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The Role of Women in Society

← Class Relations in Victorian and early 20th Century LiteratureYellow Wallpaper →

For many centuries, writers have used literature as a means to explore different topics and issues of social concern. One of such popular themes frequently addressed by the authors is the role of women in society and the household. Traditionally, women were believed to be weaker than men and dominated by them; thus, they tend to be morally superior. Literature used to present women as if their main purpose in life was to take care of the family and run the household. Moreover, women could not benefit from having social rights as they were significantly limited. Consequently, many women writers tried to reconsider the role of a woman. The Yellow Wallpaper, The Story of an Hour, and A Rose for Emily are stories raising the issue of women's struggle against various feminine stereotypes and dogmas established by society.

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The author of The Yellow WallpaperCharlotte Perkins Gilman juxtaposes the cultural expectations and thoughts of women by exploring the theme of writing, the feminine stereotype confrontation. In her short story, Gilman brings up the issue by examining society's discouragement of women who yearn for creative self-expression. In order to show the contrast between the traditional role of a woman and the one, which was not adequately perceived by society members, the author presents different examples over the course of the storyline. Gilman depicts two examples of women who perform their traditionally acceptable role. For instance, Jennie, the narrators sister-in-law, is a housekeeper who does not see or yearn for any prospect of a better profession (Perkins, 2009). In other words, the place Jennie occupies is completely appropriate for the domestic sphere and society norms established for the female gender. Moreover, even her name speaks loudly about her character. According to its origin, the name Jennie means a female donkey (Moverbey, 2016). Hence, she always remains in a subservient position in the society and family, strictly following established norms and rules for her gender role. Such a position was normal and typical for women living in the nineteenth century. As a result, the author showed the natural way of a woman's behavior and attitude towards her status in relation to her husband and family.

Charlotte Gilman describes Jennie as an example in order to highlight the degree of opposition compared to the narrator. When the story begins, the narrator shows the norms and rules socially adopted for women including weakness, subordination, and lack of self-confidence. Moreover, it may seem that she also accepts her state of being trapped and oppressed by the opinion of her husband and physician (Perkins, 2009). Thus, the feeling of injustice is enclosed in her mind despite the fact that she is constantly being brainwashed. The house, which might be considered as a secure place for every woman's way of self-expression, is regarded by the narrator as something strange and awful. Hence, here, the house is a symbol, which, on the contrary, encourages the oppression and constant control (Moverbey, 2016). It can be compared to a prison, which keeps all her desires completely locked. Besides, her husband treats her as a child, a little girl, but not as a wife. Consequently, the narrator strives for some change and transformation. She grows as the story progresses and, as a result, the woman moves from the state of submissiveness to the state similar to empowerment. While the story ends, the narrator confronts social norms and begins to write, which helps the woman reveal her feelings and thoughts. Gilman wrote her story in order to draw attention to the fact that there was a need for social reform in regards to the lack of rights and opportunities for women.

Kate Chopin is one more female author who explored the topic of women's emancipation and oppression within the society and family in her story The Story of an Hour. She presents a woman, Louise, who is trapped by her husband and oppressed by different domestic duties so that she cannot do things she really loves or wants to do. As it was aforementioned, women at that time period did not have rights and opportunities, unlike men. They had to run the house and take care of kids. Consequently, Chopin explored in her story one of the most painful themes. In The Story of an Hour, Louise finds it hard to accept her fate and social position. Moreover, she usually dreams of things that are far from her reality. Nevertheless, soon after her dreams come true, she loses everything. From the storyline it is evident that Louise does not appreciate her husband and, on the contrary, wants to release from being under his authority and pressure (Abell, 2016). The marriage of Louise and her husband, Brently, resembled not love but monetary comfort and acceptance where a woman used to play a submissive role. Moreover, when she marries Brently she loses her identity and becomes his property. This fact forces her to think of a better and free life without a husband.

After her husband's presumed death, the woman begins feeling abandoned. This scene also shows the role of a woman in the family. It was common for the man to earn money and pay the bills while the woman was to take care of kids and house, in particular. Consequently, when Brently dies, his wife feels helpless and lost not knowing what to do (Abell, 2016). Nevertheless, such an unpleasant factor does not prevent her from understanding the perspective of being free. Moreover, having been freed from the shackles of her husband, Louise begins feeling really happy. Now, she shall not be forced to listen to a man's orders and can live as she wishes (Chopin, n.d.).

Yet, despite happiness and joy she experiences after the news about her husband's death, Louise struggles with the feeling of guilt. Considering such perspective, the reader can assume that the woman is mistreated in her marriage and, as a result, Brentlys death makes such a strange impression on her. In addition, when Louise sees her husband alive, she immediately realizes that all her dreams about freedom are doomed to failure (Abell, 2016). Consequently, her death can be considered as ultimate freedom from her unhappy marriage and life. Chopin tries to make the readers understand her point of view about the unfair status of a woman in marriage, which plays a role of a cage for her. Many women of the nineteenth century suffered from not only a bad physical condition but also a psychological one due to their unhealthy state of spirit from being oppressed by their husbands.

Not only the female writers explored the theme of feminism and neglect of women's rights but also some male ones, including William Faulkner and his famous story A Rose for Emily. The author presents a storyline appropriate for that period of time. He tells about a woman always being in the shadow of her father (Feminist elements in A Rose for Emily, 2015). Emily is her father's daughter and thus she is oppressed and controlled by him so strictly that the woman feels weird and alone. Her father separates her from others and does not allow her to have any lovers or even a husband even though she is already an old spinster (Faulkner, 1930). Traditionally, during that period, girls were treated suppressive either by their fathers or husbands. Moreover, it may seem from the story that Emily's father continues to control her even after his death. She is used to his abusive behavior so much that when her father dies she cannot believe it and, as a result, she continues to remain controlled by him from beyond the grave. Consequently, Faulkner aims to show that women of the nineteenth century were discriminated against and dominated by men who often were intolerant to them. It was difficult for women like Emily to escape their father's or husband's abuse or mistreatment.

Faulkner does not stop at Emily's father's death, he, on the contrary, develops his idea of male dependence. Emily is deprived by her father of potential women's happiness and love. In addition to this, he does not consider her needs, feelings, and a desire to be treated as a woman, not a little girl. According to the norms of that period, women traditionally did not have their own individualities. Moreover, only men were allowed to decide on sex and other everyday life matters. As a result, when Emily has the opportunity to enter into an affair with a man such behavior is not acceptable by the social rules and norms. Nevertheless, Emily's actions may be regarded as a confrontation against traditional views on women's role and status. She fights against gender limitations put on women by the patriarchal society. Furthermore, society feels the obligation to control Emily's life and actions after her father dies. She is considered to be weak and completely dependent on male support. Besides, people accept her strange actions including an affair with a Yankee, keeping her father's body, and buying poison (Feminist elements in A Rose for Emily, 2015). Such a lenient attitude is evoked due to the fact that a woman without a man is considered to be helpless. Emily is supposed to be unable to properly act in society and remains to be mentally ill. Consequently, Faulkner aimed to show the disadvantages and faults of the society of that time. He showed the actual position of a woman in society and the latter's attitude to her. Every woman was taught to follow the rules established according to the patriarchal principles. As a result, there was a need for some sort of reconstruction and reconsideration of a woman's role in society, which many writers, including William Faulkner, addressed in their works.

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In conclusion, there have been many debates about the issue of a woman's role in society. Moreover, for many centuries women were regarded as weak and dependent creatures with no rights and opportunities. Nevertheless, the issue of women's status and the position has been addressed by numerous writers. They aimed to change the society's attitude towards female gender. Such stories as The Yellow Wallpaper, The Story of an Hour, and A Rose for Emily represents the author's perception of a woman's role and willingness to let readers understand the drawbacks and faults of past society system.

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