What is the place of a woman in modern society? Should a woman be a classical housewife and the ‘mother of the family’ or a modern independent businesswoman with a strong position in the so-called ‘men’s world’? Today we have a right to choose. Today we have equal rights and duties with men in every sphere of our life. We have our own opinions and views, our own position. But it was not always so. Today we can find a great number of examples of the women’s struggle for their freedom, their rights, their opportunity to be equal to men in modern literature (Hawthorne’s Georgiana, Hemingway’s Jig, Chopin’s Mrs. Mallard).
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The best figures to analyze as independent women of the 19th century are female characters, Chopin’s Mrs. Mallard and Hemingway’s Jig. They are two bright characters in the books of these two outstanding writers. How can we compare those two ladies? What do they have in common and what features help to differentiate them from others? There are only two ways: either you think positively or pessimistic all the time. But the difference is how they faced the problems and in what way they struggled against the oppressive forces of society. The authors try to describe how difficult was to be an independent woman in the 19th century.
Hemingway in his “Hills like White Elephants” represents a young girl Jig who is ready for new impressions and new life. Jig’s opinion about happiness changes as the story progresses. In this short time, while traveling on the train with her husband and deciding to give birth to their child or not, her dependency on the man diminishes. She accepts the role of housewife in our contemporary understanding, but she becomes independent in her thoughts: now she is not just an unhappy wife; now she is a Mother. The most oppressive force for Jig is her position and opinion about being a wife and a mother. As soon as she decides to accept the role of the real woman, she wins this very struggle. She achieves success in her personal struggle against the rules existing in the ‘men’s world’.
The bright contrast to the previous story is the story of Mrs. Mallard from Chopin’s “Story of an Hour”, in which the whole patriarchal culture is accused of every women’s failures. Mrs. Mallard struggles against the Cult of a True Womanhood so popular in the 19th century. She does not want to be judged by men, neighbors, society by the attributes of Real Woman’s Life, which included specific ‘purity’ and ‘domesticity’. She was expected to be a silly, unaffectionate, and unemotional doll in the world of men’s authority, excluding any display of intellect, ambitions, and professional capabilities. She struggles against the power of men in order to have the right to decide whether to be a real woman or not.
In the novel “Birthmark” written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author describes a story of the scientist who gets married to a nice woman who possesses only one physical defect, which is represented by a birthmark on her face. The poor woman has to decide whether she loves her husband and is ready to suffer humiliation or she is beautiful in her way and does not need any improvements in her appearance. She struggles against the mania of her husband in order to win the right to be the person she used to be before their marriage. She struggles against a man who wants to change her personality by changing her face.
Society has changed a lot since that time. Nowadays we face the so-called feministic society when women are more inclined to work and develop than stay at home and spend time with their kids. Maternal instinct still exists, however, ladies prefer to have a babysitter instead of staying at home, and they would rather go to the restaurant to have dinner than cook national cuisine for their husbands. But even now women struggle in order to prove that their rights are equal with the men’s.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. New York: Perfection Learning, 2000.
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Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Birthmark. New York: Perfection Learning, 2007.