The Disappointment

The Disappointment Themes

Shame, honor, and virginity

In Behn's era, the only honor a woman had was her virginity or "purity." This helps us to understand why Cloris's emotions are so conflicted. On the one hand, she is a willing "victim," eager to surrender her honor at the cost of shame and pride in order to gain sexual pleasure. That sacrifice is made by giving into feelings of sexual desire. So removed does Cloris become from values like honor and purity that when she loses her fear, the moment is described not as a woman giving those things away but as those things abandoning the woman.

Blaming women

According to most "Imperfect Enjoyment" poems (a genre of poems about failures of sexual performance), when a man fails to maintain an erection, it is not his fault. It is mainly the woman’s fault. Behn implicitly satirizes this notion. She saves her most bitter demonstration of ironic humor for the end when, after failing to follow through on his seemingly uncontrollable urges, Lisander is left cursing the gods. When that fails to relieve him of his misery and humiliation, he curses the bewitching influence of Cloris herself, whose eager passion (according to him) caused his lack of stimulation.

Male impotence

The poem explores the theme of impotence and male fear of sexuality inadequacy. For Lisander, to fail to get an erection is to be emasculated. This is shown by the contrast between the metaphors from war and classical epics during his first seduction of Cloris and the later images, including one in which is his penis is described as a cold flower. This theme of impotence is described by some scholars as an allegory for the crisis in political authority during the Restoration era during which Behn lived.