Women’s Literary Struggles

During the late 19th and early 20th century, women were known as second-class citizens. So much so that they weren’t legally allowed to vote until the 19th amendment was passed in 1920, and it took the National Women’s Party picketing the white house in 1913 to do so. Some female authors, however, saw through the walls of an every day life at the time. These authors portrayed women from a realist’s point of view, making faults and troubles evident. Authors like Willa Cather, Kate Chopin, and Sarah Orne Jewett were able to portray the struggles a woman would have in the time in a way nobody else had dared to.

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Willa Cather was an author who wrote about the woman’s place in society in “A Wagner Matinee. ” Cather criticized the way women were forced to give up their passions for their husband and family. The main character explains how his Aunt gave up her passion for music when Cather writes: “”Don’t love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh, dear boy, pray that whatever your sacrifice may be, it be not that… ”” (616). The character’s Aunt Georgina is so pained by how her life turned out that she can’t bear to see someone else’s dreams be crushed.

Cather criticizes the way women were only allowed to be housewives, and not given equal opportunities. Furthermore, Kate Chopin disagreed with women’s role in culture as well. Chopin’s novel, The Awakening, tells the story of a young woman stuck in a marriage she hates while being in love with another man. The first realization of individuality by the main character is described as: “A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her, — the light which, showing the way, forbids it…” (642).

The light in Edna Pontillier that is being ignited is the thought that she is a free woman, and can do what she wants. One that was frowned upon and ignored during the time period. Chopin also highlights the secret desires a woman might have during the time period in “The Story of an Hour. ” A young woman, Mrs. Mallard, has just been informed her husband has died in a train accident. Rather than think sad things, Mrs. Mallard thinks: “There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature…” (594).

Chopin explains the internal struggle women had between loving their husbands and loving themselves. Also, Sarah Orne Jewett was another author in the realist movement. Sarah Orne Jewett alludes to the fact that men took away women’s innocence in “A White Heron. ” If Sylvia, the main character, gives the location of the white heron to the hunter, she is essentially giving up her innocence, and all that she is. Jewett writes: “Sylvia cannot speak; she cannot tell the heron’s secret and give its life away…” (603).

Sylvia is so connected to the forest and the birds that she feels like giving up the heron to the hunter would be like giving up a part of herself. This exemplifies how Jewett felt about the place of the woman in the world. The late 19th and early 20th century was a time of an ‘awakening’ for women. These authors helped lead the movement for women’s advancement through their literature. Cather, Chopin, and Jewett were able to stand up for women in a male-dominated society.

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