Role Of Women In Literature Essay, Research Paper
The Representation of Women in Literature
The role of women in society is constantly questioned and for centuries women have struggled to find their place in a world that is predominantly male oriented. Literature provides a window into the lives, thoughts and actions of women during certain periods of time in a fictitious form, yet often truthful in many ways. Ernest Hemmingway?s ?Hills like White Elephants?, D.H. Lawrence?s ?The Horse Dealers Daughter? and William Faulkner?s ?A Rose for Emily? each paint a picture of a woman who has failed to break away from her male companion, all describing a stereotypically dominated woman. Through submissive natures, compliant attitudes, and shattered egos the three women each struggle to live their lives in accordance to men, using only silent means of escape.
In Hemingway?s ?Hills Like White Elephants? we are introduced to Jig. Jig is a woman who lacks the ability to make decisions without constant approval and recognition from a man who has impregnated her but who would rather she aborts the baby. Jig, unfortunately, cannot make decisions on her own, which is exemplified throughout the story, depicting her weak and dependent personality. ?What should we drink?? From the opening line of the story we are introduced to a character that questions rather than acts. Someone who is unsure of not only herself but the relationship she is involved in. Though a simple question about what beverage to order can often appear courteous, this is only the first of many examples pertaining to Jig?s inability to live her life as an individual. Later she questions her purpose in life, ?That?s all we do isn?t it-look at things and try new drinks??, asking her companion to confirm for her what the meaning of her life is. By doing this Hemingway succeededs in creating a character who cannot be respected but is instead pitied. In a discussion, with her American lover, Jig comments about the hills surrounding them, comparing them to white elephants, only for him to tell her that what she is saying is wrong. Rather than defend something that is her own opinion she changes the subject and later apologizes for saying it in the first place.
??They look like white elephants?, she said.
?I?ve never seen one,? the man drank his beer.
?No, you wouldn?t have.?
?I might have,? the man said. ?Just because you say I wouldn?t have doesn?t prove anything.??
?They?re lovely hills,? she said. ?They really don?t look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.?
Jig?s main objective throughout the story is ensuring that her partner is happy. This is apparent when she tells him that she will go through with the abortion. ?Then I?ll do it. Because I don?t care about me.? ?And I?ll do it and then everything will be fine.? Through these comments it is evident that she truly believes if she has an abortion their relationship will be fine giving little thought to the emotional and physical trauma the procedure will cause. Jig?s subservient attitude is indicative of her low self esteem throughout the story. She allows herself to be shaped by a man whose care for her is more than obviously not a reciprocation of hers for him. Throughout the story he manipulates her into thinking that he only wants what is best for her and that he only wants her to do what she feels comfortable doing, meanwhile constantly undermining her resolve. ?[I]f you don?t want to you don?t have to. I wouldn?t have you do it if you didn?t want to. But I know it?s perfectly simple.? ?I think it?s the best thing to do. But I don?t want you to if you don?t really want to.? Unfortunately Jig falls for every line, inevitably deciding her life?s happiness is unimportant. She instead places her happiness in the hands of his, meaning that her life?s enjoyment will only exist based on her ability to please her partner. ?And you think then we?ll be all right and happy.? ?But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you?ll like it?? She is pleading for him to tell her that everything will be fine and their life will be happy because she is so afraid of trying to find happiness on her own. Her side of the discussion is constantly exasperated as she convinces herself to believe everything he says. Only at one point in the story does her character appear to think individually of his thoughts, only to immediately retract when summoned. It is at this point in the story that Hemingway symbolizes her chance for individually and then immediately showing her lack of. She steps into the light, into herself and thinks freely on her own, only to fall back into what he wants her to believe. ?The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river though the trees. ?Come on back into the shade,? he said?. The imagery of both the light and the shade and the parting of the trees make it seem as though Jig is on the verge of an epiphany and then she retracts assuming his way of thinking, following him back into the shade. At the end of the story Jig is seemingly content, ?I feel fine,? she said. ?There?s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.?, though in reality she is a docile woman who cannot think or live for herself.
D.H. Lawrence presents a similarly inferior character in his ?The Horse Dealer?s Daughter?. Living with her three verbally abusive brothers, Mabel?s character reflects that of a submissive, helpless animal. She appears to be trapped, constantly being emotionally beaten but having no ability to defend herself or escape. She?s a woman who respects her duties and fulfills her responsibilities as seen fit by the male dominating force of the household. She had long before given up her right to be a member of the family and instead was like a mute servant who showed no emotion nor appeared to feel any either. ?He pushed his coarse brown moustache upwards, off his lip, and glanced irritably at his sister, who sat impassive and inscrutable.? Mabel is constantly being ordered around by her brothers but passively receives the information making it apparent that her own happiness in life is not a priority. ??Does she ask you to go and stop there?? persisted Fred Henry. ?She says I can if I like.? ?Well, then, you?d better. Tell her you?ll come on Monday.? This was received in silence. ?That?s what you?ll do then, is it?? said Fred Henry, in some exasperation. But she made no answer. There was a silence of futility and irritation in the room. Malcolm grinned fatuously. ?You?ll have to make up your mind between now and next Wednesday,? said Joe loudly, ?or else find yourself lodgings on the kerbstone.? The face of the young woman darkened, but she sat on immutable.? Mabel?s quiescent reaction signifies her disinterest in pleasuring her brothers with any sign of emotional turmoil. Her attitude seems submissive, yet there is some indication of defiance in her mind. However, throughout the story Lawrence refers to her expressions, emotions and actions as impassive referring to her subordinate nature. Evidently Mabel respected and trusted her father up to his death. ?She had loved her father, too, in a different way, depending on him and feeling secure in him,? however, with this description comes an understanding of why she allows the men in her life to treat her in such horrific ways. She had originally placed a lot of importance on the meaning of her father, relying on him to always take care of her. When he died she had no figurehead in her life to take care of her so she relied on her brothers, the only other men in her life, to turn to, even though it was in the most vicious way imaginable. Rather than attempting to make improvements in her life, Mabel?s lack of personal ambition caused her to look for another method of escape. She found peace within herself when deciding to end her life, so that she could go to be with her dead mother and not have to face the reality of her unhappiness. ?She seemed in a sort of ecstasy to be coming nearer to her fulfillment, her own glorification, approaching her dead mother, who was glorified.? Mabel?s belief is that life on earth was not meant to be enjoyable for women; only once they moved on, to another life, could they live happily and peacefully on their own. Thankfully, however, Mabel?s suicide attempt was cut short by a man unlike those that she had grown to put up with. She questions why he risked his own life in order to save hers. She does this out of pure amazement that a man would have more concern for her life than even she did. ??Why did you?? She asked. ?Because I didn?t want you to do such a foolish thing,? he said. ?It wasn?t foolish,? she said. ?It was the right thing to do. I knew best then.?? Her comment, although, supporting the fact that though she did make the decision to commit suicide on her own and still supports her decision, she no longer feels that she is right or could make an intelligent decision about anything else. Mabel immediately becomes a victim to the new man in her life here to watch her and care for her. The doctor has saved her life, therefore he must love her and so she will drop all previous ideas and plans and instead seek fulfillment in a new life with him. Her lack of ability to focus on her own dreams and goals make her weak and feeble character even more apparent than at the commencement of the story. By the conclusion of the story it is most obvious that Mabel?s happiness is based solely on this man?s willingness to love and care for her. The only point in the story where she finally takes her life into her own hands was when she makes the decision to end her life and she went through with the idea only to be stopped by the one thing she was running from, male domination.
?A Rose for Emily? by William Faulkner illustrates yet another example of a woman lost without the presence of a man to control her entire life. Emily Grierson lived her whole life needing the constant knowledge that there was someone there to care for her. From when she was born her father ruled her life, providing her with all the necessities and luxuries she could possibly want. In exchange he raised a daughter completely dependent on someone who undoubtedly would not be there forever. ?After her father?s death she went out very little.? With her father?s death Emily also died, not knowing how to live without him there. ?The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom. Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead.? Emily had such a hard time letting go that she could not even admit to herself that her father had died. A man who had shaped her entire life, ?as if that quality of her father which had thwarted her woman?s life so many times had been to virulent and too furious to die.? After his death Emily searched for someone to take his place, finding that someone in a man named Homer Barron. Though her father would have never permitted her to have interest in someone of his background he seemed to fill the void in an otherwise meaningless life. However when he too, tried to leave her to fend for herself Emily found a way to make him stay. She couldn?t possibly live her life without a man there to take care of her. ?The man himself lay in the bed. The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him.? This is such a strong image of Emily?s lack of ability to let any male dominant leave her life. She murdered this man so that she could have him with her at all times until she too could die. Emily never left her house, hiding from the world. Only in the company of a man would she venture out into the streets. Emily suffered from a lack of ability to let go and an uncontrollable desire to hold on to those men who would control her life.
In all three stories women are represented in a tragic, pitiful light. In a society, those today supports women?s abilities to be independent and live their lives as they chose once lived subordinate, dependent women. Stories such as these have helped to shape the present day?s understanding of women?s place in society.
Works CitedGeddes, Gary, ed. The Art of Short Fiction. (pp.399-409) and (pp. 322-325)
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily