In order to fully answer this question I firstly looked up the meanings of the words ‘protest’ and ‘song’. The Oxford Concise English Dictionary defines ‘protest’ as “as statement of dissent or disapproval” and song as either “as short poem in rhymed stanzas” or “as short poem or other sets of words set to music or meant to be sung”. Charlotte O’Neil’s Song is indeed a poem comprising of four stanzas, each with an element of rhyme. The choice of words alone also makes it clear that the song is a “statement of dissent”.
In the poem we learn a lot about the typical chores Charlotte was expected to do in a days work, fictitious or otherwise. The tasks that the poet has chosen to use are dirty and unpleasant jobs, “I emptied your chamber pot”, possibly to highlight the subservient position she has been put in. Providing us with this background knowledge has effectively made Farrel’s job of developing the argument later in the poem a lot easier, as she has already outlined the situation. We learn a lot about the attitudes of Charlotte’s employers. The poet displays them in a very negative light. A key example is “I emptied your chamber pot”.Order now
I think that any reader of the poem would find it difficult to respect a person who feels they are in such a superior position that they do not need to do very basic tasks. This suggests the employer merely sees Charlotte as a slave, or as the ship’s record state, “General servant”. The selfish and cruel attitudes of the employer are again seen in lines 13-14, ” The rich man earns his castle, you said / The poor deserve the gate. ” Through these lines the poet has allowed us to see the employer through Charlotte’s eyes, as well as to the general attitudes of society during the 19th century.
I feel it is this issue which Charlotte feels most strongly about. The lines give us more of an insight into the stiff social spheres in place during the 19th century. Once born into a ‘class’, as Charlotte had been, there is little chance of escape. I think that that is what Charlotte really wants. She doesn’t want to be “baking bread” and “scrubbing floors”. I think that Farrel thought that the ‘rules’ of the 19th century society were unjustified, and argues that those who have been forced into labour jobs should be treated with respect, even though their job doesn’t promote that.
The anger and resentment seen and heard in the poem are represented through strong regular beats emphasized with alliteration. “I scraped out your grate / and I washed your plate / and scrubbed till my hands were raw”. This anger and resentment could be directed at individuals, such as Charlotte’s employers or the 19th century society in general. However, I don’t think that Charlotte blames herself for the position she is in, because she says, “I won’t be there any more” suggesting she has still maintained her feelings of self worth.
It is probably the fact that she still possesses these feelings that led to her protest and rebellion of her position. The theme of injustice is also supported by Farrel’s frequent use of antithesis. These contrasting pairs, e. g. “You lay on a silken pillow / I lay on an attic cot” clearly shows the big differences between their two lifestyles. Farrel has also cleverly used tenses to create the feeling of the passing of time and of a developing argument. This could make it more like a protest song as it gradually increases in pace and intensity.
As the poem is mainly written in the past tense I feel it creates distance between Charlotte’s life as a servant and her life of freedom and own choices “I’ll eat when I please”. In the lines 18-20 Farrel writes in the present tense, signifying the turning point of the poem. These lines repeat some parts of the previous stanzas, only in a different tense. “You can open your own front door” refers to when “You rang your bell and I answered”. This creates the feeling that Charlotte is turning on her employers and asking them how they would feel to be in her position.
It sounds as if she is giving them commands, “open your own front door”, which hints at her courage and endurance. She has now broken free from the restraints forced upon her. Also, she calls her employer “my dear”, suggesting a lack of respect from her side. I believe that actually leaving her work would not have been possible in reality but this action creates a sort of magical triumphant and rebellious feeling. It is this kind of technique that I feel would add more vigor to the song making it a suitable song of protest.
The use of future tense indicates what she will do with her time and how she will make her own choices in the future. I think it makes an excellent ending as it signifies change and hope. I think the poem would best be reading in not a cheerful/happy manner, but it is certainly carefree and upbeat, suggesting the events took place long ago and are of little relevance now, Charlotte has won. Reading (or singing) it quickly gives the impression that Charlottes gives out a newfound confidence. I feel the simple language helps the upbeat pace along and each ‘idea’ is completed in a single sentence.
The repetition also adds pace. I feel the fairly simplistic language adds a certain degree of sarcasm and again creates distance between Charlotte and her unpleasant past. It is as if the more ‘daring’ pace is a challenge to her master/mistress because Charlotte has already left them; she is out of their reach. Finally, I think the upbeat feel produced by the strong rhyme and pace stresses that as Charlotte writes this she is at a stage where at least she had made her decisions, and is stepping out and away from her past drudgery.