The Orphan Girl by H. L. V Derozio
The Orphan Girl Summary
The Orphan Girl Summary : Henry Louis Vivian Derozio’s “The Orphan Girl” throws light on the condition of an orphan girl who becomes a target of society’s oppression and criticism. It recounts the plight of an infant girl who loses her father and later her mother and the uncertain fate of the orphan girl. At the outset, the poet describes the beauty of the girl and tells the death of her parents. In the next stanza, the poet projects the unpredictable life of an orphan in a callous world.
The Orphan Girl
The first lines of the poem “The Orphan Girl” (1827) inform readers of the tone of the poem. He also introduces the main character of his poem. It also gives us the hint about the gloomy tone of the poem.
Though she is young and lovely, she seemed to have too many sorrows. She is a poor friendless girl in the unmerciful world. To refer to the inconsiderate people, the poet personifies the world in the line “Marked for many woes in this unpitying world!” (Derozio 29)
The Girl’s appearance
The poet begins with a description of the beauty of the girl. The poet says that her hair is black as a raven’s wings. Her cheeks are as bright and beautiful as tulip flowers. Similar to the soft and serene sound of night winds, her voice is soft. Her brow is fair as a moonbeam.
Here, Derozio uses visual imagery, for instance, in the line “Her hair was black as a raven’s wing” to describe her beauty.
He also uses auditory imagery in the line “Her voice was as soft as when night winds sing” to resemble her soft voice to that of the sounds of the night wind. Here, the poet also personifies the “night winds” to describe the soft sound of the girl.
Moreover, while describing the beauty of the girl, the poet uses simile and metaphor. A simile or metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things based on similarity.
In the poem, the girl’s hair, voice, and brow are compared to that of a raven’s wings, night winds, and moonbeam, respectively.
In each comparison, the things compared differ from each other. For instance, while describing the girl’s hair, Derozio says her hair “was black as a raven’s wings”. We find the similarity in the color black.
Based on this similarity, he compares the blackness of her hair and the black color of the raven’s wings. Similarly, the girl’s brow and the moonlight are both different things, but her brow is as fair as the moonlight.
The poet also employs a metaphor in the line “Her cheek the tulip’s hue did wear” to compare the brightness of her cheek with the tulip.
The Onset of miserable life
After the pleasant description of the beauty of the girl, the tone of the poem changes. The poet moves his description from a pleasant state to gloominess. After describing the beauty of the girl, the poet comes to talk about her father.
Her father joins the war. The reference to the war is not clear in the poem. Irrespective of any war, the experience of a soldier is almost common and here the experience of her father is not different from other soldiers.
“The battle shock, the shout, and the scar”–the horrors of the battleground have a severe impact on him. Here, the poet uses auditory imagery “the shout” to refer to the chaos in a battleground.
He fights bravely in the war but unfortunately becomes a martyr. We find a trace of sarcasm in the alliteration “glorious grave” in the line “He knew, and gained a glorious grave-”.
It is tragic even after fighting heroically in the war; the soldier gets death in the end as his prize. People glorify death, but it hid the horror and futility of the war.
There is no point in the glory after the death of the soldier. So, can such glory has any significance?
The sarcasm is further emphasized in the line “Such is the guerdon of the brave!” They bury his body and engrave an epitaph on his tombstone.
This is the absurdity of a soldier’s life, where he will never know about his posthumous name for his bravery. So this can’t be a reward at all. There is no sign of such a reward from the soldier’s position.
Seeing the demise of her father, her mother can’t bear the pain as a widow in her heart. As a result, she does not live long. She, too, dies and leaves her child alone in the world.
The Plight of the orphan girl
In the second stanza of “The Orphan Girl,” we come to know the unpredictable future of the miserable girl.
Derozio throws light on the hardship that the girl encounters. There is no one around her to provide her a helping hand, both physically and psychologically. The absence of her parents in her life makes her life uncertain and miserable.
She has nothing to eat, no home to stay in, and nowhere to go. The condition of the helpless girl is like the orphan girl in the poem “An Orphan Girl” by Thomas Vaughan Jones. The poem also recounts the tragic condition of an orphan girl.
The orphan girl in “An Orphan Girl” stands barefoot in a street of town with her ragged doll. She shivers in the winter’s biting cold. But nobody is there to help that lone girl.
Both orphan girls are helpless at the hand of time and unfortunately, society seems uncaring of their miseries. Such conditions are still relatable to the countries like developing countries where many people live below poverty and enormous numbers of orphans are easily available.
Most people are not willing to help such children since there is no apparent benefit to it. Therefore, Derozio says with frustration that the wretched like her have never had a friend.
Her life has turned into a dreary desert where she has to encounter the hurdles in life herself. Here, the alliteration “dreary desert” (Derozio) is used to stress how isolated she is from the people.
His concern about the plight of the orphan girl suggests the poet’s humanitarianism. After referring to her as a “poor friendless wanderer”, here again, he uses ecphonesis as in “For alas! The wretched have never a friend!” to express his outburst of emotions about the heartbreaking situation of the girl.
This suggests that people have become too self-absorbed and they have no time to spend on the welfare of other beings. The tendency of becoming self-centric that we see today is a harbinger of degenerated society. The more we keep ourselves away from each other’s company, the faster the degeneration of society will be.
During such a hard time, she has to survive. Under such circumstances, she might go astray from her virtuous ways. Here, the “virtue’s way” in the poem could refer to no stealing, lying, etc.
However, under compulsion, the girl might break the “virtue’s way”. If she breaks it for survival, society will not consider her situation.
Here it raises in the minds of readers the concept of good and bad. The elders teach us to be virtuous and to avoid vices in life.
If the orphan girl does anything wrong, then it is her fault but, we can’t disregard her situation. She is a girl whose parents have passed away and left her alone in an unfriendly world.
From this point of view, for a girl who has none to guide her, there is no concept of right or wrong. She has to steal or lie to survive. She has no choice.
Regarding good and bad, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche states in his book Beyond Good and Evil (1886) that the concepts of good and evil are culturally constructed to keep harmony in society.
If we construct them according to the convenience of the society, then these concepts can be ignored under certain conditions. They are not applicable in certain conditions. For instance, if the little girl does anything wrong, society can ignore her mistakes.
Unfortunately, there is a lack of kind-hearted people. Instead of taking concern for her situation, it is ready to lash at her with its criticism. The hail of harsh words is enough to break the morale of the orphan girl.
Moreover, a crime in society is an outcome of a mistake in society. If anyone like the girl follows a wrong path, then it is the failure of society because society has failed to guide the poor girl.
Society is silent when it sees the plight of the orphan girl and no one approaches in the hour of need. However, in times of judgment, they will not step back from critiquing, as it is the easiest thing to do.
The mistreatment of the girl by criticism is like injuring someone with a sword. Though the wound by words is not visible, they are more intense than a physical wound as they are embedded in the memories forever.
Troubles in the life of the orphan girl
This is the reality of the miserable girl. Society will humiliate her and constantly remind her to feel ashamed if she does any wrongdoings. The poet says that shame is intense enough that it can squeeze the breast and that society is going to wound the bosom.
If we assume “breast”, and “bosom” to be feminine attributes, then “wring the breast” (Derozio) could mean the shame can harm her womanhood in the future as she has to carry with her the baggage of sorrow and guilt.
Indeed, it is brutal that the people are going to hurt her bosom. The poet uses the alliteration “coldly cruel” to emphasize the insensitivity of society towards a miserable orphan.
Blood in the line “The bosom whose blood must gush unbound.” could suggest the loss of vitality in the orphan’s life, as we usually refer blood to as life in literature.
The poet says that the sorrow of such a pitiful woman is more heartbreaking than any other sorrow. Therefore, the poet reveres those who come forward for help and protects such individuals from sorrow and shame.
We observe Derozio’s humane treatment of the miserable girl in the poem. Similar to “Freedom to the Slave”, we observe a sense of hope. However, there is uncertainty ahead in the life of the orphan girl.
We can divide the poem into three stanzas. The first stanza comprises three lines, and the second stanza and the third stanza have twelve and fourteenth lines, respectively. Though the first two stanzas do not follow any proper rhyming scheme, the latter stanza follows a rhyming pattern.
The Theme of the Poem
The theme of the poem “The Orphan Girl” is the theme of misfortune. The poem talks about an orphan. We observe misfortunes surrounding the little girl’s life, thus making her life hard to live. Her father dies in the war and soon her mother also dies. She is alone and faces the world without parents, without loved ones.
Fate or destiny causes the plight of the orphan girl. The orphan is vulnerable in front of fate. To explore the theme, I’d like to bring some aspects of Thomas Hardy’s view of fate into the discussion.
The reason for bringing Hardy’s view is Hardy’s view of fate can be applicable here in the poem. The poem conveys the helplessness of human beings at the hands of fate.
Hardy’s characters such as Mrs. Yeobright and Clym in The Return of the Native (1878), Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) suffer mostly because of the involvement of fate in their lives.
Hardy defines fate as all the events, circumstances, chance, and factors that are beyond man’s reach and control. For instance, the girl in “The Orphan Girl” can neither decide nor control her parentage. She does not know that she has born into a family where both her parents will die during her early stage of life. The tragic incidents of her life are out of her reach. She can’t do anything except accept the grim reality.
However, her life initially looks blissful, and we observe it in the pleasant tone of the first lines of the poem. For instance, the poet compares her hair to a raven’s wing. Her voice is as soft as the night wind.
She is happy in her life, but this momentary happiness fades soon as her father joins the war. In this context, Hardy states in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), “Happiness is but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain”. Happiness is momentary. It will soon disappear as fate intervenes in the life of man.
The ephemeral happiness vanishes when her father dies in the war. Though the war starts because of human intervention, death on the battlefield is purely a matter of fate. With her father, fate plays an important role in his death. The death of her father is not at anyone’s hand except fate.
Her father has no choice in the war except to take part actively in the war. Dying in the war is an accident. Her father died in the war, but he could have survived.
Like her father, her mother also could have lived instead of passing away suddenly. The death of the husband impacts the wife emotionally. Unfortunately, fate strikes her with the news of her husband. She is stunned and loses her sanity. She also dies because of grief. Their child becomes an orphan.
So Similar to Hardy’s view, we can assert that fate also acts as an insensitive and omnipotent being in the girl’s life. On the other hand, all the other human beings such as the father, the mother, and the girl are powerless in front of fate.
Fate is omnipotent because it determines the future of the girl. If her father had not died, then his wife would not have suffered the agony of loss and the child would have had a pleasant childhood. So fate is the harbinger of the impending doom in the girl’s life.
However, these incidents propel her to the disaster. The orphan girl suffers in the world because of no exact reason. It suggests that the orphan girl is just a puppet at the hands of fate.
Man isn’t free from fate. Fate puts obstacles on the path of life and man becomes a victim of fate’s invincible might. Man is a mere being who can’t escape from the clutches of fate. The interference of fate in man’s life causes tragedy. As a result, the destitute like the orphan girl suffers.
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