The more I read E.B. Browning, the more amazed I become with her work and her liberal, avant-garde approaches on the flawed events in history. In our class text “The Victorian Era”, it states that this piece was one of the great dramatic monologues and political protest poems written in the 19th century. Browning steps into the mind of a female African-American slave, one who is struggling to find a sense of freedom and refuge like the Pilgrims have at the same geographical point. However, even the name “Pilgrim’s Point” illustrates an unfair advantage that white settlers held over the black population. Browning attends to the contradictory statement of America, “the land of the free.” The white colonizers may thank God for liberty (line 4), but for the black slaves, they suffer endlessly from “liberty’s exquisite pain” (249).
As we read in “The Cry of the Children”, Browning addressed the young children’s injustice in comparison to all other young entities: the young lambs, the young birds, the young flowers, etc. A parallel comparison takes place in this poem. The “dark bird sits and sings”, “the dark frogs chant in the safe morass”, “the sweetest stars” pass over the face of the darkest night. Yet, the “ones who are dark” receive no justice, and the only relatable dark entity is the prison bars, shutting them out from freedom, liberty, and a sense of self.
The concept of colour is addressed further with the comparison of light and dark. In the eyes of the narrator, the angels are white, while she states repeatedly “I am black, I am black!” The pilgrims approach a land of spirits “pale as dew” (10), while the narrator is forced to run to freedom in the night, which is “as dark” as her skin.
Again, Browning examines God’s role versus the role of the white colonizers, questioning who truly holds the power. The narrator states:
God made me, they say:
But if He did so, smiling back
He must have cast His work away
Under the feet of His white creatures
With a look of scorn, that the dusky features
Might be trodden again to clay.
The “dusky features” of the black population have been trod on, worn away into the ground. The narrator feels skeptical, implying, “What kind of role does God have in such an unjust world, when one race is far favoured over the other?”
As we are aware, in the 1850s, African Americans had faced and continued to face the long struggle of discrimination and slavery. Many black slaves lacked freedom or security of any kind. In reading this poem, one can gather that she is attempting to escape, most likely from her master, and she carries a child with her. She receives a look from a fellow slave, a look “so tender and full.” Before they can connect and feel a collective struggle, one day “her cold hands are wrung from his and he is dragged away”.
It appears that this moment was the narrator’s breaking point: not long after this event, she kills the child she is carrying, a child “too white.” We can gather that this child was not conceived out of consent; when she looks upon the child’s face she sees “the master’s look.” She commits infanticide, possibly so the child would not have to face a life of slavery, since all children born out of the master-slave relationship were. However, she may have killed the child solely because seeing her master’s face in the child caused too much pain, falling onto her soul like his lash…or worse (145).
This tragic poem permits us to step into our narrator’s mind, possibly allowing us to understand how such a horrid act can be commiserated. Unlike the fellow slaves, whose “countless wounds pay no debt,” the narrator ended the child’s life rather than bring it into a world similar to her own.