– Images Of Essay, Research Paper
The wives of Images of Women in Literature have the common thread of a resilient independent spirit often despite any outward show of anything but obedience and humility. This spirit at times helps to sustain them while at other times only makes the compromises that their husbands and society place on them even harder to bear. Indeed, they would be happier not realizing that there are other choices and opportunities. It is often the conflict between their spirits and the circumstances of their lives that causes the greatest problems to them. It is truly amazing that this spirit survives!
It is not that unlikely for Mrs. James in Elizabeth Phelps’ “The Angel over the Right Shoulder” to cultivate independence with an indulgent husband like Mr. James. Her spirit of independence is out in the open with her quest for some private time to improve her mind. The fact is that however willing Mr. James is to indulge her with some time to herself, he offers little in way of any practical help, much like the man of today. She suggests he “just follow me around for one day” when he dismisses all the work she does by telling her, “if you arranged your work systematically, you would find that you could command your time” (29-30). Instead of taking her suggestion, or better yet taking over the work himself, he meditates on the problem while she finishes the chore of trimming the lamp. He sets the terms of her private time and says, “let the work that is undone, go undone,” but without even thinking interrupts her when he needs a button sewn on (30).
While “The Angel Over the Right Shoulder” ends on New Year’s Eve with Mrs. James happily giving up her independence and “undefined yearning,” one is left with the impression her emotion will pass as quickly as the average New Year’s resolution and her quest for freedom will return (36). Most of the wives of Images of Women in Literature have to live with those whose needs take precedent over anything the wife may desire. Unfortunately they aren’t always selfishly oppressive in Mr. James’ more kindly, unthinking manner.
The wife of Jane Augustine’s “Secretive” has a much more difficult atmosphere in which any spirit could survive. She still tries to be the understanding wife that society dictates while living with a husband who abuses her both physically and emotionally. She continues to examine herself hoping to find the faults she believes her husband must see, and thus correct them. Above all, she must keep the secret of his abuse. In her self-scrutiny, she discovers that “she’s full of senseless anger” and feels that “her feelings aren’t right” (73). The conflict between being a good accepting wife and her inner spirit filled with anger and rebellion is threatening her sanity. It leads her to imagine a sympathetic listener whom she confides in and receives advice. She says, “They’d say I was crazy if they saw me like this in my kitchen talking to yes, myself” (72-73). Her spirit still will not die even when this wife continues to refuse to acknowledge her spirit and blame her husband. It lives and is symbolized by the importance she places on finding just the right lining for the coat she’s sewing. She says, “And the lining must be a contrast to the outside of the coat, which is . . . the color of rubbed flesh with knobs of scarlet,” like her outward appearance after a beating (73). But of the lining she insists, “Now, the inside will be a bright green, bright as a parrot’s wing . . . but will give only when give is needed” (73). Her spirit soars free, like a bird, from her husband’s abuse although her body remains.
In “Aunt Rosana’s Rocker” Zoraida, with her phantom lover, is also walking along the edge of insanity (Mohr, 40). She seems to have a conflict with her physical sexuality and what she perceives is being a good girl. Her conflict may not be just between her spirit and her husband, but could to be further complicated by her religious upbringing. Her parents seem to set great store by the fact she attended Catholic schools and was “an innocent girl, pure as the day she was born . . . protected and brought up right by us” (Mohr, 50).
Zoraida’s husband Casto is boorish and quite self-centered. One cannot help but wonder if Zoraida would have come into her own with the help of a sensitive, caring man. Zoraida certainly does not get help from Casto who thinks of her in the traditional manner – a servant for him and mother of his children. Yet he is not the only cause of her problems, but is an additional burden. She appears to have had no sense of self worth, and have had problems all her life. “Ever since she could remember, any discussions created feelings of constraint, developing into such anxiety that when she spoke, her voice had a tendency to fade” (45). Her lack of self-worth dictates she live a life in which she tries to deny her inner feelings, but they will not be denied. The symptoms of this denial of spirit and self are her imaginary nighttime lover and her trance-like dreaming of romance while she rocks.
Like the other wives in this section of Images of Women in Literature, Zoraida has a strong sense of duty, and even her husband can’t fault her in any area other than not granting him the privileges of the martial bed. Casto says, “Zoraida remained a wonderful housekeeper and devoted mother” (42). Even as Zoraida denies her independent spirit to herself, Casto noticed her spirit when they first met. He called her “quietly stubborn . . . not at all submissive like it might seem” (46). He had no idea how quiet and stubborn she would become when retreating to her rocking chair and her dream suitors. The rocking chair is “the one place where she felt she could be herself, where she could really be free” (54). You can’t help but wonder where Zoraida’s irrepressible spirit will lead her with the loss of her rocking chair.
Not all wives refuse to acknowledge their spirits like Zoraida. In Linda Pastan’s poem “Marks” and Carol Gregory’s poem “Migration” the wives allow free rein to their spirits. They throw off any outward show of obedience but not without a great cost to themselves. In “Marks”, Pastan uses a light touch to hint at the conflicts the wife underwent before finally deciding to “drop out” (92). It only suggests the pain that this decision will cause her. It’s obvious that the breakup of a family is something that will hurt all involved. In “Migration” the wife, fed up with life’s injustices and her husband’s lack of power to change anything, turns on him and “beats him with a broom” (57). An understandable reaction perhaps, but far from being a solution it will be likely to cause further problems and pain for her sons.
Panna, from “A Wife’s Story” by Bharati Mukherjee, has freedom for her spirit of independence to flourish and grow while she is attending college in America (58). Her conflict appears to be not so much with her husband, but with the traditional way of life he represents. In fact although their marriage was a traditional one, there is at least respect and friendship between her and her husband. “Affection, love. Who can tell the difference in a traditional marriage” (63). And when her husband vacations in New York she thinks, “This has to be love” (65). But the thought of giving up her new found freedom and returning to India and their traditional life-style where the woman’s role is only as support for her husband is not one Panna relishes. When her husband says, “I’ve come to take you back” she thinks, “I feel dread all the same” (68). It is easy to believe that even after she returns to India and is not able to allow any outward show of independence, a part of her will always remain free. As she stands in front of the mirror, she thinks, “I stand here shameless, in ways he has never seen me. I am free, afloat, watching somebody else” (69).
It is this same type of freedom of spirit that the bride in Alice Cary’s poem “The Bridal Veil” talks about. If the sentiments expressed to us in this poem had been made clear to all the husbands in Images of Women in Literature there would be far fewer problems. She warns her new husband that he must continue to win her heart and that “you must grow to new heights if I love you tomorrow” (38). She tells him that she will honor the vows and maintain an outward appearance of obedience and faithfulness, but unless he continues to earn her love she will know it and “keeping in body with you, shall walk in my spirit with feet on the dew” (39). She wants him to know that the way he treats her will determine if she loves and honors him or merely obeys him. She tells him the kind of wife she becomes is up to him by saying, “I am yours for my lifetime, to be what you make me” (39). She prays their love will last, but knows she will always maintain her free spirit no matter what will happen. She says, “I have wings flattened down and hid under my veil: They are subtle as light – you can never undo them” (39).
All these wives of Images of Women in Literature demonstrate the persistent effort their spirits make for survival in spite of many obstructions. Often the women themselves give no help to their spirits. While this need for survival of both body and spirit is a human trait, not only a feminine one, it is important to note that women throughout history have had much less support than men. Men often have the support of their wives even when the whole world seems against them – women often have to overcome family and the world! The stories of these women help us to remember where women were and how far they have gone toward true independence. The same rebounding spirit found in these wives continues to be found in all women today. And this spirit will help to bring independence and more choices to all women of the future.