Character Analysis of Sarah Penn
In Mary E. Wilkins’ “The Revolt of ‘Mother,’” the character of Sarah Penn serves a special function. She is both representative of the women of her time and also an anomaly. Like other women of the late 1800s, Sarah is a very hard worker in her home. She lives as a servant to the dictates of her husband, and despite her painful disagreement with his actions. She continues to serve him as any other wife would serve her husband. She cooked his favorite meals, sewed his shirts, and did the many chores around the house that are expected of her. However, although representative in these ways, Sarah is also an anomaly, because even while she is serving her husband she finally decides to rebel against him after 40 years of marriage. His long unfulfilled promise of building his family a better house to live in has been postponed once again while he instead builds a new barn for his farmyard animals. Sarah determines to move the family into the barn, which is far nicer than the old house they currently inhabit. As such, her actions constitute a world-changing revolution in a society where wives never challenge their husbands’ authority or decisions.
Sarah’s traits are similarly divided between the traditional traits of her era’s women and the traits that she needs in order to take a stand against her husband’s failure to fulfill his promise. On the one hand, Wilkins describes Sarah as having a “mild and benevolent” forehead and “mild, meek and benevolent downward lines about her nose and mouth,” stating that “she could be any woman of that time period” (p. 371). Yet when it comes to the long unfulfilled promise, Sarah’s habitual meekness and subservience give way to self-assertion. Her first words in the story are a question posed to her husband Adoniram: “What are them men diggin’ over there in the field for?” a question that she keeps repeating until she gets an answer (Wilkins, 1890, p. 371). This is a woman who has the...
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