Gender roles and marriages can play an important role in literature. It can be one of the most influential ways that gender roles are constructed. Works of literature construct images of boys and girls and men and women. These works usually depict the girls and women doing housework, playing with dolls, and cooking. The men are usually depicted as sports players and lovers, providers, and figures that are overall stronger than woman. Guy de Maupassant’s, “The Necklace” and James Thurber’s, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” are two works of literature that focus on the themes gender roles and marriage, with some similarities, but with even more differences.
In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Thurber shows a marriage that is not typical. In this marriage Walter has a wife who is controlling, bossy, and runs the house hold. She’s aggressive, overbearing, and condescending. She’s everything Walter, the husband, is not. In comparison, Walter is very passive and compliant. This type of gender role reversal is quite unique considering that Thurber has given Mrs. Mitty the character traits are generally expected of the man or husband to possess, and Walter has the traits usually given to women.
“The Necklace” Maupassant focuses on femininity. He develops a character as a woman who possesses all the attributes needed to be desirable by other men. “She had no dresses, no jewelry, nothing. And she loved nothing else; she felt herself made for that only. She would so much have liked to please, to be envied, to be seductive and sought after (as cited in Clugston, 2011, para.6).” She’s in a marriage where she does not care for her husband and hates the house in which she resides. Because she is a An Escape 3
woman and is living a world where men are dominating, she has absolutely no control over her life. The author played upon feminine characteristics making Mathilde overly emotional and extremely sensitive.
Ultimately, these two stories are similar due to both Mathilde and Walter being extremely unsatisfied in their marriages. They both fantasize about living other lives and being something that they are not. “Sigmund Freud saw fantasy as a vehicle for the expression of repressed desires (fantasy, 2009, para. 1).” Walter daydreams about being a strong, courageous, and heroic man in a plethora of heroic situations. From being a Navy Hydroplane commander to a world famous surgeon, Walter imagines his life being so much more than it really is. He daydreams throughout the day about all types of things when he wants to tune out his overbearing wife. Usually his wife is doing a lot of yelling or putting him down when he decides to escape into his fantasy world.
Mathilde dreams of wealth. She’s currently living a life that she is unhappy in and believes she was born for a life of abundance. She fantasizes about being wanted by other men and ditching her middle-class life for a wealthier one. Because she despises her husband and their mediocre life, she daydreams of the life she feels she was born to live, even though she is stuck in her marriage with a husband who cannot afford to give her the finer things she feels she deserves.
In addition to having similar themes, these two works of literature also share a common form. They each are short stories. Short stories are works of literature that An Escape 4
are shorter than novels, but long enough to set up a story and its content. These two short stories do just that.
In the short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Thurber has time to develop his characters, making Walter the protagonist and everyone else he encounters, especially his wife the antagonists. The plot is filled with conflict and suspense, where Walter is ultimately trying to escape the ordinaries in his life, which leaves us wondering what will happen to him next. The settings of these stories differ as well. “The Necklace” takes place in...