Sunday, 8 February 2015

Laws, Rights, and the Freedom to Choose Your Life

Margaret Atwood's poem "Marrying the Hangman" and Afua Cooper's poem "Confessions of a Woman Who Burnt Down a Town" seem to have some similarities despite all their differences. Please read and compare the two poems with each other.


Margaret Atwood:

Afua Cooper:

Alternative: write a more creative/fictional response to the poem(s) or to the topic(s) raised in them if you feel inspired to do so.

Image from:


  1. I really like these two poems – both poems are written by female authors concerning female characters and the feminine experience. Angelique is a real historical figure. Atwood’s character claims that her stories are true. One is imprisoned in a cell block, the other is imprisoned as a slave on the island of Montreal. For Afua Cooper’s Angelique, freedom from slavery – mental and physical – is attainable only by death. Conversely, Atwood’s protagonist sees marriage as survival – by marrying the hangman and therefore not hanging – and freedom. Both characters are servants, who wear masks and sacrifice their notion of self because they are property. Angelique has an emotional narrative, having lost her infant babies, then setting fire to the madame’s house, then running and running and running toward freedom but is caught on her way out. There is an active quality in her fighting for freedom. Atwood’s protagonist is calm, docile, sedentary. She speaks through a hole in a wall to convince the man in the next cell to become a hangman, and to marry her as well. But Atwood’s character is not free, she only stays alive: she made promises to the hangman (wedding vows, perhaps?) but there are conditions. How can anyone be free when conditions exist? But as that character continues to edge safely away from the hangman’s platform, Angelique runs bravely, willingly toward the noose.

  2. This is a poem inspired by the events in the two above; it could also just be regarded as a poem focused on the topic and/or theme of women's -- especially Black women's -- status in society and their liberation.

    I see the reflection
    Of eagle eyes on the knife's surface,
    And I avert my gaze,
    All but put away the blade,
    When He comes a-callin'.

    Behind the veil of night,
    And in the solace of the stars,
    There is not so much a soul 'cept
    For the lonely moon,

    It knows, and I know,
    The eagle eyes in the silver sky,
    It bores into my soul and I
    Will not deny my being no longer.

    I yearn to shed the weight of my dress
    And soar

    He comes a-hollerin' in the morning.
    In the starkness of day,
    There is no hiding and all
    Is witness
    Like the conniving sun,

    I pull out the knife
    And sever the bonds of my gown,
    Don my feathers and
    Take off, the reflection of the eagle eyes
    Having pierced into His own,
    A beautiful red.

    I am in the sky soaring
    Far away

  3. On the surface, the differences of these two poems are fairly apparent. In Atwood's poem, the speaker does everything she can to get away from the noose while in Cooper's poem, the speaker is at "peace, peace, perfect peace." However, in both poems, the narrator struggles against some sort of prejudice. The gender roles in "Marrying the Hangman" are sharply defined, as seen in the differences between the promises that the man and woman offer to each other. The woman is forced into a subservient position - because she was saved by a man, she must now satisfy his needs. In the other poem, Marie is clearly in a subservient position, being a slave, struggling in a system of discrimination.
    Both women take an active role in an attempt to better their lives, refusing to let their conditions get the better of them without a fight. The speaker in Atwood's poem uses whatever means she has available to her, namely, her feminine charms. She uses her voice, the only tool she has left, to persuade the hangman to marry her and save her from the noose. Marie also actively pursues her dream of running freely and although she never manages to make a physical escape, she has made peace with her death by the end.