Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott is a poem that can be read a couple of different ways. It can be seen as a view of what happens when one doesn’t look at reality regularly and then when they do, they are faced with a reality they cannot handle. For so long, the Lady has viewed the world through the mirror giving her a skewed sense of reality. When she finally sees the world as it truly is, she faces death. Does she die because of a “curse” or is it simply she cannot handle reality? As the reader, it is up to us to decide. There is no right or wrong answer.
One can also look at this from the feminist standpoint; something Tennyson later wrote other poems about and seemed to encourage women’s rights. In the time period of this poem when a woman tried to assert herself, went against the norm, was not content to be the “angel of the house” she was often deemed as “mad”. The result was confinement, separation from society. Is this what the Lady has done? Did she dare to defy society’s norm for women of the time and as a result she has been locked away in the tower. The fact that society does not look upon her, rather they hear her singing can be seen as a support to this theory. It is a story legends are made of; the crazy lady in the tower no one can see but can hear her song. It is similar to the old haunted house tales when children are little and there is a rickety, run down house on the street. When she finally leaves the confinement and inscribes her name on the boat as “Lady of Shalott”, it just proves she has lost her true identity and become what society has made her. She has become dehumanized; she has lost all sense of who she once was.
Is this the correct theory, the correct reading of the poem? One cannot be sure. Only Tennyson can say what his true intentions were when writing this great piece of literature and he is not here to tell us. We must make of it what we will and come to our own conclusions. That is one of the great things about literature; so much of it is left up to the reader’s interpretation and dissection.