Feminist Perspective in Gender Ideology
In “A Sorrowful Woman” the wife is depressed at with her life, “The sight of them made her so sad and sick she did not want to see them ever again”(p. 33). This wife and mother detests her life, the sight of her family, and withdraws into a deep depression. The feminist reading:
“seeks to correct or supplement what they regard as a predominantly make-dominated critical perspective with a feminist consciousnessÃ¢Â?Â¦Feminist criticism places literature in a social contextÃ¢Â?Â¦explaining, for example, how images of women in literature reflect the patriarchal social forces that have impeded women’s efforts to achieve full equality with men” (p. 1498).
A feminist reading of this story would be that the woman is unhappy in her life because women need more than to be just wives and mothers. They yearn for a greater existence that includes a life outside the home. Her unhappiness with her life goes against the notion that women are satisfied with a husband and children. It destroys the model of a wife and mother and illustrates the reality that not all women want to be married with children. Feminists would applaud this woman and she would be the poster child for women who want to work outside of the home, or for women who never want to marry or have children. She is the proof that women don’t want just one life that different women yearn for different destinies. The stereotypical notion of a woman as a happy homemaker is shattered in this story.
While she is the role model for women who want a different life, she is the anti-Christ for women who want a traditional life that includes a husband and children. The outcome for the woman, death from too much sadness and from too much housework is the warning sign to women. It warns women, who have this lifestyle that they are in jeopardy, that it is a matter of life and death. Her role as wife and mother essentially killed her, a horrifying prospect for women in the same role.
Her depression metamorphosized into something else, it was a blatant disgust and anger with her life that manifested with her acting out and hitting her child. “After supper several nights later, she hit the child. She had known she was going to do it when the father would see”(p. 34). The message to women is invariably do not deny your true self, because your feelings with eventually be revealed, possible in a harmful manner.
The husband in the story being read with gender criticism falls into the stereotypical role of the strong and self-sufficient male. He never breaks down and demands that the wife be more active or helpful, he takes on all of the responsibility and never shares his feelings with his wife. Because the husband takes on the typical masculine role he allows the wife to dwell in her helpless feminine state because he enables her depression.
“With great care he rearranged his life. He got up hours early, did the shopping, cooked the breakfast, took the boy to nursery school. ‘We will manage,’ he said ‘until you’re better, however long that is.’ He did his work, collected the boy from school, came home and made supper, washed the dishes, got the child to bed. He managed everything”(p. 35).
Feminists would be angry with the husband for pushing the wife out of their life. He took over leaving no room for her, even if she wanted to be an active participant. The gender dualities and ideologies that are represented in the story can easily be read from a feminine perspective that gives light to many arguments and concerns of women.
In “The Story of an Hour” Chopin makes a feminist statement about marriage and the role and feelings of women. It is a literary representation that makes sociological statements that cast a distinctive light on the institution of marriage and women’s roles within it.
The third word of the story is Mrs. identifying the protagonist as a wife which defines her role and her existence within the story and in her life. It is obvious that Chopin wants the reader to know that this woman is married. Similarly the woman in “A Sorrowful Woman” is identified by her role as a wife, throughout the story she is not given a name, or an identity that surpasses her role as a wife and mother. It is as if women can never live down the distinction of being someone’s wife. Once they get married their own identity is traded in for that of their husband’s wife.
When her husband is killed in a train accident Mrs. Mallard weeps but for different reasons then one would expect. She is overcome with joy that her husband is dead. The people around her never sympathize with the feelings that she must be having as a person, but instead they link her emotions to being a wife instead of a woman or a person. Any sense of fear or abandonment that a recent widow might have was not catered to in Mrs. Mallard’s case, the people around her designated her as simply sad for the loss of her husband. Their lack of sympathy and understanding enables them to be ignorant and assume that Mrs. Mallard died from the joy of her husband not being dead. It is never presumed that Mrs. Mallard might be pleased with her husband’s death because society says that women fall apart when their spouse dies. A woman also must be sad when her husband dies and if she isn’t she either killed him or never loved him. While it appears that Mrs. Mallard didn’t love her husband because of the joy she felt at his death, Chopin infers that it is possible that she loved her husband but she really loved herself and her freedom more. Mrs. Mallard is trying to break out of her wifely role and be a feminist and appreciate her personal value that translates into a life that exists without a husband. Mrs. Mallard appears to be cold hearted and cruel, but if it were a man in her place, who lost a wife and was pleased that he had more time to devote to work and concentrate on himself he would be hailed a strong survivor. Since it is a woman she is branded cruel and cold, because women should not want a separate existence from their husbands or yearn for freedom, society places women by their husbands.
Chopin makes a clear statement about the institution of marriage. It is clearly portrayed as an imprisoning experience that one cannot wait to get out of, even under fatal circumstances. “She said it over and over again under her breath: ‘free, free, free!’Her pulse beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body”(Chopin 11). Mrs. Mallard was relieved that her husband died because it let her out of her marriage, when she realized that he was still alive, and therefore she was still committed to the marriage she died from the shock and horror of being trapped. All of the liberating dreams that she had of years that she wouldn’t have to share were taken away when she saw Mr. Mallard alive.
But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. There would be no to live for in those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence(Chopin 11).
The formula is simple, if you are in a marriage that confines you, one of the two spouses must die. Chopin further instructs not to get your hopes up that this might happen. Chopin makes an example and punishes Mrs. Mallard in the end by killing her. Mrs. Mallard was so excited with her new life that she was gravely disappointed when she saw it wasn’t possible.