Furthermore, because, a mirror is not the truth, and is instead only a reflection of the truth, it shows the distorted view hat the Lady of Shalott has. (The mirror being distorted reality is especially interesting when one considers that it is typically used as a symbol of the cold, hard truth. This difference gives added emphasis on the importance of this symbol within the poem, as well as telling us that the Lady of Shalott did not realize that view of the world was warped. All this changes when she looks out the window and onto an undistorted world. The Lady of Shalott loses her innocence by falling in love. Thus, the tapestry (how she saw the world) flies out the window and disappears, and the mirror (the naive perspective through hich she sees the world) cracks. The Lady of Shalott is unable to handle the loss of her world coupled with the unrequited love she feels for Sir Lancelot and kills herself. The curse that the Lady of Shalott falls prey to is unrequited love.
She loves Lancelot loves Queen Guinevere. The central themes concern isolation, apprehension of reality, and the proper province of art. Initially the Lady resembles other of Tennyson’s isolated maidens–Mariana, Oenone, the Soul in ‘The Palace of Art. ” Dwelling in the island tower, she is barred from the outside world by the four grey walls, the river, and the threatened curse; nd her alienation is increased, not alleviated, by the window, through which she is forbidden to look, and the mirror, which provides her only view of the world.
At first her solitude seems to ensure peace and to possess its own attractiveness, depicted by the wolds, the long fields, and the slowly winding river. But the serenity of the landscape belongs only to the Lady’s perspective, and the reference to the reaper weary” (line 33) hints that, viewed from another perspective, the scene would be very different. Moreover, the reaper’s whisper, ‘ Tis the fairy/Lady of Shalott” (lines 35-6), indicates directly the Lady’s ssential foreignness. Part two takes up these suggestions to develop a sense of imprisonment and stagnation.
The river is now a whirling eddy, and the road a busy highway, down which passes a spectrum of medieval society–market girls and damsels, abbots and shepherds, knights and ladies. From this activity the Lady is separated, and the curse, the mirror, the unending weaving suggest that she is in fact buried alive, excluded from the sorrows and joys of human life. It is the reflection of two lovers that first prompts her to rebellion as she declares, am half sick of shadows” (line 71).
Her subsequent rejection of the conditions of er magical, protected environment precipitates the dramatic climax and the thematic development of the poem. The sudden intrusion of Lancelot brings into sharp focus the conflict between the Lady’s world of shadows and the real world of human concerns and passion. Riding in the sunlight, he represents the brightness and dynamism of Camelot, and the details of his appearance” the glistening armour, bejewelled bridle and saddle, silver bugle, and burnished helmet–coalesce to produce an image of dazzling radiance.
That Lancelot’s world contains its own dangers is obliquely suggested by his warrior status: lthough he comes in peace, singing the Tirra Iirra song which is an expression of his vital energy, he appears ‘ a bow shot” from the tower; he is dressed in full armour, riding his war horse; and he is on his way to Camelot, seat of military prowess. Nevertheless, the pull of human ties induces the Lady to defy the curse, and as she looks out of the window, she sees the blooming lily, the helmet, and the plume, symbols of nature, heroic glory, and love.
In leaving the tower, then, she enters the mortal world of time, movement, change, and death. The consequences are immediate. A storm arises, and the straining wind and omplaining stream contrast sharply with the earlier enchanted landscape of little breezes and clear river. Embarking on the river, suggestive of the progress of human life, the Lady asserts her human identity by writing her name upon the boat, and then, like all human beings, begins her journey to death, chanting the song of her life as she does so.
She has chosen contact with Camelot, even at the price of her own destruction, and achieves her goal as she gains the marvelling, if fearful, recognition of the citizens and the awed reverence of Lancelot, ironically unaware that he is the cause of her death. She has exchanged shadows for eality and has escaped from a sterile death-in-life, moved into the world of experience, and finally suffered death, a natural part of the human condition. But the Lady’s story has a further, more ambiguous significance in that it deals with the role of the artist.
As a weaver, the Lady is a dedicated artist, working night and day, but her seclusion, while it enables her to create a magical and beautiful web, prohibits her from active involvement with humanity. Thus the poem presents a conflict between the artist’s need for withdrawal and the demands of human contact and social responsibility. When she leaves the tower, the Lady orsakes her art as she has hitherto practised it, and the web is torn from the loom. This is not to say, however, that she abandons art entirely.
Instead, the art of the tapestry is replaced by the art of the song, which reflects the complexities and contradictions of human life, since it is both loud and low, both mournful and holy, the result of her entrance into life and the accompaniment of her voyage to death. Thus the poem perhaps suggests that, despite the appeal of solitary detachment, the artist cannot achieve full self-realization without participation in the tumult of human life. ‘The Lady of Shalott” defies rigid nterpretation.
The Lady’s choice has been seen both as a triumphal move to engagement with life and as a violation of the detachment necessary to her art, and analysis of the poem ranges from explanation of the Platonic symbolism of light and shadow to deconstructionist readings of the Lady as an allegory of the poetic text or ‘ ‘signatory act. ” Certainly the poem is problematic and reflects Tennyson’s own inner conflicts. Ultimately, however, the central paradoxes–that freedom and love may involve destruction and that acceptance of life is also acceptance of death–are also the paradoxes of the human condition itself.