Tennyson’s Portrayal of His Speaker’s Resentment in Maud.

February 27, 2019 by Essay Writer

Tennyson’s reclusive speaker is shown to condemn the actions of both people and society as a whole within ‘Maud’; many of the speaker’s social criticisms are shown to be valid social critiques of the Victorian age, in contrast to his sometimes erratic and distorted cognitive patterns displayed through disjunctive structural techniques within the poem. Conversely, some of the speaker’s more extreme criticisms of mass social demographics such as women display signs of the mental health issues the speaker is plagued with in the second act of the poem. In this essay I will be exploring how Tennyson uses literary and structural techniques to present his speaker’s resentment of people and society within the following extract, and comparing this to the criticisms of civilisation later on within the poem.

Tennyson portrays his speaker as derogatory of the newly rich: ‘seeing his gewgaw castle shine, new as his title’. The use of the simile emphasises the relative modernity of Maud’s suitor’s position and exacerbates the idea that the suitor is not worthy of his title or income, having inherited both rather than having earned them. In generalised terms, Tennyson’s speaker is shown to be critical of the capitalist state which allows the wealthy to purchase commodities which should be beyond the reach of capital: ‘what is it he cannot buy?’ The rhetorical question demonstrates Tennyson’s speaker’s cynicism at the state of Victorian society, in which it could be insinuated a man could ‘buy’ his way through life, winning people – particularly women – over with his income.

Tennyson’s speaker is presented as critical of women – Tennyson suggests that the suitor is ‘rich in the grace all women desire’. This presentation of women creates the idea that females are fickle and easily swayed by materialistic goods. Throughout the text, the speaker appears disparaging about all ‘feminine’ traits and seems to be simultaneously drawn and repelled by apparently ‘masculine’ qualities; critics have interpreted that this is a symbol of internalised misogyny as the speaker feels that – through the loss of his father – he has lost his identity and in turn his virility.

A repeated criticism of industrialists becomes a repeated motif within the poem, particularly within the first act. Tennyson’s speaker is shown to be critical of the upper class, who build their wealth on the bones of the labourers who work under them. Tennyson depicts the objectification of the working class through abstraction; ‘grimy nakedness dragging his trucks’. This dehumanisation strips the workers of any individuality or dignity and creates imagery of a collective work force, devoid of emotive language. This criticism reflects the state of Britain during this period of the Industrial Revolution: many workers who came to the city for work lived in unsanitary housing, worked in hazardous conditions and had to provide for their family with the pittance they earned. While this criticism can be generalised to the state of the country, the speaker’s criticism originally instigates from his dislike of Maud’s father – a hatred that can be linked to not only his father’s death but his emasculation. Thus Tennyson’s portrayal of his speaker’s resentment of people could ultimately be interpreted as misdirected self-loathing.

Repetition is a literary device used to emphasise the speaker’s disgust at society; ‘sick, sick to the heart of life, am I.’ It could be deduced that the use of imagery related to the body suggests that the speaker is condemning not only the behaviour of citizens but also the root or ‘heart’ of these distorted deeds – capitalist industrialists. However, an alternative critical interpretation is that the speaker is having an existential crisis and is venting his frustration at not only the corrupt 19th century society but – literally – at life itself, which could also be viewed as the ‘heart’ of society’s problems as without human intervention, corruption could not occur. The word placement of the pronoun ‘I’ demonstrates that even though the speaker’s criticism is of British culture as a whole, the central focus is once more on the self and the speaker’s internalised disgust. Tennyson further uses asyndeton to create the effect of listing in his depiction of the speaker’s resentment of society; ‘down with ambition, avarice, pride, jealousy’. This listing creates the sense that society’s faults are numerous and interminable. Irony is also deployed here as speaker himself demonstrates at least one of these deadly sins in the form of jealousy, displaying envy towards Maud’s brother and suitor throughout the first act.

Tennyson’s motif of conflict symbolises the speakers’ internal battle against the self and external struggle against society as a whole. There is also conflict between the speaker’s desire for acceptance in society and his need for isolation: while he condemns society for its arguably valid flaws, it could be perceived that he desires social inclusion. Eventually this conflict is resolved when the speaker unites in a common patriotic cause with his fellow citizens. In the third Act, the speaker’s criticism of society and its citizens’ dissolves – it could be perceived that as the speaker finds his identity and communal spirit through war, his insecurity disappears and thus his condemnation of society lessens.

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