Themes in Porphyria's Lover
Themes Examples in Porphyria's Lover:
"we sit together now..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
Porphyria’s murder can be seen as the speaker forcing a woman who defies the social restraints placed on her agency and sexual desire into the conventional role of a Victorian woman. In this way, Browning’s poem can be read as satirical. His speaker enforces the expectations placed on female sexuality in a shocking and horrifying way in order to reveal the shocking and horrifying nature of the rules themselves.
"scorned..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The verb “to scorn” means to mock, chide, or hold in contempt. It connotes an assumed intelligence, as if the scorner believes herself to be superior to what she scorns. While the speaker does not specify what Porphyria had “scorned,” this diction suggests that Porphyria was an intelligent person. However, the speaker dismisses this intelligence by portraying himself as a savior. In murdering her, he made this scorn, and the independence it symbolized, “flee” from her and replaced it with “I,” or love for him. The speaker conveys the idea that a woman only needs a man to make all of her other problems “flee,” a popular Victorian belief about love and marriage. In focusing on Porphyria’s “love” for him, the speaker can portray her as a conventional, innocent Victorian woman.
"smiling rosy little head..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
In describing Porphyria as having a “smiling rosy little head,” the speaker infantilizes her: she is no longer the sexual being with agency that we saw at the beginning of the poem, but something “little” and “rosy.” These words connote innocence and simplicity. In murdering this woman, the speaker is able to force her into traditional gender roles and “restore” her innocence.
"my shoulder bore..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
Placing Porphyria’s head on his shoulder is another form of reversal. The speaker places her below him in this position of dependence. The woman with her head on the man’s shoulder symbolizes traditional gender roles: the woman relies on the man for protection and dotes on him in return. The power reversals after Porphyria’s death suggest that the speaker restored Victorian social norms with this murder.
"it has its utmost will..." See in text (Porphyria's Lover)
The use of the pronoun “it” dehumanizes Porphyria, as if in her death she is now a mere object. It is also intriguing that the speaker claims to know “its utmost will,” suggesting that Porphyria’s greatest wish was to be killed. Once again, Browning explores the theme of disconnection from reality. Feeding his ongoing fiction, the speaker misinterprets the dead Porphyria’s expression as gratitude.