Professor Julie Brinson
3 November 2013
These Vows Are A’ Changin’
An Examination of the Role of Marriage through Literary Analysis
Marriage...it is what brings us together today…
It's not a lack of love...but a lack of friendship that makes marriages unhappy. Friedrich Nietzche
You know it’s never fifty-fifty in a marriage...someone always falls in love first...puts someone on a pedestal first...someone is just along for the ride. Jodi Picoult
If you want to start a heated, contentious argument, ask someone their opinion about marriage. Should homosexuals be afforded the right? Should persons be able to divorce on "no-fault" grounds, or should marriage be dissolved only under the greatest duress? Is marriage a purely religious institution, a "sacrament" if you will, or does it fall under the stature and design of the state? Few other topics find such disagreement. The purpose of this paper is to examine exactly what is marriage, from a legal and religious standpoint, and how it has evolved from the medieval period to that of the modern day. The other purpose is to examine specific literary references throughout different periods in time, and offer perhaps a glimpse as to why responses in type mirror what has changed in society at large.
Marriage, in the classical view, finds its roots in the early medieval period of Europe. While it does extend roots to the late Roman era through Augustine, its true birth is a product of the death of culture within the "civilized world." Augustine does provide the basis for classical marriage, that being procreation, fidelity, and permanence (Reid 462.) Simply put, marriage's purpose was noted as the production of linage, and to sustain that line a sustainable family unit was needed. Neither comfort nor convenience of the immediate parties was of importance, but rather the procreation of a progeny was the order (Reid 463.) Of course, the need for progeny was "to the father" but as the wife had no claim beyond doweristic property, this is expected. Therefore, a need of fidelity to maintain a perception of pater-stability was essential. Fidelity, mutual support and assistance were intertwined into this need; if one partner chose to dally around; the potential for other progeny could disrupt, and perhaps destroy the bonds needed to continue a line maturely. This is, again to say, that the husband may choose to dally, but should the wife be found with the stain of unfaithfulness, well, the result could destroy what was so carefully built. Permanence, closely connected with fidelity, existed more of a political status and of fundamental supremacy to not only the church, but to that of society as well. It was in the medieval period that a break in whom was bestowed the power to dissolve the bonds of marriage, that being the state or the church. Both noted that the power to dissolve said bonds were where
"[…] one party […] failed to perform essential obligations of the marriage contract (Reid 467.)
Remarriage was seen as much as a detriment to marriage (468) in that it disrupted the society; the very questions of responsibility and loyalty that modern families face were simply avoided. Other issues, such as homosexual marriage, were simply not an issue as they could not fulfill the primary obligation of the marriage contract; there was no opportunity for procreation.
The Victorian/Gilded view of marriage carries over from that of Augustine; the purpose of progeny, structure and state/church control remains the forefront of the marriage agreement. Love, commitment and affection were desirable, yet, the device of marriage as a social mobilizer remained of paramount importance. We also see, as the world of industrialization takes hold: the lathe replaces the plow, the city replaces the farming community, and the family is replaced by the company. Marriage itself is placed into...
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