Nice Girls Finish First: Exploring Female Stereotypes in Edith Wharton's Roman Fever

Topics: Gender, Woman, Gender role Pages: 3 (1195 words) Published: May 2, 2006
Nice Girls Finish First

Gender roles are how society defines men and women. There are many different categories. Some women are "homemakers," others are "rebels," some are "bookworms," and some are "brilliant." In Edith Wharton's short story, "Roman Fever," the females begin as two different stereotypes and end as something unexpected. Even the title, "Roman Fever" has an unforeseen meaning, proving that things are not always what they seem. Even the most sheepish woman can be a Lioness, and the most confident woman can be completely insecure.

The story is set entirely on a patio in Rome. The main characters are described as, "…two American ladies of ripe but well-cared-for middle age… with the same expression of vague but benevolent approval (Wharton, "Roman Fever," p377)." This description shows the reader that these women come from money, are not young, and their vague expressions imply that neither is easy to read at face value. The women are vacationing with their daughters staying at the hotel they visited in their youth. There is a sense of nostalgia here but the women understand that even though Rome may be thousands of years old there is always a different vibe in the air.

As the women relax on the patio their daughters cast them off to join young boys noting, "…let's leave the young things to their knitting (Wharton, p377)." The seemingly more assertive of the two women, Mrs. Slade notes, "That's what our daughters think of us (Wharton, p377)!" While the seemingly more sheepish woman, Mrs. Ansley replies, "Not of us individually. We must remember that. It's just the collective modern idea of Mothers (Wharton, p377)." These lines recognize how gender roles were defined in the early 1930's. It is also suggested here that the two women resorted to knitting because their daughters gave them nothing better to do. As if to say, the children are all grown-up, might as well knit. Wharton has introduced her reader to two women who may...
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