Exploration of Feminine Identity in Sui Sin Far's Mrs. Spring Fragrance

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The Exploration of a Socially Constructed Feminine Identity

Sui Sin Far’s, The Story of one White Woman who married a Chinese, argues that the new feminine identity while liberating some women is destructive for others, and it is not until one develops a true sense of identity and not a socially constructed one that inner peace is attained. Minnie, the main character in Far’s story depicts a white woman who felt compelled to assimilate into the new feminine identity constructed by the socio-economic movement of Modernity and ultimately rebels against it leading to the destruction of her private sphere, her family life.

The nineteenth century movement known as Modernity renegotiated both the masculine and feminine identiies. “Modernity points to the emergence of instrumental rationality as the intellectual framework through which the world is perceived and constructed. As a socioeconomic concept, modernity designates an array of technological and social changes that took shape in the last two centuries and reached a kind of critical mass near the end of the nineteenth century; rapid industrialization, urbanization, and population growth; the proliferation of new technologies and transportation; the saturation of advanced capitalism; the explosion of a mass consumer culture; and so on.” (Charney and Schwartz, 72) Prior to the nineteen century, American society designated very specific roles for both men and women in America. The practice and ideology of these roles constructed strict masculine and feminine identities. Society’s perspective of those roles was very clear; there existed two spheres: the public and the private sphere. The private sphere, also known as the domestic sphere, was reserved for women. In this sphere, the women stayed home and were the care-takers. They cared for the house, their husbands and their children. They did not socialize outside the house much nor were seen walking the streets alone. Men, on the other hand, worked and socialized outside the home. Male and female identity was thus conferred by these two separate spheres. The emergence of Modernity, more specifically consumerism led to the breakdown of those separate spheres, ideology and practice. As a result, society’s perspective of the masculine and feminine identities was redefined. While Modernity liberated some women from their traditional private roles, it served to imprison others as they felt compelled to assimilate into the new role.

Modernity was geographical by nature. It was in the public and private spaces of society where it played out and ultimately changed society’s view of feminine and masculine roles. The private sphere, or the home, was thought of as the place where familial ties and identity were centrally located. The female’s role, as mother, daughter and wife, was viewed as pure and untouched by modern life. She was seen as the caregiver both to her children and her husband. She was not suppose to walk the streets by herself or she would be seen as a prostitute. The duties of these homebound women revolved around purity and moral correctness. Ultimately, if there was even the slightest bit of immorality, they were highly regarded as "sinners." Women had great influence during this time and were depicted as the moral backbone of society.

The emergence of modernity brought about numerous opportunities for women, but the comfort of women in the home seemed to be overshadowed by the need to provide financially for their families. Many women felt obligated to work outside the home. Entering into the Industrial Era began to give women more authority and soon moving them to reform culturally. Massive economic growth and urbanization was taking place. Home production of goods were no longer necessary and were now being manufactured by factories and stores, increasing production, commerce and trade. Due to this economic expansion, the increase in business opportunities, woman’s...
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