The main conflict of the poem is motivated by the woman’s thoughts about the death of Christ. It’s Sunday morning, and a lot of people are in church, and she thinks that maybe she should be there, too. Does she have a duty to make a symbolic journey across the ocean to Palestine, where Christ is buried? Does she need to give up the small pleasures in her life, like her oranges and pet bird, in order to find eternal bliss?

Questions About Duty

  1. If you had to guess, do you think that the woman in the poem was raised as a Christian? What influence has Christian ideas of duty had on her life?
  2. Why are images of Christian sacrifice in the poem associated with silence and quiet?
  3. How would you explain the first line of stanza II: "Why should she give her bounty to the dead?" What does "her bounty" refer to, and who are "the dead?"
  4. Why does she only think about Christian duty and sacrifice when she’s not thinking about her immediate surroundings, like the oranges and her bird?

Chew on This

All of the protagonist’s serious thoughts about Christian sacrifice amount to a feeling of guilt that she is not in church.

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