Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471
“The Farmer’s Bride” is about innocence and ignorance. The bride is too young to marry and to have sex with a man she hardly knows. The imagery of the first stanza is of a smiling, attractive, competent girl whom the farmer has chosen because she will make a good farm wife. Unfortunately, her youthful innocence is matched by the farmer’s insensitivity toward the young, sexually naïve, frightened girl and his ignorance of a woman’s needs and humanity. He chooses her as he would his cattle, seeing no need to woo her. Having no concern for her feelings, he expects her simply to step into the role of his wife.
To him, as a farmer, human nature is not much more complicated than animal nature. The pairing of two people is not guided by more than the natural urge to procreate, the social roles of man and wife, and the man’s need for someone to keep house for him.
Mew also indicates that the man is not cruel, only conventional, in her description of the townspeople’s (probably the men) chasing her and locking her up. They seem to think the same way the farmer does: A wife, even a young, frightened wife, belongs at home with her husband. Even the women make little attempt to help her; they are perhaps busy with their chores or have forgotten their own transition into married life.
Their expectations and actions are based on what “should properly” be done. Although they run after her and bring her home forcibly, they are acting, in their minds, according to what is socially, and even naturally, prescribed. What the poem depicts as a somewhat frightening scene—the townspeople chasing a young woman as hounds chase a hare—most likely seems protective to them, since she is cold and afraid and “belongs” home in her bed.
By the end of his monologue, the speaker has revealed his love and his bewilderment that it is not returned. By the last two stanzas, when readers see his desire for children and his longing for his wife, their sympathy is with the farmer’s unrequited love. Readers fully understand what he dimly understands: His wife has again fled from him (this time emotionally), and he has been complicit in alienating her.
Critics have found this poem unrealistic, saying that a farmer would have forced himself on his new bride without qualms. Yet the brilliance of the poem comes from the characterization of a man, a common hardworking farmer, with a sensuous appreciation of the life around him and with respect and gentleness toward his wife. Thus, what could have been a clichéd poem about an oppressive brute or a failed marriage becomes instead an insightful study of human misunderstanding that explores problems of class and gender
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