© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

Study Questions

Portrait d'une Femme Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
  1. Consider how the speaker pieces together this "portrait" of a woman. We could say that she just seems to be a collection of "oddments." Do you think the speaker describes the woman this way because of her particular character, or do you think he would use this same method for describing any person? Is he making a broader argument about how we should understand identity or how we should more effectively or accurately define people?
  2. Some critics have accused this poem of being a very sexist representation of a woman. One critic has even suggested that it's a typical immature male attack on a woman – basically, a boy trying to prove how cool he is by being mean to a girl. Do you agree with this evaluation of the poem?
  3. Although images of sea trade swirl throughout the poem, they are often paired with images of debris and tarnished or useless goods. Why do you think this combination of images occurs? England had a strong economy based on trade, and London, of course, was the center of it all. Do you see the poem's imagery as commenting on or making an argument about England's trade economy?
  4. This poem is filled with ambiguous words that our English teachers tell us to never use in papers, such as "things," "stuff," and "this or that." Why is this kind of vague language important to this poem's overall meaning? Does it allow the poem to be more open-ended, with multiple meanings, and to avoid making any clear, definite descriptions? Do you see this as a positive characteristic or a weakness in the poem?
  5. What exactly is the speaker's attitude toward the woman? Is it consistent throughout the poem, or does it vary? Do you view the speaker as condemning the woman, praising her, or being sympathetic toward her?
  6. How do you think the woman would respond to this portrait of her?
Advertisement
Advertisement
back to top