Women Breaking Free From Their Traditional Expectations
All throughout the early part of history women were portrayed as the inferior sex, because at that point in time, women were seen as beings only born to have children. Men didn't think that women were capable of being anything other than a typical housewife. It was unthinkable that women would actually need an education, let alone earn a living, or become a leader. These ideas are revealed all throughout classical literature. Rarely was a woman seen as doing anything but being dominated by males in some form, whether she was a man's submissive devoted wife, a sexual object, or a woman being punished for wanting her freedom. We finally begin to see women trying to break free from these traditional expectations and barriers through the lives of Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, John's wife in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Louise Mallard in "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin, and Songlian in Raise the Red Lantern by Su Tong.
Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God shows how the lives of American women changed in the early 20th century. Janie Crawford is an example of a woman in society who follows her dreams, takes control of her soul, and finds her own identity in a male dominated world. After two marriages in which Janie is owned' by the men in the relationship, she finds that she can own herself. "Janie was an unusual protagonist for her timeblack, female, independent, and strong" (Shafer). Janie's first effort to free her soul is from her husband Logan Killicks. Logan works her like a mule, making her do house chores as well as outside work. When she finally realizes that she doesn't want to spend her life as a slave or with someone that she doesn't love, Janie runs away to be with a man she had met only a few days before. Janie faces reality and gets out from under Logan's rule before she becomes consumed into his world. Again Janie is only a possession of her new husband, Joe Starks. He displays her like a medal around his neck. He is so jealous of other men lusting after his wife that he restricts her to always tend the store, leave fun situations, and wear a head rag to hide her beautiful hair. Janie slowly breaks out of the shell that Starks has molded her into when she verbally defies him in front of his friends. After his death, she begins to let herself live with no boundaries holding her back. Now with her third husband, Tea Cake, Janie begins going places and stops wearing mourning colors. She has finally found true love and someone who treats her as an equal. However, Janie must kill Tea Cake in self-defense after he goes crazy from being bit by a mad dog. This behavior was almost unheard of in that time, because women were still thought of as inferior and not being capable to think for themselves. Through all of her struggles and demands of submission, Janie survives with her own identity and strength to conquer anything in her life. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) is best known today as the author of "The Yellow Wallpaper", a riveting account of a young mother's descent into madness as a result of the stultifying cultural expectations for women in Victorian America" (Maloney). The experiences of the protagonist, John's wife in "The Yellow Wallpaper", is a reflection of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's own life. The story is about a creative woman whose talents are suppressed by her dominant husband. John, a physician, thinks by oppressing his wife it will keep her within societies normal ways of what a wife is supposed to act like, but it only leads her to a mental breakdown. He is more concerned with what others may say about her than the mental health of his wife. In trying to become independent, overcome her own suppressed thoughts, and her husband's false diagnosis of her, she loses her sanity. The first example of John being a dominating...
Cited: Aull, Felice "The Yellow Wallpaper" The Feminist Press at the City Univ. of New York
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