Study Guide

A Great and Terrible Beauty What's Up With the Epigraph?

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What's Up With the Epigraph?

Miss Moore has the girls read and discuss this poem in class, which is a big deal in its own right since no one at Spence ever wants to get the girls to really think or express their opinions. They're expected to read, certainly, but rarely invited to articulate the thoughts they have in response to whatever it is they read.

It's fitting that Miss Moore encourages the girls to break the mold and do some critical thinking about this poem since at the heart of this poem is a woman who has been cursed forced not to look directly on the world—but who hits a point where she can't resist looking any longer, so she does so, accepting that it will kill her. The experience of the woman in the castle mirrors the education the girls are receiving at Spence—an education that has captivity in marriage as its end point—and just as the woman breaks free, so too does Miss Moore encourage her students.

The poem foreshadows the breaking down of barriers that takes place in this book, be they barriers around gender expectations or barriers between the real and magical worlds, and the taking charge by young women that occurs too, particularly with Gemma and her friends.

There's a whole lot packed into this poem, though, and we bet you can find even more meaning to it than we've touched on here. And guess what? We've done a super thorough analysis of it—complete with symbols, summary, and more—that you might find handy for digging deeper.

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