Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Slavery" portrayed in a Mouse

While reading "The Mouse's Petition," I immediately saw the mouse's ensnarement in the trap as an allegory to slavery. This idea was first brought to my attention in the first line, "hear a pensive captive's prayer." The poem is portrayed entirely through the perspective of the mouse - who is interestingly personified and given a very "human-like" voice to the audience. The mouse is beginning his captor to set him free, and spare his innocent soul from the bondage of the trap. This is, in many ways, a direct parallel to the system of slavery during this time.
"A free-born mouse detain."
This line calls to mind identical images of the free-born Africans being caught and sent to America in bondage. The mouse goes on to include images of "brother" and "shared life" suggesting that the mouse's (or slave's) life is equal in value to that of his captor's. With the concluding stanza, "So when unseen destruction lurks... And break the hidden snare," the mouse provides strong parallels to his own captivity and that of human's enslaved by their human brothers.
I'm not sure whether or not the author intended to write an allegory for the issue of slavery, but it is the dominate image that sticks in my mind after reading this poem. Another possibility of critique could be the class structure of England at this time. Perhaps the author was suggesting that England's poor were enslaved and trapped into their status by the powerful of British society, and that the destitute were regarded as little more than street mice or vermin...?

1 comment:

  1. Most certainly this poem is a critique of the slave trade--Barbauld was an ardent abolitionist, as were many of the religious Dissenters of the period.