Poetry is one of the most popular literary forms since it allows authors to express vast ideas in a short form. Whether written with rhymes or as blank verse, poems can have a profound effect on the reader. In modern artistic ways of expression, songwriting is probably the most popular means of poetry. One of the most famous singers, Eminem, performs in the genre of rap, thus creating lengthy pieces of lyrics.
In his song “Stan,” Eminem employs the monologue format created by a Victorian-era poet, Robert Browning. Browning’s monologue has some peculiarities that make it stand out in a variety of other literary pieces. Using the lyric voice, focusing on the speaker, and setting specific goals of one’s speech are the features making up the character of Browning’s monologues. Eminem’s “Stan” contains all of these elements, so it is viable to consider this song as an example of Browning’s monologue.
A monologue is one of the most popular ways of expressing one’s opinion on some issue without the need for listening to counterarguments immediately. Although there is a tendency to consider that dialogue is “superior to monologue,” the latter is a one-to-many form of communication that allows sharing someone’s thoughts or views (Kvernbekk 966). Kvernbekk argues that there exist values in monologues that are “overlooked” in modern educational discourse (966). Thus, it is crucial to pay more attention to monologue as a form of communication and education.
Browning’s idea of a monologue contained such an element as involving the audience in the speaker’s private life. As Gregory remarks, Browning’s monologues “create a dynamic of forced intimacy” (496). The person who is addressing others as if invites them to participate in his or her intimate life and see it in detail. In this respect, Eminem’s “Stan” is the embodiment of Browning’s approach. In the song, a deranged fan, Stan, is addressing the singer, Slim, whose music he adores.
Stan lets Slim know the minutest facts about his personal life. He shares that his “girlfriend’s pregnant too” and that he is “’bout to be a father” (Eminem 1:7). Also, Stan refers to Slim’s personal experiences and expresses his sympathy for the loss of his uncle. The young man notes that he “had a friend kill himself over some bitch who didn’t want him” (Eminem 1:11). He mentions other close people in his monologue, such as his “little brother” Matthew who is “only six years old” (Eminem 2:5).
Stan tries to make a connection with his idol by remarking that he “never knew” his “father neither” (Eminem 2:14). Finally, Stan’s engagement in “forced intimacy” leads to his revealing very personal information: “I even got a tattoo of your name across the chest” (Gregory 496; Eminem 2:20). Also, he admits cutting himself “to see how much it bleeds” (Eminem 2:21). All of these examples are indications of correspondence with Browning’s “demand that his readers identify with the morally monstrous “I” of his voice (Gregory 498). Hence, this is the first connection one can draw between Browning’s monologue and Eminem’s “Stan.”
Another peculiarity introduced by Browning is that in a monologue, the speaker should have “clear goals” along with “tacit or less proximate aims” (Pearsall 23). In Eminem’s song, the speaker declares his aims toward the addressee. Stan says that he is Slim’s “biggest fan” and that he merely wants to communicate with his role model (Eminem 1:17). He mentions that the singer “didn’t have” to talk to him after the concert if he did not feel like it (Eminem 2:4).
Stan emphasizes that he only wants to receive some response to his letters and some gratitude for being such an ardent fan. Even his little brother considers Slim as “his <…> idol” (Eminem 2:9). These are the clearly stated goals that the speaker shares with his listener, which constitutes another connection between Eminem’s song and Browning’s monologue.
Apart from the straightforward purposes of Stan’s writing, there are also some less explicit intentions behind the lines. The fan remarks that his “girlfriend’s jealous” because he talks about his idol “24/7” (Eminem 2:24).
Also, he expresses some queer implications about desiring to meet his favorite singer: “P.S.: We should be together too” (Eminem 2:29). Taking into consideration that both the fan and the singer are males, the hints expressed by the speaker seem to presuppose some homosexuality. Moreover, it is not clear why Stan wants to be with his role model so much if he has a pregnant girlfriend who is about to give birth to their child. Unfortunately, by the end of the story, these questions do not receive any answers since the speaker kills both himself and the girlfriend.
Finally, it is relevant to discuss the roles of the speaker and the listener in Eminem’s song and compare them to Browning’s definition. As Wagner-Lawlor remarks, Browning’s typical listener “recognizes the speaker’s superior position of power” (289). Frequently, the speaker is aggressive or even “menacing,” so the listener’s silence is both “remarkable” and “understandable” (Wagner-Lawlor 289). Gregory shares this opinion and adds that Browning’s monologue serves as the revelation of “the psychology of sexual violence” (491). In Eminem’s song, the role division is precisely correspondent with these characteristics.
In the first three verses, Stan expresses his feelings and intentions toward Slim. In verses one and two, he behaves like a disappointed but ardent and loyal fan. In the third verse, his tone changes dramatically due to his feelings being hurt by the singer’s silence. While in the first two verses, Stan addresses his listener with the words “Dear Slim,” the third part begins with “Dear Mr. I’m-Too-Good-to-Call-or-Write-My-Fans” (Eminem 1:1, 2:1, 3:1).
It is obvious that the speaker has become more aggressive, and the listener remains silent. In the last part, though, the singer finally replies to his fan’s letters. In this response, there is no connection to Browning’s monologue format, but it is important to mention this part. Slim provides a detailed explanation of why he did not answer earlier. However, by the end of his letter, he realizes that Stan is no longer alive and is not waiting for his acknowledgment anymore: “it was you, damn” (Eminem 4:29). Throughout the singer’s reply, one can still track the fan’s violence, which draws a connection to Browning’s monologue format.
Although Eminem wrote his song much later than Browning defined the elements of a dramatic monologue, “Stan” perfectly corresponds to these requirements. The speaker involves the listener in his personal life, expresses clear goals of his monologue, and demonstrates evil character. Through a variety of features, the speaker reaches the purpose of creating a violent and threatening atmosphere. Due to containing all of these elements, “Stan” may be viewed as an example of Browning’s monologue.
Eminem. “Stan.” Genius, n.d. Web.
Gregory, Melissa Valiska. “Robert Browning and the Lure of the Violent Lyric Voice: Domestic Violence and the Dramatic Monologue.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 38, no. 4, 2000, pp. 491-510.
Kvernbekk, Tone. “Revisiting Dialogues and Monologues.” Educational Philosophy and Theory, vol. 44, no. 9, 2012, pp. 966-978.
Pearsall, Cornelia. Tennyson’s Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue. Oxford University Press, 2008.
Wagner-Lawlor, Jennifer A. “The Pragmatics of Silence, and the Figuration of the Reader in Browning’s Dramatic Monologues.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 35, no. 3, 1997, pp. 287-302.