Marriage and Gender Roles

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Draft Paper: Marriage and Gender Roles

in Three Literary Works

Moniek L. James-Eldridge


R. Nowak

April 18, 2011

Marriage is an institution. A happy wife makes for a happy life. Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. From the beginning of creation, these common schools of thought have contributed to the gender roles of men and women in relationships. Adam went out during the day to name all the animals that God created on the Earth, and Eve stayed home and had engaging conversations with reptiles. In any union the roles of each participant are either defined or assumed over time. In literature, gender roles and marriage are portrayed in a wide variety of ways, ranging from the meek, silent wife to the husband who stops just short of breaking his back to provide for his family. This spectrum is evident in such short stories as The Secret Life of Walter MItty, I’m Going!: A Comedy in One Act, and The Story of an Hour. Women have traditionally been considered the weaker sex in marriage, and it is rare to have a fair and equitable relationship worth reading about. In the case of these stories, when women do possess, or attempt to hold more influence in the relationship, it does not always make for a happier coexistence. Eve’s desire to gain wisdom ultimately led to the fall of man, so if the woman happens to be the more dominant partner, will that lead to the failure of her relationship?

Mitty’s Meekness

In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter is a hapless, uncomfortable, spineless man who escapes to his daydreams to be the hero. It is assumed that he has been married for several years, yet he is so unhappy in his marriage and his life that he gets lost in his daydreams. His wife has no clue about what he is feeling, she just thinks he’s sick, telling him “I wish you’d let Dr. Renshaw look you over” and I’m going to take your temperature when we get home.” (Clugston, 2010). Walter’s wife is referred to as Mrs. Mitty throughout the story, which serves a symbol for her dominance in the marriage, and her characterization as an abstract figure that only appears to disrupt Walter’s secret life or tell him what to do. He is also frustrated because he feels like he is treated like a child, not a grown man, but he doesn’t help matters much when he actually behaves like one. “Remember to get those overshoes while I’m having my hair done, she said. “I don’t need overshoes,” said Mitty. “We’ve been all through that,” she said, getting out of the car. “You’re not a young man any longer.” He raced the engine a little. (Clugston, 2010). Even though Mrs. Mitty doesn’t like that Walter behaves so peculiarly, the reader gets the sense that she delights in telling him what to do, since she believes that only she knows what is best for him. “Why don’t you wear your gloves? Have you lost your gloves? Walter Mitty reached into a pocket and brought out the gloves. He put them on, but after she had turned and gone into the building and he had driven to a red light, he took them off again.” (Clugston, 2010). It is only in Walter’s daydreams that he can stand up for himself and be confident and assertive. In reality his docile nature has him doing whatever is necessary to avoid confrontation with his domineering wife. However, when his manhood is challenged by someone outside of his marriage, like the parking lot attendant that corrected him for being in the wrong lane, he actually expresses anger, “They’re so damn cocky, thought Walter Mitty, walking along Main Street; they think they know everything.” (Clugston, 2010). Unfortunately, he finds himself frustrated because yet again, because he does nothing. It is not until the next daydream that he stands up for himself, “You miserable cur!...(Clugston, 2010).

I’m Going! (Or Not)

The relationship expressed in I’m Going! is a farce of a marriage between a manipulative, codependent wife and a jealous...
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