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The Deserted Village | Study Guide

Oliver Goldsmith

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The Deserted Village | Symbols


Young Woman

The young woman described in lines 326–340 symbolizes the damage Goldsmith believes has befallen rural life in the wake of industrialism. Before moving to the city, the young woman was innocent and as "sweet as the primrose peeps beneath the thorn." She was as modest as the cottage where she once lived. Now she is in the city, all "her friends, her virtue fled." Hungry and alone, the young woman is now described as "the poor houseless shivering female." She has no choice but to lie near "her betrayer's door" begging for food. Goldsmith notes the young woman's lost virtues and stories of "innocence distrest," suggesting she has no choice but prostitution. The young woman serves as a warning for anyone who heads "ambitious [to] the town." By leaving their "wheel and robes of country brown"—their rural roots—villagers will face the same abysmal fate.


The village of Auburn symbolizes Goldsmith's sentimental views of rural life. Goldsmith uses a singular village to represent villages across Britain. In Goldsmith's imagery the lovely, picturesque villages are filled with happy farmhands. The young men swell with "health and plenty," and they are happy to work because it's "light labor." In the afternoons they picnic on the village green and play sports together, filling their air with songs and laughter. Every river, brook, building, and hill is described as busy, humble, never-failing, and decent. All social interactions are sweet, innocent, and charming. Goldsmith uses Auburn to warn against the changes caused by industrialism. The once-picturesque, happy village decays as the greedy landowners "steal" back land and force villagers to the city for survival. Goldsmith suggests that the decay of rural life equates to Britain's moral ruin.

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