Study Guide

A Dialogue between the Soul and the Body Freedom and Confinement

By Andrew Marvell

Freedom and Confinement

Give me liberty or give me death! Or, as the soul would interpret it, "Give me liberty by giving me death!" Like Patrick Henry and all those revolutionary dudes, we tend to associate freedom with a healthy, happy life. But the story's a little different in "A Dialogue between the Soul and the Body."

Don't get us wrong: the soul and the body definitely hate being enslaved to each other—and they've got the rhetoric to prove it!—but they both have an original philosophy of freedom that's all tangled up with death. For the soul, freedom from the physical confinement of the body will only come with the body's death. For the body, freedom is even more unattainable, a conditional rather than a future tense. If only the soul had never made it live, the body might have been free forever. Now it's just waiting to die. And that's the worst kind of confinement of all.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Why do you think that the soul has more to say about freedom than the body? 
  2. Which claim is more compelling: the body is a disgusting enslaver or the soul is a malicious tyrant? What parts of the poem support your answer? 
  3. Why do you think the soul focuses so much on physical confinement?

Chew on This

The soul is upset about its physical confinement; the body is upset about a more abstract kind of tyranny. That's deep, Body, real deep.

The soul knows its sob story has a hard sell—that's why it milks the tortured prisoner imagery for all it's worth.