The speaker of the poem “Frankie and Johnnie” is telling the story of two people that were in a relationship, where Johnnie was cheating on Frankie, and then Frankie kills Johnnie. The poem starts out telling the readert he backstory of Frankie and Johnnie. The speaker says that “Frankie and Johnnie were lovers…They swore to be true to each other/ As true as the sky above;” (ll.1,3-4) Then it goes on to say that Frankie bought Johnnie a lot of nice, expensive things and gave him a lot, if not all, of her money for presumably no particular reason.
After that, Frankie goes away to Memphis for some reason and when she comes back, she learns that Johnnie has been cheating on her this whole time. “[Frankie] Gave her money to Johnnie, /he spent it on those parlour whores;” (ll. 23-24).
Then Frankie goes down to a bar and asks the bartender if Johnnie had been there. The bartender says he had and he had been with a girl name Nellie Bly.
“She said “Oh, Mr. Bar-tender, / has my loving Johnnie been here? / He is my man and he’s done me wrong.”/…But I saw Johnnie an hour ago/with a girl named Nellie Bly;” (ll.28-30, 33-34). Frankie then goes to the pawn shop and bought a gun. “Frankie went to the hock-shop, /Bought her a big forty-four” (ll.36-37). She finds Johnnie at a local brothel with Nellie Bly and goes upstairs and shoots him. “Frankie went down to the hook-shop,/ …there she saw her Johnnie / loving up Nellie Bly/…Roota-toot-toot, three times she shoot” (ll.
41, 43-44, 63)
Frankie then goes on to tell everyone to bring a hearse and she would bury Johnnie, and then to call the police and lock her up for murder. “Bring out your rubber-tyred hack, / I’ll take my man to the graveyard, / but I won’t bring him back; /… Bring round a hundred policemen, / bring ‘em round to-day, / and lock me in that jail-house” (ll.77-79, 86-88). But before the police come she goes and tries to apologize to Mrs. Halcome but she won’t accept it. Then Frankie goes to look at Johnnie in his casket and wishes she could trade places. “Looked down at his face, / Said, “Oh, Lord, have mercy on me, /I’d like to take his place;” (ll.107-109). Finally, Frankie goes to jail and then gets hanged for killing Johnnie. “The Sheriff took Frankie to the gallows, / Hung her until she died, / they hung her for killing Johnnie,” (ll. 121-123)
There are a few cases of figurative language in this poem. “Lovers” (l. 1), “swore” (l. 2), “true” (l. 2), “gave” (l.8) are all positive words that make you believe that they have a good, healthy relationship. But words like “wrong” (l. 5), “shot” (l.39), “hurts” (l. 74), “hack” (l. 77), “hearses” (l. 81), “graveyard” (l.83), and “coffin” (l. 106) are all negative words that lead you to the conclusion of Johnnie’s death.
The theme of the poem is that there are always consequences for mistakes that you make. Both Johnnie’s and Frankie’s punishment was death for what they had done. Even though most consequences aren’t this harsh, the author exaggerates this so he could prove his point.
This poem is tied to the real world because this poem is based on a true story of a woman named Frankie Baker, who was a prostitute, and how she killed Allen Britt, who was her pimp. Over the years, the story has had its discrepancies and a lot of the facts have changed, but the overall message is the same.