John Donne: Poems

Gender Roles in John Donne's "The Flea" College

In the majority of John Donne’s poetry, it is easy to characterize Donne as a domineering speaker, one who frequently overbears the female voice. Yet in “The Flea,” Donne complicates the prototypical gender roles seen in most early modern love poetry. Throughout the poem, the poet uses symbolism and unspoken dialogue to imply a complicated and conflicted relationship with the poem’s addressee. Instead of insisting upon a stable patriarchy, Donne uses these devices to destabilize hierarchal systems of power associated with gender.

Exhibiting classic elements of metaphysical poetry, Donne utilizes the most unlikely images to symbolize romance. In this poem, it is the flea itself that the speaker uses to try and persuade his lover to engage in premarital sex. By using the flea as a symbolic framework element, Donne is able to set up a unique banter between the speaker and his addressee. To the speaker, their “mingled” blood within the flea’s body is equivalent to the exchange of bodily fluids during sexual intercourse (4). However, his recipient obviously does not agree, having “denied” him what the flea symbolically enjoys (2). Unlike lots of love poetry where the male figure dominates, the flea serves as a symbol for the mutual...

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