It is a common belief that women of 12th Century England were generally held at a lower esteem than men. Although women certainly were seen as inferior, not all would have agreed in holding them at a position of inferiority, as the general consensus might have us believe. In Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, many accurate 12th Century England views of women are portrayed from several points of view, not only to entertain on Follet’s fictional behalf, but to historically inform as well. Follet skillfully crafts each main character a temperament towards women. The powerful William Hamleigh offers an extreme view of women’s subordination and inferiority; the humble Prior Philip hints towards equality; and Aliena, the bold heroine, displays women’s determined and self-reliant progress. Using multiple characters’ points of view, Follet accurately portrays views of inferiority and equality towards women of 12th Century England.
In the life of the 12th Century English commoners, women were undoubtedly inferior to men. They were not respected as equals, were seen as weak, they depended on men to provide, were left to simple and menial labor, and were subordinate in and out of marriage (ZinePress). In his novel, Pillars of the Earth, Follet uses several examples to display this sexist lifestyle. At one point in the novel, young Aliena tries to sell a sack of wool, which was a rather lucrative commodity at the time. Lucrative to men, at least, for Aliena is only offered half the normal pay because she’s a woman. Later, Aliena marries a man who forces her to sleep at the foot of their bed, and even attempts to rape her. However, by law it was not rape, for she belonged to him and had to follow his orders as long as they were married.
The greatest suppressor of feminine equality is easily the novel’s antagonist, the powerful William Hamleigh. In his eyes, women are objects at the will of men. This is seen many times through Pillars of the Earth, as William often seeks...
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