4. Browning inserts the love story to show what barriers exist for slaves. At first, the speaker thinks she may have found a way to be happy, receiving and “tender and full” gaze from another slave (Browning, line 61) and later a confession of “‘I love you’” (line 72). However, her speaking in the past tense and the man being dragged away hints that he has been killed. Her love was stolen from her because, being black, they “had no claim to love and bliss” (line 93). It relates back to the critique of God in those earlier stanzas; He creates black people only to “cast His work away” later (line 25).
5. It recalls the first stanza because the speaker looks upon “his blood’s mark in the dust” (line 97) just as she will later look upon “the mark beside the shore/of the first white pilgrim’s bended knee” (lines 1-2). But while those pilgrims had done that as a representation of freedom, this was a further showing of captivity. I think that line means that the masters would not let her cry for her love’s death because she needed to get back to work, that perhaps they hurt her when she tried crying. That’s one more thing that was taken from her, something merciful that she was not allowed due to her blackness.
6. I think she literally thinks it for the best that the child die. Not to save it per say but to keep violence from continuing. They both “went moaning, child and mother” (line 110), but she saw this crying from the child as him “want[ing] his liberty/…want[ing] his master’s right” (lines 125-26).
7. She admits to her hatred for the baby, because he “was far too white…too white for me” (line 116). She “could not bare/to look at his face, it was so white” (lines 120-21). But she also admits that his struggle did cause her pain, as he beat “against my heart to break it though,” (line130) and she nearly sang to him to calm him.
8. All of those stanzas have some form of defiance, perhaps because the speaker is done accepting her forced position. We have more obvious forms, like her saying to the men, “Keep off! I brave you all at once” (line 207) and “Man, drop that stone you dared to lift” (line 212). She also defies them in her mind, declaring, “I am not mad: I am black” (line 219), and uses her willpower to keep silent; “You think I shrieked then? Not a sound” (line 226).
9. The speaker makes an interesting statement that this free land is sustained by oppression and abuse; “For in the UNION, you have set/two kinds of men in adverse rows,/Each loathing each” (lines 234-36). However, they “forget/the seven wounds in Christ’s body fair” meaning they ignore the man they worship who died wishing for kindness and acceptance (lines 236-37). I think it’s quite depressing that these people only took from religion what suited them best.
10. It has to do with her son. She says, “In the name of the white child, waiting for me/In the death-dark where we may kiss and agree” (lines 251-52). If there’s this chance she and the baby she loathed could have a chance to reconcile in death, there’s a chance something similar could happen between black and white people.
I do believe this poem could have been effective. I think it forces white people to look at the origins of the nation, and highlights the contradictions of liberty and slavery. It calls to question why God would have “made dark things/To be glad and merry as white” if all dark creations are meant to be inferior (lines 29-30). I also believe this poem definitely rounds out similar characters to the speaker. If this story had been told from the perspective of a slave owner, he might have portrayed her as the stereotype/flat character of the ‘Jezebel’. Because she had an (arguably) sexual relationship with another one of the slaves, she might be seen as immoral and promiscuous (st. XII). Certainly, this was a type that was used to label black women in other works. Of course, people are much more than types. We see in this story that it was love that bound these two, not just sexual desire (st. IX-X). She wasn’t just a female slave, she was also a mother. But not by choice. She had a white child, which means she was taken advantage of by a white man on the plantation. Perhaps one who only saw her as that Jezebel. Her reaction to it makes more sense in that context. She was made into an object, her freedom stolen even further. This poem shows her struggle, and shows her as a person, which definitely gives credence to the abolitionists’ mindset.
B. Despite the argument that I made, I do think it is relatively easy to read this poem in the opposite direction. Justice Taney speaks at length about “the interests and safety of society,” which one might say refers to white society only, and therefore the threat the black people pose to that society (Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1856). If he were to read this poem it might prove his point. A black woman killing her son for being “far too white” is certainly a threat, as it implies that most black people hold this innate desire to harm whites (Browning, line 116). Of course, then, the framers would not have wanted them to be on equal footing. Furthermore, if maliciousness and immorality is what black people always have within them, then it would make sense that God would create them to be below white people and to serve them (st. IV). They don’t deserve to “bend [their] knee upon this mark” that was left by the pilgrims, as they seek to kill the descendents of these pilgrims (line 6). To clarify, I do not agree with this standpoint! But if the goal of people like Taney to create villains, to find faults, to justify an institution that will always benefit them, they will always be able to find what they are looking for. A violent and crazy slave instead of a heartbroken yet strong woman gives them everything they need.