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Themes

In "The River Merchant's Wife," it's appropriate that this monologue/letter is written in isolation. There are no other people around that we know of, and monkeys and moss just don't count as companions (at least, that's what they told us at our junior high prom). It's almost as if the natural world and landscape have completed the task of isolating the wife that her husband's departure began. Her isolation seems so complete, in fact, that it seems integral to the observations that she shares in the poem.

Questions About Isolation

  1. How and by what is the speaker isolated in the first stanza?
  2. How is this isolation transformed as she grows older?
  3. Does the wife's isolation make her less credible? (In other words, do you really think she'd love her husband this way if he was around, leaving the toilet seat up?) Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker is isolated on account of her own bashfulness and innocence in the first stanza, but marriage—however uncomfortable at first—helps her to overcome this. Good for her!

The isolation that the woman feels has its roots in her rural childhood upbringing. (It's not your fault, hubby!)

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