Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's Time to Ponder Some Questions

Yes, campers, we are almost ready to say goodbye to the turn of the (20th) Century, with all its concomitant hoo-ha. We can't let it go without a few remarks, though, and a few more questions.

Has anybody been paying attention to the portrait of marriage that emerges in "The Yellow Wallpaper," "The Second Choice," and Trifles? If you haven't, you might want to go back and do that, because it's unsettling. We have husbands being paternalistic ("The Yellow Wallpaper"), which is much better than husbands being abusive (Trifles), or being hapless dupes ("The Second Choice").

Notice that in all three of the marriages and near-marriages, the woman is trapped and helpless. No one listens to her, no one understands who she really is, and no one is on her side, when things go bad. Even Theodore Dreiser's Shirley is stuck in the belief that her life has to contain a husband, albeit a stout, dull, uninteresting one. How sucky is that?

People who believe that the women's movement was just a lot of -- pardon me -- hysteria, need to remember that women really were at the mercy of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. Some lucky women married men who respected and admired them, and encouraged their intelligence. Others, though, married men like John in "The Yellow Wallpaper," men who believed they had weak brains, hair-trigger nerves, and limited usefulness. There's not much worse than having a lot of intelligence and talent and being denied the opportunity to use those things in productive work.

And while we're on the subject of marriage, let's think about the different responses of some women. Shirley, in "The Second Choice," is forced to let go of Arthur because, well, he was never hers to begin with, and he had the good sense to go and stay gone. But Emily Grierson, in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," now there's a woman who knows how to hang onto a man. Which of them is the stronger? Who would you rather see dating your brother? We thought so.

Shirley falls victim to her own romantic fantasy, and when it collapses, she blames herself. A clearer thinker would blame Arthur, but she's not one of those. Emily, on the other hand, has a brain that is as clear as a bell, even if she's as mad as a weasel -- she knows that Homer Barron is likely to leave again, and she's going to make sure he doesn't. Fortunately, among her requirements for the perfect man, she does not list a pulse.

If I have a favorite among these women, it might be Mrs. Hale, from Trifles, who is an excellent detective and who has all kinds of brains, but Emily Grierson is a close second. I don't admire her -- it would be like having a fondness for dirty sheets -- but I respect her. She doesn't lie around all day being helpless, waiting for someone else to fix her life.


  1. Back when these stories were written the woman were not as important and had had do what ever men said. Very few women married men who would respect them and let do things other than they were instucted to.

  2. Christina Gardner,
    First off the pulse comment is quite tickling. Women have had to fight very hard to get respect in this nation. I've said it once, and I'll say it again, it's down right scary that women have been afforded the right to vote for less than a hundred years. Even today women are thought to be too emotional, or if successful, a bitch. This is offensive. Our society has a glass ceiling on income, and still hold women to redicolous moral standards. I praise those writers who wrote to open minds, and galvanize the women's movement.
    But back to the real subject of favoriate characters in these tales. My heart was too broken with empathy and sympathy to choose. The deep southerner that I am will go with Miss. Emily. I love the scene in the drug store when she wants the poisin. That town worked its nosey little butts off to make her uncomfortable, and in perfect twisted southern style she uses silence in that scene to turn the tables. Bravo.

  3. I consider myself a modern feminist, so as I was reading all of these stories I was cringing. I despised the husband in The Yellow Wallpaper because he spoke to his wife as if she were more of a child than their son. I hated the inspector and the sheriff in Trifles the first time I read the story in English 112 and again in this class. This was particularly painful because throughout the story the women are shown as clearly more intelligent than the men and yet they are treated as if they are dumb children.

    In The Second Choice I thought that Shirley was terribly depressing. She had more freedom than the aforementioned ladies, but she shoved herself back into the marriage and baby maker job title and glued herself to a man. How could any lady have lived like this for so long? I cannot imagine a life that involved being taking directions in how to live from a man who was actually inferior to myself.

  4. In your post, you include an image 'borrowed' from my website which is copyrighted material. I own the original which is the only one of its' kind and my having digitized and shared it online with a (c) Copyright is enforceable. I'll ask you to remove this image as it is used without permission and your post has nothing to do with the intent for which the photo was shared online. I'll check back in a day or two and we'll go from there . . . Thanks.