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The treatment of women in English folk ballads

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  1. Introduction
  2. The innocent bystanders in Babylon
  3. The belief that a maiden's virginity is more important than her life : A hidden moral message
  4. The robber's question
  5. The impact of sexual License on the Scots
  6. The emphasis on the role of the parents
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

One of the distinguishing characteristics of folk ballads is the impersonal attitude shown by their makers towards the story's events: ?The story is told for the story's own sake, while the prepossessions and judgments of the author or authors are kept for the most part in the background? (Gerould 8). Despite this impersonality, the true sentiments of a ballad's folk are often revealed through their use of certain phrases, images, and adaptations through time. The most genuine of these sentiments are incorporated unconsciously, without the intent to moralize, but doing so nonetheless. It is these hidden sentiments, pried from the unconscious depths of the ballads' lyrics and melody, which give us the most insight into the experiences, beliefs, and imaginations of the folk to which the ballads belong.

[...] In versions C and the robber throws the dead sister among the broom.? Broom, in folklore, is a very magical flower, and is also another symbol of sexuality and illicit love (Wimberly 351). In version however, we get a very different image after each sister is slain: wiped his knife along the dew; but the more he wiped, the redder it grew.? The third sister, however, deflects the robber's question by talking about her brother(s). In version there is only one brother; in all the rest, there are three. [...]


[...] The folk of Britain seemed to think so, since the plucking of flowers by a young girl in English and Scottish ballads is often followed immediately by either seduction, with its dire social consequences, or murder (Shuldiner 271). We also see an indication of this attitude in Child where the London lord chastises the young maidens pu'in the rose and the fair lilie, for pu'in them sae fair and free? (Child 176). The negative message is reinforced in this case with a powerful image: the lily is a symbol of death?in ballads, it is sometimes the flower found growing from the grave of a knight or maiden (Wimberly 41)?and the rose is a symbol of female sexuality. [...]

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