What are the predominant themes of "Meeting at Night"?

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Sociocultural literary theory, such as New Historicism, may suggest there is a sociocultural theme in "Meeting at Night" that highlights the upper and middle class Victorian emphasis on the separation between what was becoming more stringently defined as the man's world and the woman's world. The separation between men's and women's roles was becoming more and more deeply embedded in Victorian sociocultural life. The men's realm was strictly seen to be work, productivity, thought and learning, while the women's realm was even more strictly seen to be rearing children, managing the home, guiding spiritual development, supporting the man's advancement and the family's nurturance and being well educated but not to the learned degree men were.

However, it is clear from even a casual reading that the text of "Meeting at Night" offers only vague opportunities to substantiate the presence of this theme. Two elements may be used to assert the theme of "separate worlds." The first element is implied and the second is in the text of stanza two. The implied element is that the characters of the man and the woman are separate from each other. He is not where she is and is coming to her. She is kept apart from him and waiting for him to join her. It may be said that this separation of the characters, which is the foundation of the poem, represents the separation of the mans' world from the woman's world. On the other hand, if sociocultural literary theory is not applied, then the separation is a natural part of the love story that also forms the foundation of the poem: they are separate because they are young lovers who have not yet married.

The stated element in the text is the word "fears" in the penultimate (next to last) line of stanza two: "a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,...." It might be said that their fears comprise the fear of the separateness between men's and women's worlds that keeps their worlds at a distance psychologically, socially, culturally and, at times, physically. Yet, since there is no direct connection to sociocultural issues, it would be well to point out that fears is best analyzed as having a tripart meaning: (1) personal fears, (2) social fears and (3) cultural fears. Personal fears would be the fears all young lovers have, such as fears of waning love and personal dangers. Social fears might be fears of society's disapproval and rejection of a marriage because of such things as wealth and social class. Cultural fears might well include the of culturally enforced separate worlds for men and women. Even so, a textual analysis of "fears" must include all three kinds of fears since there is no overt indication in the text of the theme of separate worlds for men and women.

Analysis of "Meeting at Night" becomes even more complicated for readers who are familiar with the historical pairing of the poem with "Parting at Morning" and who know the significance of the last line of "Parting": "And the need of a world of men for me." Here, there is a clear textual indication of the cultural theme of separate world's: One is the "world of men," while the other is the textually implied world of women. There is a textually implied dichotomy and a separation between the two. For the short time when the two poems formed one unit as "Night and Morning; I. Night; II. Morning," there was a clear overlap of the cultural theme of separate worlds from "II. Morning" backward to "I. Night," but now, with each former half standing independently of the other, the textual foundation for analyzing "separate worlds" in "Meeting at Morning" is greatly weakened. Nevertheless, this analysis of theme is still prevalent even though, to someone new to Browning's work, the reason for ascribing a cultural theme of separation between the Victorian "world of men" and world of women is elusive or confusing. Even so, when "Meeting at Night" and "Parting at Morning" are read as being related to each other, the presence of the separate worlds theme is clearly notable although application of the theme to the text of "Meeting at Night" is supportable with only a weak argument.

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