Charlotte O'Neil's Song

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Charlotte O'Neil's Song

Fiona Farrell's poem is a protest song in the voice of a character that represents the experience of poor young women's lot in the nineteenth century. It details the chores a servant girl would have to do, such as emptying the 'chamber pot', and suggests the life style of the master or mistress:

'You dined at eight / And slept to late.'

The poem finishes with defiance from the servant, breaking free of what wasin effect slavery. It is clear that the poet feels strongly about how badlythese people were treated.

The language of the poem is simple, everyday, ordinary.There are no obvious poetic devices, such as metaphor or personification.The poet has chosen this type of straightforward, uncomplicated language to suit the character of a servant girl.

For the same reason, the poem is in the form of a song, something you could imagine the girl singing. The rhyme pattern of the first stanza is that of a limerick, a popular type of children's poem.

Drag and drop either the Maid or the Master icon on to the question marksdepending on who the lines of the poem refer to:

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What you should find out from the above interaction is that whilst the servant does a lot, the master/mistress appears to do nothing.

'Charlotte O'Neil' does all the lowly and exhausting domestic tasks: washing,scraping, cleaning whilst her employer has an easy time of it and justifiestheir treatment of this girl with empty sayings.


The main technique Farrell uses in this poem is repetition.

Listen to the first stanza and the last again.

Notice how many of the lines have 'I something' in them (I answered,I polished, I scraped, etc.), and lines that are very similar to each other.

What is the purpose and effect of all this repetition?

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'And I'll eat when I please and I'll sleep where I please.'

She sounds certain, impassioned. These are statements of fact. She sounds as if she means it.

Indeed a servant girl would have had to be a strong character to make thissort of stand against oppression in the 1870's.

In all poetry questions you will be asked to write about the following:

[*]The subject(s) of the poem [*]The attitude of the poet [*]The poetic devices the poet uses

In other words you will be asked about what the poet is writing about, what the poet feels about the subject(s) and how the poem is written.

The poem is about oppression, specifically here the suffering of ordinary servant girls in Victorian England. It shows how hard their lives were, little better than prisoners or slaves, doing the lowliest work, at the beck and call of their masters.
The poem contrasts the working girl with the idle employer, and shows the injustice of a system that spilt the rich and the poor into master and servant.

Fiona Farrell obviously sympathises with the servant's lives. It is written from Charlotte O'Neil's perspective.
The emphatic repetition, the empty justifications of such an unjust system, and the defiance in the last stanza all convey a sense of anger.

The language used is appropriate to the voice of the poem; a young Victorian servant girl. It is simple and straightforward.
The form is also simple, using the rhythms and end-stopped rhymes of songs.
Most of the poem is a list of the jobs these girls had to do.
The decisive, long-suffering tone of the poem creates its power.

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