Changing Women Through Literature
The 20th Century brought about many changes for writers. It was during this time that the war along with the feminist movement began to come forward. These two issues began changing the way women were viewed in society. Writers had the option of whether or not to keep their female characters the domesticated subservient homemaker or to bring forth the new emerging woman in their stories. The roles of women were changing from the passive homemaker who stayed at home and took care of the children to a role that was much more active in society. The same women who played such a passive role throughout their lives were now being brought into society to take over the jobs that were being left vacant due to their men going off to war. One of the greatest modernist writers Virginia Woolf claims, “On or about December 1910, human character changed” (Analyzing Fiction, p 103). Writers such as Woolf had the ability to change the views that society had on woman and the roles they play. Women were changing from the beautiful little housewife to those who had ambitions and dreams of their own not just those that were imposed on them by the men in their life. This change was not only evident in society but also in the literature of the modernist writers, as the characters novelists wrote about had to change simultaneously with the changes that were taking place in society. Of the novels read throughout the semester James Joyce was the first to bring about the changing attitudes women were forming about what they wanted out of life. Women were looking for more than marriage and domestic duties. In his novel Dubliners there is a short story titled Eveline that portrays a young woman who wants out of the life her mother left to her. Eveline felt trapped in a role that belonged to her mother and the women of that time period’s legacy. A role that was left to her upon her mother’s death, a repetitive role that consisted of taking care of her father, brother and never-ending housework. This is Joyce’s first introduction of a female character in this novel and it reflects the conflicting pulls many women were feeling between a domestic life fixed in the past and the opportunity of a new venture. Eveline had promised herself that she would not repeat the life of her beloved mother and agreed to marry a young man named Frank who was going to move her abroad and show her a new adventurous life but the fear of the unknown and the pull of repetition and routine won out over love and change. The use of of stream of consciousness narration enable Joyce to divulge her thoughts and emotions as she goes back and forth arguing within herself whether or not to go. Being in the mind of the character enables the reader understand the push and pull women were going through in this time period. “It was hard work- a hard life – but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life (Joyce, p 30). And then at the dock just before boarding ship the reader is then again transferred into her thoughts. “She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. … He would save her”(Joyce, p 32). Eveline in the end seems unable to board the ship because she know that marriage is not the way a woman in that era can be saved. Writers of the modernist era had the ability to transform the women in their stories into much more interesting characters with their very own personalities. A personality with their own views and values, not the ones pushed on them by their men. During this period women were becoming much more modern, by modern I mean a woman who seeks gratification in life through her own interests, wants, needs and interests much like Lily Briscoe in Virgina Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. In this novel, Woolf also portrayed the typical Victorian homemaker as...
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