Donne, The Flea and a game of trickery.

One of the trial essays I had done about John Donne’s poetry, but if anyone can give me advice on how to make my argument stronger or their take on how he plays a game with the reader that would be great.


Through the use of religious connotations and essentially contrasts, Donne is able to play a game of trickery with the reader as he hides his true, simple intentions with the woman. Moreover, the structure of the poem has argumentative undertones as the reader is shown a one-sided debate between a man and woman.

It is a game of trickery with the reader as the use of religious connotations makes us believe that the flea is very significant and symbolic of the strength of their relationship. The poem is littered with religious connotations throughout. For example, there is repetition and use of the number “three” as he refers to the “three lives”, “sins” and he uses three stanzas to associate with the concept of the Holy Trinity. This is used to emphasise the severity of her actions so she does not kill the flea as God will condemn her – simultaneously playing a trick with the reader as we too are absorbed by the thought of proving the voice wrong, which is exactly what Donne wants us to do. We are only encouraged more to do so as he uses first person to direct his argument to us, for example “this flea is you and I”, and the use of the possessive pronoun “our” to make us think as if we are his lover and he is seducing us.

Although, Donne only furthers the trickery on the reader as his implications are ironic and contrasting. Considering his emphasis on the religious aspects and links with sex, it is all a humorous yet intricate game, shown in the fact he uses continuous juxtaposition. One of the major themes is innocence and guilt as he manipulates the woman by warning her of committing three sins. However he continues to portray the flea and ironically, sex, as innocent because the flea took her blood as it is part of its nature – just like how their desire for each other is natural. Donne poses these themes and contrasts as it subtly forces his argument to the audience; it clearly sets out what we should think is right and what we shouldn’t. For example, the use of a rhetorical question “hast thou since Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?” emphasises the ruthlessness of the woman, therefore underlying discontent towards her is a made judgement forced on the reader. In the third stanza we are separated from the woman as he reports her actions to us; a clever illusion by Donne as we are forced to become an outsider where prior, we were inclined to view the poem in the eyes of the woman. Moreover the poem is also one-sided, so the audience has a more biased judgement on the situation as we listen to his side of the debate and only get told about her actions (and left to interpret what she may have said). Though he still uses a first person point of view, he mentions her “cruel” actions so that he could build up to the main message and reason for the poem. Ultimately, the voice undermines the significance of the flea and thus her virginity, as her killing of an innocent creature does not lead to her own demise.

Donne had tricked us throughout the entire poem. All of the reference to religion and the contrast between innocence and guilt was just to make his lover and the reader fall quickly for his pseudo-innocent intentions, only to make us realise in the last line how insignificant her virginity is. His use of reverse psychology on the audience was successful as he emphasised the importance of the flea and how the reader should see its symbolism and representation of their love, but then made us feel foolish for even considering the flea as something more than we normally do – irrelevant.

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