The Story of Inkle and Yarico
Inkle and Yarico is the story of two star-crossed lovers of different races, who in many variations of the story end up torn apart because Inkle sells Yarico off into slavery. The story has been retold many times, sometimes with a happy ending, but essentially always with racist undertones.
The version I have chosen is a poem published in New Lady’s Magazine titled “A Poetical Version of the much admired story of Inkle and Yarico.” In this version, Inkle is sailing to “India” when his ship gets caught in a storm and crashes. On land, Indians cannibalize everyone except Inkle, who flees and hides and is later found by Yarico, who helps him adapt to the island. The two spend months together and allegedly fall in love, but when more Englishmen come to rescue Inkle, Yarico is inevitably sold into slavery.
The language in “A Poetical Version…” was chosen to romanticize the relationship between Inkle and Yarico. Quite fittingly, the top four words in the piece were “breast,” “heart,” “Inkle,” and “love.” This alone shows the focus on the “love” story, despite the ending being tragic rather than comic. An interesting piece of metadata that I believe correlates directly to the romantic language is that the piece was published in New Lady’s Magazine. The target audience being female made the author focus on the whimsy of the piece, to draw in attention and raise emotion in the reader rather than just retelling a basic version of the tale.
Amidst the romantic language is very clear prejudice against the “Indians.” When first introduced, the Indians are described as having “barbaric rage,” and immediately eat the English crew, except for Inkle. Furthermore, Inkle selling Yarico to slavery is described merely as “avrice,” rather than painting it in its true horribleness. Essentially, the feelings of the native people are minimalized in favor of painting Inkle as the tragic hero of the poem.
Firstly, despite the two titular characters, “Inkle” is a much more common word than “Yarico,” making him the main character of the story. In addition, the WordTree tool revealed that when “Indian” is the root of the tree, “maid” is one of the most common words to follow, revealing why Yarico’s name was not as common of a word in the poem. The lack of respect for Yarico is reflected in this use of her ethnicity rather than her name to describe her consistently throughout the work. In addition, Yarico is the victim of Inkle’s desires and needs, so again, despite being a main character, her tragic ending is seen as inevitable and even acceptable by the author. Lastly, a few of the most common trigrams used the word “tempted” in reference to Inkle. This phrasing implies that Inkle was somehow persuaded by Yarico, and is blameless for the outcome of their romance.
Speaking of the sexism in the work, it is interesting to see that this version was targeted towards women, as shown by where it was published. Additionally, I put the perspective as third person, but as shown through the language and outcome, this version definitely focuses more on Inkle’s perspective—the story just isn’t told explicitly from his viewpoint. The location of London, England further cements why Inkle was the main character; of course English readers would easily empathize with the English protagonist.
I am unsure how much the unclear publication date impacts the interpretation of the poem. However, the overall ambiguity is interesting; the lack of a specific date plus the anonymity of the author leaves a lot of room for interpretation in terms of why the piece was written. However, I felt it was important to include these pieces of metadata because it is interesting to consider the ambiguity.
This version of the story of Inkle and Yarico romanticizes their love while still ending in Inkle’s betrayal, but the intended audience and location of the publication resulted in Inkle being portrayed as a hero, as well as racist and sexist tones throughout the poem.