The Deserted Village Characters
by Oliver Goldsmith

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Deserted Village Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Deserted Village Characters

The Deserted Village is populated by figures who are not so much characters in a novelistic sense as they are types. Goldsmith's point is to depict an idealized setting, which he believes rural England to have been before the great migrations from country to town began to occur. He gives us the village swain "with smutted face," the "bashful virgin," and the reproving "matron." In somewhat more detail, we're told of the village preacher and the village master. (Goldsmith shows us a more fleshed-out version of the former in his novel The Vicar of Wakefield.) The speaker who observes all of this and laments it is also a "character" in the drama.

If these figures appear to be cliches, it's because they are, and they probably were even in Goldsmith's time. But he nevertheless invests them with a kind of vitality, albeit a melancholy one. Still, the central message of the poem is something new, because it describes a process already occurring on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. His depiction can also be said even to anticipate Marxian theory, which describes a systematic effort by the owners to appropriate land from the rural people in order to consolidate their own wealth and create the "wage slavery" of the cities that came to dominate the economies of the Western European countries (and the Northern US).

But one could say that in The Deserted Village, the most important "character" is the village itself, the rural setting as an Eden-like abstraction. The animals and the pastoral milieu, the brook, the "grass-grown foot-way," and "sober herd" (Gray had called it the "lowing herd" in his Elegy written in a Country Churchyard) are perhaps more important as symbols and types than the human characters. In all, the poem is a landmark in the pre-Romantic movement, setting the stage for Wordsworth and Coleridge 25 years later as they further were to idealize the uncorrupted past.


Three key characters are...

(The entire section is 487 words.)