“The Tyrant WHITE MAN taught my mind/ The letter’d page to trace; / He taught me in the Soul to find/ No tint, as in the face: / He bade my reason blossom like the tree – / But fond affection gave the ripen’d fruits to thee.” (page 625, lines 72-78)
In “The Negro Girl” , Mary Robinson introduces readers to a sorrow filled and love struck woman that has been taken into slavery. The speaker, Zelma, boldly voices the injustices done to the African people. The six lines reproduces above, however, are a subtler and two toned approach to a more personal situation she has with her master.
At first glance the passage depicts Zelma’s master to be kind by teaching her to write. He takes the time to teach her “mind” (line 72) and “Soul” (line 73). The “WHITE MAN” moves beyond racism and tells Zelma to look in the “Soul to find/No tint” (lines 74-75). Although he is not saying they are equals, he is implying that skin color does not matter. Additionally, the nature imagery of trees and fruits give off a softer and more nurturing feel compared to the rest of the poem.
Once you look past the surface, a more sinister scenario is taking place. The “Tyrant WHITE MAN” is a cruel and narrow minded man that wants to civilize Zelma for his own benefit. He believes by teaching her to write, her uneducated soul will no longer have a “tint” (line 75) like her face. The significance of the blossoming tree lies within Robinson’s diction. The term “bade” (line 76) indicates the master’s forceful behavior. The juxtaposing ideas of violent power and paradisiac nature allow for the two toned analysis.
Once more Robinson delivers yet another ambiguous line, “But fond affection gave the ripen’d fruits to thee” (line 78). Zelma has been talking about her time spent with her master so her affection would seem to naturally go towards the “WHITE MAN” , however, following this passage Zelma longs to be with her separated lover, Draco. A deeper analysis for line 78 is that Zelma has the ability to have “affection” (line 78) while the “Tyrant” (line 72) cannot. Her master like the other “Tyrant[s]” (line 72). cannot look beyond skin color and see that Zelma, Draco and other Africans are humans like them.
Robinson’s poetry is commonly filled pain and sorrow, which she can relate to with her own turbulent life. It was a strategic, even political, move during this time for Robinson to write about slavery and other exploited figures, especially as a woman.
(word count 382)