertheless, Kate, in spite of taking her cousin’s lover was accepted because he married her. The narrator’s main source of conflict seemed to center on the fact that Kate accepted the Lord’s hand, and had no regard for narrator’s relationship with him.
On the other hand, since the poem is a dramatic monologue, numerous references to mournful language can be located throughout, suggesting the persona’s main conflict may be with herself, and not with her “Cousin Kate”. For instance, at the end of the first stanza, the use of rhetorical question displays her regret; “why did a great lord find me out…” Her use of “a” is impersonal and displays detachment, meaning that she wishes to distance herself from the situation, and possibly remain unaffected. Furthermore, the persona states in the second stanza that “woe’s me for joy thereof”, meaning that her problems began she fell for the lord, causing her “to lead a shameless shameful life” which she knows was scandalous, however, couldn’t help indulging herself in it. The persona seems to be extremely remorseful now as in the fourth stanza, she compares her life with Kate. The juxtaposition between “I sit and howl in dust”, and “You sit in gold and sing” illustrates the true vigor of the persona’s pain, further displaying that the main conflict may be with herself and not “Kate”. Though Kate is referred too, the narrator’s use of “howl” expresses her frustration and loneliness as wolves are known to “howl” when they are forlorn, and in need of assistance, showing she is struggling with inner conflict. The “howl” may also refer to the men of the Victorian society, and how they displayed wolfish tendencies, such as being lustful and shameless, however, were never scorned for it, disparate to women, who were.
This links to the next point; that the narrator’s main conflict is with the “lord”, and not her “cousin”. In the first stanza, her question “why did a great lord find me out…” could be directed at the “lord” himself. It is almost as if she is blaming him for finding her out. In addition, she also states that he “lured” her to the palace, meaning that she was tricked and deceived, enticed under false pretenses to go to his palace home. She subsequently goes on to say that it was his fault that she “lead a shameless shameful life”, affirming that she was his “plaything”. The sexual undertone suggests that the “lord” possessed no actual feelings for the persona and used her as a time pass. In addition, in the fifth stanza, although she bluntly addresses “Kate”, there is an underlying sense of despair and anger towards the “lord”. For instance; the persona states “if he had fooled not me but you” here, despite directing the section to “Kate”, the use of “fooled” suggests that she actually accuses the “lord” instead because it is possible that they were both “fooled”. The persona additionally states that she had “spit in his face”, demonstrating that she is irate with him. What further advocates that the persona’s rage was targeted at the lord are her non-conformist nature. In a traditional Victorian society, women were expected to forgive and forget, nevertheless, it is clear that the persona has not done either. Moreover, she is non-conformist as she began a sexual relationship before getting married which was seen as decadent in the past. Therefore, her anger towards the “lord” isn’t unusual, because she is unlikely to forgive and forget due to initially infringing the rules of the former society.
Nevertheless, the final stanza of the poem contains a twist which ultimately illustrates that the persona’s main conflict was indeed with her “cousin Kate”. In the first few she utters that she has a “gift” that “Kate” is unlikely to receive, which is her “son”. This implies that “Kate” is infertile, and the persona finally seems to have the upper hand, which leads you to wonder whether she had ulterior motives. The person refers to her “son” as her “shame” and her “pride.” The juxtaposition between the two portrays the complication the narrator has found herself in. on one hand, her son is her “shame” as he is a constant reminder that she is shunned by her society, and reduced to “an outcast thing”. Nevertheless, he is her “pride” as he will aid her in accomplishing her ultimate goal. Her revenge on “Kate” and the “Lord”. Since the second line of the stanza implies that “Kate” cannot have children; “and seen not like to get…” it is only plausible that the Lord’s inheritance is passed along to his only living heir, which is the persona’s son. The last few lines tie the poem together, allowing the main source of conflict to be established; between Kate and the persona. “Your father would give lands for one.” Due to her son, the persona is able to instigate her revenge against Kate, as she christens him her “gift”, inferring strongly that her taunts were aimed at Kate.
Largely, the persona’s conflict mostly occurred with her cousin, who didn’t think twice before marrying her lover; the lord. The fact that Kate’s name is in the title, and the majority of the taunts and spiteful words throughout are directed at Kate is evidence enough that the persona was extremely irate with what her cousin had done. She was so infuriated that it had left the persona feeling; shunned, malicious, and vengeful at the end. Despite some instances indicating that the persona’s anger was dictated elsewhere, ultimately, Kate was the true cause of her anguish and the reason for her vindictiveness
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“Cousin Kate” follows the story of a former “cottage maiden” who was jilted by her lover, “a great lord” for her cousin, “Kate”. The poem presents the protagonist’s feelings and […]