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Societies Views of Powerless Women

Imagine if a man was trying to engage in sexual intercourse with you, against your wishes. Would you just lie there and let him seduce you? In Aphra Behn’s poem, “The Disappointment,” Cloris faces this situation when Lysander begins to seduce her. The man clearly wants to have sex with Cloris, but she appears to have second thoughts about it. I found the poem to be very detailed and open about everything that was taking place while she was being persuaded to have sex with him. The vivid syntax made it seem as if I was there watching this all take place, which at first was a little awkward and uncomfortable. Cloris’s helplessness with her male lover is demonstrated through rhetorical devices such as metaphors, imagery and syntax. Throughout the poem Cloris has many thoughts about losing her honor and being ashamed of sleeping with Lysander. “The Disappointment” indicates that woman had very little power and society wasn’t all accepting of sexual experiences, especially a woman losing her virginity.

In “The Disappointment,” Behn elaborates on every move and scene taking place throughout the poem, allowing the audience to fully engage with the situation. “Kisses her mouth, her neck, her hair; Each touch her new desire alarms, His burning trembling hand he prest…” This quote in stanza four allows the audience to feel as though they were watching the action occur due to its descriptive imagery. The syntax in this quote is specific on what is taking place and explicit on every move that Lysander makes. In the quote when it says, “Each touch her new desire alarms,” it appears that he is turning her on and pleasuring her in order to persuade her to have sex with him. Women during the time period did not want to lose their virginity and be ashamed of themselves. This is relatable because as he is seducing her she isn’t fighting him off or trying to get away, but merely lying there. In this case as he touches and kisses her all over her body she is thinking twice about wanting to lose her honor or not. The cultural standards hold Cloris back from wanting to engage in sexual intercourse.

The poem is an Iamb Tetra Meter and a blank verse since there is no specific rhyme scheme. The blank verse is utilized to express Cloris’s uncertainty about having sex with Lysander. Since the poem has no defined rhyme scheme, it portrays the awkward atmosphere between Cloris and Lysander. Cloris goes back and forth between wanting to have to sex with him or not, like the blank verse having a few rhymes but no specific pattern. I personally would not put myself in that situation if I were any bit unsure. Currently this situation might be considered as a sexual assault or classified as rape since the woman never gave her permission and was hesitant the entire time.

All throughout the poem, Behn uses various rhetorical devices from metaphors to personification and imagery that expose the idea of love, men craving sex, women not wanting to lose their honor, and social expectations about sexual experiences. Starting in the first stanza, “In his gray chariot drawn by fire, Was now descending by the sea, But what from Cloris’ brighter eyes was hurled…” is a form of personification conveying that when the sun sets her eyes are like the sun. This communicates to the reader that this man is actually in love and infatuated with Cloris. Lysander makes it seem as if he feels this way about Cloris because he expresses all these qualities about her and how she lights up her surroundings. This wavers from the majority of the poem because if he truly loved her, would he seduce her if she was unsure if she was ready to have sex with him? A couple metaphors include, “Upon her swelling snowy breast…” in stanza four and “Her balmy lips encount’ring his, Their bodies as their souls, are joined…” in stanza six. The metaphor from stanza four possibly describes her breasts to be as white as snow or her white breast symbolizes her purity. In the second metaphor from stanza six, while they are beginning to have sex it compares it to their souls joining, which in reality isn’t really happening. However, their “souls being joined” didn’t last long as he pre-ejaculated and couldn’t perform, depriving Lysander and killing his ego. Men are supposed to be tough and powerful and it is embarrassing for a man if he can’t last during sexual intercourse. From a female point of view this is also embarrassing because you feel as if you couldn’t arouse the man. After this occurred she leaves him and is guilty of losing her virginity, especially since he couldn’t fully perform through their sexual intercourse.

In Behn’s poem, “The Disappointment,” there are many social and cultural significances. During the time period in which the poem takes place, women were not supposed to lose their virginity, also known as their honor. It was very shameful and disrespectful for a woman to have sex before marriage or even discuss sexual experiences. Cloris was very hesitant about having sex with Lysander because of the social and cultural expectations about not having sex until marriage. However, he arouses her, persuading her to have sex so she ultimately decides to give up her honor. This proves that men are eager to have sex with women and attempt to be very powerful when seducing a woman. I found it unclear if Cloris actually wanted to have sex in the end or if she was being raped. I thought it was difficult to interpret because she just lays there still and quiet. For example in stanza three, “Where love and shame confusedly strive, Fresh vigor to Lysander give; And breathing faintly in his ear…” displays her uncertainty about wanting to lose her honor. In this case I would say it was more of a sexual assault unless towards the end she is convinced to have sex and she wants to. Social and cultural expectations have a huge toll on the actions that occurred throughout the poem.

In “The Disappointment,” by Aphra Behn, the power of man over woman occurs constantly throughout the poem. As Lysander attempts to use his forceful “manly” characteristics to persuade Cloris to have sex with him, social and cultural expectations have a barrier on her actions. As a male desiring to have sexual intercourse, he seeks to convince her that it will all be worth it and she won’t feel guilty or ashamed. As a woman in the time, Cloris seemed to be able to express very little force and power towards what she truly wanted. She lies there as if she is dead instead of fighting him off or refusing to have sex with him. She is uncertain of what she wants, but has no power or will to do anything else. In this time period, it was immoral to have sex before marriage. Once Lysander persuaded her to have sex, he was unable to perform, therefore killing his manhood and reputation. Taking his embarrassment into consideration, he might have actually truly loved Cloris and possibly couldn’t discharge because it was a girl that he actually loved. Rhetorical devices enhanced the poem making it helpful to interpret what was taking place and allowed me to feel like I was watching everything going on. The immense amount of specific details also strengthened the imagery while reading the poem. In conclusion, although times have tremendously changed, the poem “The Disappointment” exemplifies the difference in power between women and men as well as the contradictory expectations from society.


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