The Significance of the Hand

The narrator in Robert Browning’s poem “Andrea Del Sarto” repeatedly references the hand, and his various references display the narrator’s layers of identity.

The first few instances in the poem where the narrator mentions the hand is in reference to his lover, Lucrezia, to whom the entire account of the poem is addressed.  Love is heavy on the mind and heart of the narrator as he expresses his desires again and again to hold hands with and spend time with his love.  On a number of occasions, the narrator’s language asserts a male hegemonic view of life and love: “Your soft hand is a woman of itself,/ And mine the man’s bared breast she curls inside” (lines 21-22).  However, it is clear that the narrator does not feel that he is in control of his current romantic situation, and thus does not wield that much power.  He seems to be in hopes of securing his identity as he attempts to mend and secure his love relationship with Lucrezia.

Later in the poem, the narrator says, “Love, we are in God’s hand. / How strange now looks the life he makes us lead; / So free we seem, so fettered fast we are! / I feel he laid the fetter: let it lie!” (lines 49-53).  The speaker’s acknowledgement of a higher power who really controls his destiny exhibits that the narrator believes he has limited ability to determine his own identity because he feels he is “fettered” by God’s determination of his life.

Lastly, the narrator makes many references to his own artistic ability and his superiority to others in his craft, mentioning what he can do with “this low-pulsed forthright craftsman’s hand” (line 82) in the process:  “I can do with my pencil what I know, / What I see, what at bottom of my heart / I wish for, if I ever wish so deep–/ Do easily, too–when I say, perfectly, / I do not boast, perhaps . . .” (lines 60-64).  It is apparent that he thinks highly of himself and his inclination to express himself creatively through art–a large part of his identity is tied into his hands and the creative works he can make with them.

Through exploring the narrator’s language and the recurring mention of the hand, the reader can understand the narrator’s identity more fully.

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