27 February 2014
The Roles of Women
“It is the wife’s responsibility to provide for her husband, and to maintain a happy home; the single spot of rest which a man has upon this earth for the cultivation of his noblest sensibilities” (Doc. 26, “Woman’s Rights and Men’s Wrongs”). Women are meant to uphold a certain expectation that has been held over them for centuries. But in the nineteenth century things for women began to change. While many women fulfilled their "responsibilities", a large number of women responded to this attempt to define and limit their roles with literature and work in the feminist movement. There were many feminist writers during this time as well, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin (who began writing at the beginning of the fight for women’s rights, but did not exactly declare herself a feminist). Most of this change came about because of the actions women took upon themselves and their desire to break out of the limits imposed on their sex, because of the specific roles women are expected to pursue. They have been unjustly held back from achieving full equality for much of the human history. Chopin was neither an activist nor an advocate for the roles of women. She was nonetheless a woman who took women extremely seriously. She never doubted women's ability to be strong because she came from a long line of strong women whom she loved and respected; her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother affiliation. She had a lack of interest in feminism, she had a different understanding of freedom for women. “She saw freedom as much more a matter of spirit, soul, character of living your life within the constraints that the world makes [or] your God offers you, because all of us do live within constraints. There's no indication that for example she regretted her marriage, or regretted being a mother" (PBS). Whereas Gilman is a straightforward activist. Even though during this period of life people felt that, “the ideal woman was not only assigned a social role that locked her into her home, but she was also expected to like it, to be cheerful and gay, smiling and good humored.” (Lane, To Herland 109). Both feminist writers shared a deep concern for the roles of women and them being oppressed. In most of Chopin’s works the female often struggles with dealing with the expectation society places on women. “The Story of an Hour,” was then rediscovered in the 1960s with the rise of feminism and has been used as a feminist story; or at least one that talks of roles of women inside marriage. The female antagonist, Mrs. Mallard, feels trapped in her marriage; so when she receives the news of the supposed death of her husband she is relieved. She is finally free of the obligations that were once forced on her. Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will--as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under the breath: "free, free, free!" The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body. She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome. There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending...
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Kessler, Carol Parley. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman 1860 -1935." Modem American Women Writers. Ed. Elaine Showalter. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991. 155 -169.Print.
Lane, J ann.(1990) To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Virginia: University of Virginia. pp.413.
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