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Women of the Nineteenth Century: Relating Protagonists in Two Short Stories

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Essay title: Women of the Nineteenth Century: Relating Protagonists in Two Short Stories

Women of the Nineteenth Century: Relating protagonists in two short stories

The short stories, A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner and A New England Nun by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, both contain analogous regional attitudes resulting in similar outcomes for the protagonists of each story. The archaic 19th century regional standards the authors utilized within the text of these short stories, emphasizes the role of a woman within society as being strictly limited to family and household matters. Can the regional standards of the 19th century be such that if not met, a woman is left with no other option then to become a spinster? Regional values of the nineteenth century placed women in a precarious position within society, influencing their actions so profoundly that upholding honor and duty were simply undisputed.

In A Rose for Emily, the protagonist, Emily Grierson, is a woman of great nobility in her town, and she is bound by her duty as their elected icon. Through the years, the town’s residents developed a respect for her family’s wealth and privilege. So much so, that upon the death of Miss Emily’s father, the mayor of her town relieved her taxation obligation indefinitely. However, the mayor, knowing that Miss Emily would not accept charity, concocted an untruth involving her father loaning the town money, in order to justify the tax relief, and allow Miss Emily to proudly accept the gracious offer. There is much to be said for influencing such power in a family name, and much to live up to for Miss Emily. Her father was an ambiguous character, and he made it clear that the common townsmen were not worthy suitors for his daughter. Her father’s obstinate attitude, and her regional afflictions, contributed to Miss Emily being unwed for years longer than expected for a woman of such class and distinction. The town took a sort of perverse pleasure from the fact that “when she got to be thirty and was still single; we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated even with insanity in the family she wouldn’t have turned down all of her chances if they had really materialized” (1350). When Miss Emily was around forty, she met a common man named Homer Barron. Homer was a laborer, not fit to marry a woman of such distinction as Miss Emily. If Miss Emily were to marry such a common man as Homer Barron, the town would be in a quiet uproar of disagreement. Her town believed that she, as a Grierson, had higher standards to uphold when taking a husband. After all, she was now the matriarch of the Grierson lineage, a title which rendered the pickings slim for a lonely woman of such inherited nobility.

Contrariwise, the protagonist of A New England Nun waited 14 years for her fiancй to return home while seeking his fortune in Australia. During her excessively long engagement, Louisa Ellis unknowingly restricted her life, thereby setting herself in a path of uniformity and solidity from which she does not wish to waiver. During the first half of their separation, Louisa does not feel any discontent

towards her situation; she waited patiently for her love to return from Australia and marry her as is the natural order of things. Louisa “had seen marriage ahead as a reasonable feature and a probable desirability of life” (243). Louisa’s marital views were taught to her by her mother, who is described in the text as being “remarkable for her cool sense and sweet, even temperament” (243). Louisa admires her mother incalculably, and like all good girls she listens when her mother speaks. In fact, it was her mother who advised Louisa to accept the proposal of Joe Dagget without hesitation. It is this unwavering stance that kept Louisa firmly in place, waiting patiently for her man. As time passes, Louisa seems to turn her life “into a path, smooth maybe under a calm, serene sky, but so straight and unswerving that it could only meet a check at her grave, and so narrow that there was no room for any one at her side” (243). Louisa’s life slowly becomes one big ritual, and the ritual becomes a matter of necessity. She has made her home a sort of mausoleum for which she is a willing prisoner, and she becomes irreversibly tamed by her self-inflicted captivity. Upon the return of Louisa’s fiancй, she is so tightly bound by duty that against all her inner wishes to the contrary, she will go through with an unwanted marriage and sacrifice her happiness indefinitely. When she discovers, quite by chance, that Joe has fallen in love with another, this becomes her way out, and also her salvation. Louisa has unknowingly and quite by accident, transformed herself into a jovial “uncloistered nun” (248).

In conclusion, women of the nineteenth century had very specific guidelines in which to adhere. In those days, it was the role of a woman to be subservient and ladylike

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