Free will and the Lack of it

“The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson is, in my opinion, a giant story about the imprisonment of the free will. The Lady, secluded in a tower, experiences the world only through reflections in a mirror, unable to directly engage with reality. Her confinement symbolizes the restrictions placed on individuals by societal expectations and norms. The lady is not allowed to be a part of society, or anything for that matter. It is –

Only reapers, reaping early

In among the bearded barley,

Hear a song that echoes cheerly

From the river winding clearly


This curse that befalls her when she looks directly out of her window can be seen as a metaphor for the consequences of breaking away from societal constraints. The poem underscores the theme of self-imposed exile, suggesting that the Lady’s isolation is not solely a result of external forces, but also a consequence of her own adherence to societal expectations. Tennyson’s narrative prompts reflection on the limitations imposed on personal agency and the consequences of breaking free from societal expectations. Later in the poem, when the Lady looks out and sees Lancelot, Tennyson writes:

She look’d down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’d from side to side;

“The curse is come upon me,” cried

The Lady of Shalott.

Even in her brief moment of free will upon, the Lady of Shalott succumbs to the curse, highlighting the ongoing imprisonment of her will. The constraints of societal expectations persist, limiting her life even outside the castle. The tragic consequence of her escape underscores the pervasive nature of societal restrictions, the role of women in this time period, and the ongoing struggle for one’s own destiny, are demonstrated in this story that deprives a women of living life to the fullest. Without creativity, the ability to choose, and capability to interact with others, combines to underline the restriction of the Lady of Shallots ability to achieve a free will and in turn live a life of freedom and happiness without consequence.

3 thoughts on “Free will and the Lack of it”

  1. I found your take on self-imposed exile incredibly interesting. When I initially read the poem, I kept looking for this seemingly non-existent villain. Logically, someone or thing had to have cursed The Lady of Shalott. The way the Lady of Shalott experiences the world through her mirror looking down on Camalot is a very harsh separation that I had not considered much. Even if the Lady of Shalott was cursed, the distinct disconnect between her and the rest of the world may indicate some societal shunning. There are similar themes in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll’s torment and death are entirely self-imposed. However, the curse, I argue, is in the duality of man and the inescapable evil part of one’s nature.

  2. I really like this post. The idea of improving women’s free will in society is interesting. I think there are definitely more examples like this in our readings as well. I might say that it speaks to the Victorian era’s society as a whole. People are constantly worried about their social status, and it leads to them being trapped in acting in ways they might not want to. Overall, I think this could be a great essay.

  3. I very much enjoyed the points you brought across in this post. The points about the imprisonment of her will especially stood out to me, as many in the world suffer from this same curse. Having large dreams and aspirations, yet being too scared to take the first step is a hug einhibitor of society today. Most people do not understand the potential they really have, as others around them have told them otherwise. It’s up to an individual to motivate themselves and leap towards their dreams, burning the boats and going all in for their ultimate goals.

Comments are closed.