In the short story we are introduced to a family taking their weekly weekend trip to their cottage in the countryside. For the most part, the story takes place at the cottage itself, and here we get a good insight into the family’s, and especially Martha’s, life. The themes in this story are old vs. new norms and traditions relating to gender-roles within marriage and society.
From the beginning the 3rd person narrator introduces us to Martha, a middle-aged woman of 38 ,who is married to Martin and together they have 3 children. It is through Martha’s eyes that the story is told. We meet Martha and the family as they are about to spend their weekend at their country-house. This particular weekend is probably not much different from most other weekends, and this you can see in the title as well, because the title is indefinite and is called “Weekend” and not “The Weekend”. Martha is trying to be a dutiful house-wife at the same time as being a career woman. In essence, she is one big contradiction, trying to mix the roles of the traditional house-wife with the modern independent career woman and wanting to be a “super woman”, as described on page 312. Ultimately, she is forced to choose the former since Martin strongly disapproves of her putting her career before her family. This is illustrated by her sudden awareness on page 319, that she won’t be able to do any work on her work project, because all of the time has been spent on domestic duties and tending to Martin’s guests.
Martin, in contrast to Martha, in many ways still appreciates the old traditional gender-roles: the man working to provide for the family, and the woman performing the domestic duties. It is certainly something that he doesn’t try to hide, and it is possible to notice the gender roles very clearly when they are preparing to go to the cottage: while Martha is rushing around the place getting everything and everybody ready, Martin, after coming home from work, is watching the TV upstairs, and only comes down when all is packed and ready: “Martin would just catch the BBC 2 news, while Martha cleared away the tea table […]” Martin seems to enjoy the thought of him, the man, being the head of the family, and as a result, sees Martha as a bit subordinate. This has left Martin as the dominant member in their relationship and Martha most of the time just performs her domestic duties without much complaining. Therefore, it is, because of the obvious lack of backbone in Martha’s personality, easy for Martin to take advantage of her, and this he most certainly does. He orders her around and she feels that she must do everything in her power to please him, even when it comes to her appearance. Whether it is done unconsciously or on purpose, he always somehow makes Martha feel ashamed, or feel like everything is her fault.
This makes Martha very unsure about how to live her life: if she is strict and does her duties with a firm hand, she gets the message from Martin that she should lighten up, and if she is too casual, when problems arise, Martin comments that she should have done her duties better. Either way she cannot win. This is seen on the Sunday on page 319-320: “”Anyway, you do too much for the children” said Martin. “It isn’t good for them. Have a drink.” […] “Don’t drink too much” said Martin and told them of Martha’s suspended driving license.” It is apparent that Martha’s strained life is taking a toll on her mind and body, to the point were she is acting a bit crazy. On Saturday Martin’s best friend Colin arrives with his new girlfriend Katie. Katie is an independent, beautiful woman who, in contrast to Martha, neither has husband nor kids. Martha admires Katie and gets a bit dreamy each time she thinks of Katie’s lifestyle – which is a more modern lifestyle and is designed to have fun.
Colin’s previous wife Janet had had much more in common with Martha, but had now been replaced by Katie because Colin had become increasingly rich and famous. The fact is that Katie is the exact opposite of Martha. This also applies to the way she handles Colin, because Katie is in control of her man, in contrast to Martha. A good example of this is when Katie discovers that Colin carries a picture of Janet and their kids in his wallet. Katie storms off, and Colin is forced to burn the picture in order to satisfy Katie. Martha is not happy with what she has become and she easily detects the way people look down on her, including Katie. She suspects that it is her mother and her childhood that is the reason why she has become this sad person in her own eyes and others. The story comes to an end when Jenny, their oldest, gets her first period. This should be a happy and joyful moment for Jenny, but Martha suddenly breaks down and can’t stop crying. In reality, Martha realises that Jenny is becoming a woman and that it is possible that Jenny will face the same gender inequality that Martha experiences.
The reason why Fay Weldon has written this short story is to portray gender inequality and especially male dominance within a relationship. This is seen when it is Jenny, a female, and not one of the boys that triggers Martha’s realization of the possibility that her own kids will fall foul to gender inequality. Fay Weldon also portrays a number of possibilities of the origins of Martha’s character, and to why she is the way she is. On the one hand, as mentioned earlier, Martha is aware of the way she is, and is confirmed in it through the eyes of practically each person in the story. She blames her mother and a lonely childhood for what she has become, and this you could say is a probable cause.
On the other hand, there are a lot of previously mentioned things that indicate that it is Martin’s fault that Martha isn’t enjoying life, as is Katie for example, but rather acts like a bewildered person. In the end I think that it is a mixture of the two that have helped make Martha into the person that is described in the short story. It is possibly because of her childhood that Martin has found it so easy to manipulate Martha’s conscience and make her feel like everything is her fault.