"A Trampwoman's Tragedy"
According to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Thomas Hardy’s poems often “illustrate the perversity of fate,” “the disastrous or ironic coincidence,” or “some aspect of human sorrow or loss…” (Greenblatt). In “A Trampwoman’s Tragedy,” a narrative poem about people who make terrible decisions that yield terrible consequences, Hardy utilizes irony and fate to explore traditional gender roles and their effects on the human condition. The poem contains the sorrow, regret, and anger that are characteristic undertones in much of Hardy’s poetry. In “A Trampwoman’s Tragedy,” Hardy uses characters that embody negative gender stereotypes to emphasize the themes of destined justice and loss. There are two female characters in the poem, the speaker and Mother Lee, and they both portray, through their actions and inactions, negative female stereotypes. For example, the speaker of the poem is presented as a manipulative tease. She also seems rather stupid and careless because she lacks the foresight to predict the negative consequences of her unnecessarily cruel joke. Hardy writes in section five, “I teased my fancy-man in play/And wanton idleness." It appears the speaker is presenting her actions as a harmless joke, yet she uses the adjective “wanton” to describe how she teased her lover. This adjective was originally used only to describe women, and a few of the most common definitions for “wanton” include “unchaste,” “ill-mannered,” and “undisciplined” (Oxford English Dictionary). Hardy’s use of “wanton” suggests that the speaker is incapable of controlling her actions, so she uses her time to create manipulative games that have serious consequences. For example, her game utilizes of a classic female method of manipulating men: pregnancy. Women who force men into further commitment through false pregnancy are the ultimate immoral manipulators. Also, the title of the poem, and the speaker’s actions throughout most of the story, give the impression that the female speaker may not be faithful to one man, so manipulation through pregnancy would be a convenient way for her to find a lasting mate without being stifled by concepts like faithfulness and fidelity. Hardy creates, with the speaker of his poem, a female character that commits deeds that amount to a classic woman-causes-the-fall-of-man situation on an individual scale. The only time in the poem when the speaker demonstrates intelligence is when she is manipulating men and causing destruction. She effortlessly causes two men to fall into her trap, yet she is incapable of using that same intelligence to think about possible outcomes for her actions. If Hardy intended for readers to believe that the speaker has genuine feelings for her lover, the best possible interpretation of her character is that she is stupid and misguided. If Hardy intended for readers to believe that the speaker does not feel real love toward her lover, then she is cruel and morally bankrupt. No matter what Hardy’s intentions, however, both interpretations lend themselves to negative female stereotypes.
The only other female character in the poem, Mother Lee, represents gender negativity, as well. “Mother” was often a term used to address women who lacked education or money, and was also a title occasionally used to convey “mock respect” (Oxford English Dictionary). If this is the case in the poem, it is emphasized by the lack of insight that Mother Lee lends to the situation. She is a character that seems to serve little purpose in the story, except to be the silent companion of the speaker. Mother Lee, as she is represented, is an older and quieter version of the speaker. She says nothing when the speaker is playing her games, and she fails to react in a significant way to any occurrence in the poem, violent or otherwise. Furthermore, “Mother” implies that she should be a mentor or maternal figure. She fails at either role because she offers no input to help or guide...
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