Victorian Femininity (A close reading of Thomas Gray's "Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat")

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Victorian Femininity

Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat

From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,

Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved,

And be with caution bold.

Not all that tempts your wand'ring eyes

And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;

Nor all, that glisters, gold.

(Gray, stanza 7)

Thomas Gray's charming way of assembling words together offers the reader a subtle insight on the woman's role or "place" during the Victorian era. The woman's role consisted of childbearing, and basic domestic duties. It is clear that women were not allowed the freedom men were, not even a fraction of it. Gray delicately points out certain restrictions for women, in Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, and why these limitations exist.

The poem describes the adventure and eventual death of Gray's tabby cat, who is frequently regarded as a female character. It appears that throughout the ode, Gray is addressing the cat, but the first line of stanza 7, the author seems to make a moral point and addresses "ye beauties."

Clearly this is directed towards the fairer sex, and using the word 'hence' insists that, for all the above reasons listed within the poem, women like cats, are capable of the same foolishness. The following line is the ethical message which should apparently prevent tragedies, such as the death of Gray's cat, to happen again. It is the classic theme that one severe mistake could cost a life and that there is no turning back from a road already traveled. The word "false" suggests that it is woman's nature to be false. The word usage is deliberate and describes intentional deception. This contradicts Gray's first line of the stanza when he considers women "undeceived."

The following line, "be with caution bold," can be interpreted to...