Forgiveness in Interpretations of Inkle and Yarico

“The Complaint of Yarico” is a poem from the 1800s set in the aftermath of the story of the English merchant Inkle shipwrecked on an island coast, who is saved by the island native Yarico and then leads her on romantically, but then when they go back to Inkle’s home, he sells her off into slavery to make some money and abandons her for another woman. The first 9 lines of the poem describe Yarico’s current situation (presumably, she is waiting to be sold), and the next 27 lines are  from the perspective of Yarico, at once lamenting her state and cursing Inkle for what he did to her.

Research Question:
How does the tone of this poem compare to other interpretations of this story—is being bitter or vengeful toward Inkle a prevalent attitude or is this poem in the minority of texts in that regard?

I picked up on a generally hostile tone toward Inkle on my first read-through, so I decided to run my text through WordCounter. The most common words were “would”, “hand”, “hate”, “cruel”, “wretched”, “crime”, “betrayed”, and “love”. Given that this is a poem called “Yarico’s Complaint”, I was unsurprised by the intense negativity of the most common words, as well as the “would” and “hand”, which are presumably in reference to Inkle’s actions. Something I thought was really interesting was the trigrams portion of the analysis, because the top trigrams all had words like “sad” and “sorrow” multiple times, which makes it clear that this focuses heavily on Yarico’s state of mind and the burden of the effects that Inkle’s actions had on her.

I ran my text through WordTree to find different phrases and how they linked to each other, and decided to click on “her” to see what phrases were attached to the pronoun referencing Yarico. “Her” was attached to multiple different phrases like “soul”, “aching heart”, “sufferings”, and “dying farewell”, which emphasize her victimhood in the narrative as well the profound sense of heartbreak and betrayal that Inkle has inflicted upon her. Additionally, there turns out to be a lot of passive language that references Yarico, even though she’s the one angry at Inkle, because much of the consequences come from “Gods”. This makes it clear that she was wronged, and wants the appropriate punishment for the wrongdoer, but the poem is not so much about her exacting her own revenge so much as Inkle being punished cosmically for his moral wrong (disrupting and disrespecting the way things are supposed to work).


To find out if the tone of this poem was common among other interpretations of the source material, I ran the poem through SameDiff and compared it to the Coleman text (with no speakers) and consequently found that there were much fewer charged negative words overall, with “wretched”, “betrayed”, “wrongs”, “unjust”, “unkindness”, “suffering”, and similarly intense descriptors only appearing in “The Complaint of Yarico” and not at all in the Coleman text. There were more words such as “love”, “heart”, “see”, “wish”, lost”, in the Coleman, which I think certainly has to do with length and format (it’s a play, so it warrants more narrative buildup and complex characterization of Inkle). I also ran it against the Steele, which yielded similar results, with “shore”, “love”,  “pursued”, “maid”, and “lost” being among the few shared words between the two texts – these words occurred much more frequently in the Steele text, and the analysis overall revealed a much more sympathetic reading of the source text. I ran it against the 1839 poem “Yarico’s Lament” as well, since it was a similar title and was also a first person address of Inkle from Yarico’s perspective, but this one was more merciful toward Inkle, using phrases like “mild”, “forgive”, “sooth”, and “kind” – Yarico was much more of a woebegone, gracefully saint-like figure. Overall, I found that the poem takes a far more vindictive attitude toward Inkle in comparison to many of the other texts, which led me to confirm my classification of it as abolitionist-leaning, as it indicated a much more progressive attitude in comparison to other texts of the time (making Inkle’s wrongs explicit and clarifying that they deserved to be punished by God’s wrath).

Metadata tags:

  • Length: 1 page, 270 words (not counting the title)
  • POV/Perspective: Yarico
  • Bias/Sympathy: Yarico
  • Genre: Poem
  • Inkle Forgiven?: No
  • Publication Location: Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  • Publication Date: May 13, 1800
  • Format: Magazine
  • Author Anon?: Yes
  • Abolitionist: Yes

My metadata tags were fairly straightforward to compile. I classified the perspective/point of view as Yarico because her first-person address of Inkle comprised 75% of the poem. The sympathy clearly lay with her, the opening portion describing her as a pitiful “wretch”, and it did not forgive Inkle whatsoever. It certainly had an abolitionist bent to it, or at least it could be construed as such, as it refers to slavery with terms such as “stern oppression” and “restless cruelty”.