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How Women in Society are Portrayed in “Turned” and “The Withered Arm”? Essay Sample

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How Women in Society are Portrayed in “Turned” and “The Withered Arm”? Essay Sample

In these two short stories – ‘Turned’ and ‘The Withered Arm’; women are portrayed similarly in the nineteenth century. ‘Turned’ is a short story about a young maid who had an affair with her householder and unfortunately fell pregnant. The author of the story, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was a feminist. Her life seems to link with the story in more ways than one. The character in the story, Mrs Maroner, show similar characteristics to Gilman in the respect that they both had left their husband, both had educational qualifications, and they were both very independent. It was published in 1911, towards the end of the nineteenth century.

‘The Withered Arm’, written by a man; Thomas Hardy, is a story about jealousy. Similarly the story, ‘The Withered Arm’, is a massive part of Hardy’s life. He married at the age of 35 but ‘fell out of love’, although he waited for his wife to die before marrying his secretary who was 39, (a lot like Mr and Mrs Lodge).

During the nineteenth century the popularity of short stories increased dramatically. This was mainly because, as the decade went on, more and more people were learning to read and as short stories were easy to read it too no time for them to become extremely popular. Also in this time most short stories would have been published in a magazine or a newspaper; although Charlotte Gilman published hers in a book. Thomas Hardy published his in a magazine called Blackward magazine.

European and American women in the nineteenth century lived through a time where there was a gender in-equality. At the beginning of the century women had very little social, legal or political rights, that nowadays are taken for granted in western countries. In a case of a divorce, which was very rare, the women were very rarely given custody of the children and were not allowed to be highly educated. During this time women’s status was decided on entirely by the males’ personal background or where he stood in society at the time, despite the background of the women, although marriages were usually in the same classes and rarely mixed.

In both stories the four women are from very different backgrounds, which means they came from very different roles in society, but these stories show how they all come together. The first of the four women, Mrs Maroner, was upper-middle class – she had no need to work as her husband earnt all the money they needed for the two of them. Mrs Maroner’s servant, Gerta, was of a much lower class than herself, but Mrs Maroner used to tutor Gerta as she had a PHD but never had to use it as her husband worked. On the opposite side Gertrude Lodge was middle class, as Mrs Maroner did, she relied on her husband for money. Rhoda Brook, un-like the others had to work to survive; she was of a very low class and only just had enough money to survive on.

Gerta and Rhoda Brook both lack independence in society, I think this is because they are both from lower class backgrounds and therefore people look down on them and generally don’t have much time for them. Where as Mrs Maroner and Gertrude Lodge have slightly more independence, although still not a lot. In the nineteenth century it was very hard for women to change/control their position in society, the only chance to change their position in society was through marriage, which rarely happened as people in lower classes than yourself were looked down on.

Each woman’s relationship to the main social structures of education, work and morality was slightly different. For example; Mrs Maroner had a close connection to education compared to most women at that time and she had a 3rd degree PHD in science which made her Dr Maroner. Gerta and Rhoda both had low or no education – Rhoda had been a milkmaid all her life and therefore never had the time or money to have an education. Similarly Gerta came from a working background and therefore could not have a very good education although she was educated by Mrs Maroner. In the story we are not told much about Gertrude’s education but we assume she had a middle class education and either went to a village school, or had a tutor or governess.

In the nineteenth century it was unusual for a married couple not to have children. The women would always be the ones who were blamed for not having children even if it was the male who couldn’t produce. In the two stories both Gerta and Rhoda had children out of wedlock, and although this would have carried on the fathers name, having a child without being married would have seriously changed their status if it was not low already. Having a child in Gerta’s and Rhoda’s life without the financial support of a male made it difficult. Rhoda had to work as a milkmaid all her life to support her and her son. Where as Gerta has Mrs Maroner to work for her to fund herself, Mrs Maroner and the baby. Gertrude Lodge and Mrs Maroner don’t have children but are both married, this will not look good on the women as it would have been blamed on them. Although the reason Gertrude didn’t have children was probably due to her arm which farmer Lodge kept his distance from so therefore it was hard for them to have children when there was no love between them.

Men were allowed to treat women very differently during the 19th century, they had much more control over them. There was a law passed to say that men were legally allowed to beat their wives, but this was abolished in 1882. Although farmer Lodge had any contact with Rhoda, he always seemed to look after her some how. But was this only because of the child they had together or was it because there was something else there? Even when farmer Lodge was married to he still stayed loyal to Rhoda and his son when they needed his support. After the sentence of their son farmer Lodge played a more practical role in Rhoda’s life, he was there for the hanging of their son, although he had to lie to his wife and leave her for a couple of days.

When farmer Lodge first married Gertrude they seemed vert happy together, even though he was much older. As Gertrude’s arm began to come seemingly worst farmer Lodge’s love for her seemed to wither away with her arm, at the end of the story before her death there was almost no love left in their relationship.

Mr Maroner and Mrs Maroner were the perfect couple, although she had a PHD, she remained a housewife and let her husband work and bring in the money. He had always treated her right. After Mrs Maroner knew about his affair he kept his distance from her. But after finally realizing he was never going to get her back that way he began to track her down.

Rhoda’s initial interest in Gertrude was very strong, her jealousy took over her and she became obsessed with Gertrude’s marriage. When Rhoda first meets Gertrude it is made clear that there is tension between them but as they get to know each other the tension and jealousy goes away. But when Gertrude finds out that it may have been Rhoda who caused her arm to go withered there was a barrier put up between them and their contact was almost cut of completely. At the beginning of ‘Turned’ Mrs Maroner and Gerta have a normal relationship that a house owner and a maid should have. When Mrs Maroner finds out about the affair and pregnancy an unusual twist takes over. Her initial instinct is to blame Gerta for ruining her marriage, but as she begins to come round she decides that her husband is wrong and takes Gerta and her new baby to start a new life.

Each author portrays women in the 19th century slightly differently. The first story, ‘Turned’ shows an act of feminism, as the author, Gilman, gives the impression that women should have just as much authority as what men did, but in reality there image/class was down to the male gender. In ‘The Withered Arm’ women are shown to have less of a role in society, which in the 19th century would have been very true.

These two short stories, ‘the withered arm’ and ‘turned’ portray women similarly in the 19th century. Although Hardy, when writing ‘The Withered Arm’ gave a more realistic view of what it was like. Depending on your husband’s class you would have been treated differently and it was very unusual to marry out of classes. Women’s main social structures were also decided upon by the man she had married. Having a child rarely changed the women’s status but having one out of wedlock would have meant she would have benn frowned upon. Modern attitudes towards having children have become much more relaxed and it has become more common. In the period of time the two stories were written men’s behaviour towards women was very harsh and the women didn’t get much say. Hardy presents women to be second best, as to always stand by their husband no matter what. Where as Gilman, who was a feminist, although most her friends were male and she branded herself a ‘tomboy’ chose to present them in a different way and made them seem just the same as the male gender.

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