Tactics of Persuasion in John Donne’s “The Flea”
John Donne’s poem, “The Flea,” builds the argument of a young man as he tries to convince a woman to go to bed with him. He utilizes several tactics as he tries to sway the woman, playing on both traditional Renaissance ideas and religious beliefs, and twisting these ideas to fit the situation and his argument that the woman in the poem should have sex with him. His main strategy is to appeal to the women’s logos and he manipulates the simple event of being bitten by a flea into an argument for a sexual relationship between himself and a young woman. Yet despite his clear effort and intelligence, he is ultimately denied as the woman kills the flea.
The narrator beings the poem with a playful tone; he humorously presents the absurd yet logical idea that the two of them may as well have intercourse based on the fact that they were both bitten by a flea. He claims, “It sucked me first, and now it sucks thee, / And in this flea our two bloods mingled be” (3-4). The argument does hold some ground based on 17th century beliefs and the thinking that sex involved the mixing of blood, which was occurring within the flea. Additionally the language and approach that the narrator uses can take on a wicked tone, as he tries to persuade the young woman to sleep with him using deceptive tactics, such as devaluing her virginity in saying “how little that which thou deniest me is” (2). His argument does not hold up despite his efforts, yet he still can be seen as a bad boy as he uses any logical argument to try and convince the woman.
This approach certainly presents irony, since this is an odd way for a man to take to try and convince a woman to go to bed with him. Rather than trying to woo her or claim his love to her, this man tries to appeal to her logic in an argument he continues to develop in the following stanzas. Additionally the flea is a subject that was seen as a humorous creature, mainly for it’s audacity, which...
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