The dramatic monologue features a speaker talking to a silent listener about a dramatic event or experience. The use of
this technique affords the reader an intimate knowledge of the
speaker's changing thoughts and feelings. In a sense, the
poet brings the reader inside the mind of the speaker.
(Glenn Everett online)
Like a sculpturer pressing clay to form a man, a writer can create a persona with words. Every stroke of his hand becomes his or her own style, slowly creating this stone image. A dramatic monologue is an ideal opportunity for a poet to unveil a character. A dramatic monologue is a species of lyric poem in which the speaker is a persona created by the poet; the speaker's character is revealed unintentionally through his or her attitudes in the dramatic situation. This persona must be identified, but not named. He or she can be a real person, an imaginary character, an historical or literary figure; in essence, anyone except the poet or a neutral voice. The writer does this through various techniques within a dramatic monologue by using mood, diction and imagery to mold the character before the reader's eyes.
Firstly, by creating a certain mood, the writer attempts to give his or her reader a particular feeling. This, in turn, reveals new insight to a side of the character that the reader has yet to discover.
In William Butler Yeats' poem, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, Yeats adds a very distinct mood to the clay that creates this airman. This man, who very obviously sees no meaning in either his life or his death, speaks carelessly about his non existent self-worth. This creates a dark and depressing atmosphere for the reader. In the finishing lines of this poem, Yeats writes,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life this death.
Through these lines the poet constructs a tone that demonstrates the characters mental state to the reader. The audience understands what the character is enduring through the mood that is generated. By the way Yeats forms this dark emotion the character appears to feel devalued.
For Pauline Johnson, a dramatic monologue also seems like a fit means of presenting her powerfully portrayed, Ojistoh. In this lyric poem, the reader senses the character's pride, power and strength from the undercurrent created by the author. In the opening lines of the poem, Ojistoh proclaims,I am Ojistoh, I am she, the wife
Of him whose name breathes bravery and life
And courage to the tribe that calls him chief.
Through this powerful proclamation, the character's brave persona is slowly unveiled to the reader. This almost egotistic mood presents the reader with this revelation of the character's attitude.
In Margaret Atwood's Death of a Young Son By Drowning, the voice of a bitter mother comes to life through the aura of disappointment created by the author. After finding her sons body, the mother returns to shore and expresses her disappointment,After the long trip I was tired of waves.
My foot hit rock. The dreamed sails
I planted him in this country-
like a flag.
The strong air of disappointment released through these words assist the writer in her creation of her character. The character's bitterness and sense of defeat is evident within the devitalized last words of the poem.
Secondly, to maintain the precise sculpting of the character through the monologue, the diction that the author uses does not belong to him or her, but rather, is owned by the speaker. The poet's careful selection of these words reveals the persona's reaction in the dramatic situation.
For Yeats, this unornamented selection of words reveals the airman's uncaring reaction to his fate. Yeats uses very bold and bland statements to have the character express the pointlessness of his upcoming death. The character verbalizes this indifference in the opening lines of the poem,
I know that I shall meet my fate
somewhere among the clouds above
Those that I fight Ido not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love.
Within these simple words, it becomes evident to the reader that the man is oblivious to the fact that he is about to die. Furthermore, the author creates a mood of aloofness that surrounds the character.
For Pauline Johnson, diction is a main ingredient in the damp clay that will harden into the brave Ojistoh. The powerful and vigorous words found within this dramatic monologue assist the reader in envisioning the finished product of Johnson's imagination. Upon receiving an offer to leave her tribe, Ojistoh responds,
Back I flung the bribe
Into their teeth, and said, "While I have life
Know this-Ojistoh is the Mohawk's wife."
This compilation of words describes the woman's forceful nature, vividly depicting her
character as a proud and loyal woman. The reader is able to imagines the character's aggressiveness and forcefulness.
In Atwoods dramatic monologue, the diction is both unrefined and graceless. By using such physical wording, the poet reveals the mother's bitter attitude toward the situation. As they pull her son's body out of the water the mother observes,
They retrieved the swamped body
Cairn of my plans and future charts
with poles and hooks.
Within this monologue, the character is faced with a dramatic situation and by her words as she reacts her persona is undraped to the reader.
Thirdly, although diction is a sufficient way to characterize the persona in a dramatic situation, poetic imagery helps the reader better comprehend the persona's reaction by describing the actual situation. These pictures in writing create an image in the readers mind, thus assisting the creation of the character in the dramatic scene. As opposed to simply envisioning the character through the use of imagination, these poets invite the reader to dig further still and feel the characters inner self by using imagery in a dramatic monologue.
In Yeats' poem about the airman, the reader pictures a pilot alone in the sky amongst the chaos of war. Yeats has created this image to allow the reader to imagine the man's situation, and therefore, making it easier to understand his reaction. The Irish airman speaks of his inevitable death and his attitude toward the situation. He says,
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds.
Within the turmoil created by this poetic imagery, the reader understands that Yeats is trying to sculpt this persona into a man who believes he fights, without drive, upon his own will. This brings this stone carving to life for the reader.
In Ojistoh, the imagery created by Johnson is so vivid that her carvings almost seem to breathe. Through the description of the Mohawk's wife escaping another tribe, her strong-willed character comes to life. The reader is given this image as Ojistoh says,
Mad with sudden freedom, mad with haste
Back to my Mohawk and my home. I lashed
That horse to foam, as on and on I dashed.
This animate account of the woman's escape, allows the reader to better envision the character as a person. Her intense and vigorous character is powerfully portrayed by this poetic imagery.
Finally, in Death Of A Young Son By Drowning, imagery is used brilliantly to create a scene for the readers mind. Atwood sets the stage and allows the character to give her disturbing account of what she is seeing. This carefully detailed sight has the reader see what the character sees and allows him to feel the disappointment in her voice. The on looking parent explains,
His feet slid on the bank,
the currents took him;
he swirled with ice and trees in the swollen water
and plunged into distant regions,
his head a bathysphere;
through his eyes' thin glass bubbles.
This image helps create the picture of a mother watching her son from the banks as he drowns, and she is helpless.
A dramatic monologue is a powerful tool that Yeats, Johnson and Atwood manipulate to achieve a similar goal: the unveiling of their character. In much the same way that a sculptor molds clay, the writer uses mood, diction and imagery to shape its characters. Through a dramatic monologue the poet allows the reader to not only envision the characters in their physical forms, but feels their pain, celebrates their triumphs and journeys with them throughout their various dramatic experiences.
Atwood, Margeret. Journals of Susanna Moodie Macmillan of Canada, 1980.
Johnson, Pauline. Flint and Feather McCelland and Stewart, 1972.
Kennedy, Ronald. The Yeats Reader Dundurn, 1968.
Landy, Alice, Martin, Dave. The Heath Introduction to Literature Canadian Edition, Heath and