“Don’t read so much, he said, don’t study; get yourself good and tired out with homework, take exercise. He believes that her troubles would clear up if she got married. He believes this in spite of the fact that most of his nerve medicine is prescribed for married women. ” The primary theme of Meneseteung by Alice Munro is the role of women in times of Victorian traditions and standards. The narrator, who is never identified, explains tasks and qualities that differentiate a real, marriageable woman from an outcast from society.
The main character in this story is Almeda Joynt Roth, a respectable woman who has become famous in her small town for her poetry book. She has earned respect and admiration amongst others in the town for her works, but has also been criticized as a woman’s literary ambitions were thought to be hobby rather than vocation. Roth yearns to marry Jarvis Poulter, an idea that the rest of the town supports. Even Roth’s doctor, who prescribes nerve medicine to help Roth with her sleeplessness, says she would be much happier if she were married.
However, Poulter does not find Roth to be a suitable wife and does not pursue her as such because she does not demonstrate the qualities that defined a marriageable woman of the times. The story, then, is not just about the role of women in the society but also about a lonely woman, an outcast of traditional society, and her search for companionship. Roth suffers from insomnia and goes to the doctor to get medication to help with her sleeplessness. The doctor suggests that Roth busies herself with things that are not considered womanly such as studying and writing.
Her writing is considered an asset to the community, but not totally accepted as a woman is expected to marry and have a family. The town paper, the Vidette, which contains articles that would often be considered libelous by modern standards considers her young and fit enough to bear children, physically speaking she is marriageable material. The doctor suggests that she wear herself out by performing housewife tasks such as cleaning and exercising so that she may sleep.
He also discourages her from reading and writing, as it is not required of her to do these things to ulfill her position in society. He suggests that marriage would solve most of her problems, though the medication he prescribes her is primarily prescribed to married women. The doctor is prescribing a remedy to her problems by becoming a housewife, while also prescribing medication that is given to housewives to treat the very condition she, as a single woman, had come to ameliorate. In the society portrayed in Meneseteung marriage is considered to be a cure-all for many of women’s problems.
Why, asks the narrator, has Roth remained unmarried for so long? The narrator suspects that it is partly down to her desolate disposition. A caliginous personality is not one that is considered attractive and people tend to avoid developing social ties to her. Weighed down by burdens such as the loss of her family Roth is a loner with reading, writing, and the hopeless pursuit of Jarvis Poulter as her only aspirations in life and generally just does as she pleases.
She dreams of marrying Poulter, an idea that the whole town supports, but he never showed an interest in her as she did not fit the imagine of a marriageable woman of the times. Despite this the narrator portrays Roth to be less of the “reckless hedonist” and more like a “tormented artist,” suffering as a result of her art. It is her particularity that makes her an eminent writer, but also not considered suitable to be taken as a wife. Women in this story are portrayed as weak and in need of men.
One night, Roth is awoken by a drunk, abused woman at her fence. She is frightened and rushes to Poulter for help, and this is shown as being the first time in the story that she behaves like a typical woman of her time. She is no longer the poised, confident woman that Poulter has come to know her as and is attracted to her desperate vulnerability. Poulter was not attracted to her when she was poised and confident but once he had seen that she was weak, helpless, and in need of him he felt drawn to her as she finally fit the stereotypical image of a woman.
Poulter deals with the drunken woman in a cruelly and insensitively and upon seeing this Roth loses interest in him. Poulter asks her to church and she declines and the two never pursue a relationship. Despite being portrayed as weak and in need of men, women are not powerless in marriage. One of a woman’s primary roles is to “create their husbands” by “ascribing preferences” to them. “This way, bewildered, sidelong-looking men are made over, made into husbands, heads of households. ” Roth cannot see herself doing this, which urther separates her from the society in which she lives. After her rejection of Poulter’s interests Roth retreats into the vivid aberration brought upon her by the doctor’s nerve medicine and meets her death after becoming the target of menacing youths’ malevolent tormenting. This quote from the doctor, which I have chosen as the most profoundly meaningful, shows the thinking of the times. Women were to marry to solve their own problems as well as to solve the problems of their husband.
This short story is about a woman who is different from the social norm and her search for companionship and stability in her own life, as well as how breaking the norm had its own consequences. Her obsession with reading and writing, which was said to be more suitable as a hobby than profession, set her aside and earned her respect within her community while at the same time driving a wedge between her and a normal life because she did not spend her life marrying, becoming a wife, becoming a mother, and spending her days cleaning and caring for her family like a typical woman of the time.
When Roth became vulnerable she became like every other woman and Poulter finally saw her as a possibility for marriage but his actions revolted Roth. The incident with the drunken woman disgusted her into a solitary existence with just her and her hallucinations brought on by the nerve medication prescribed by the doctor. The doctor suggested that by marrying, Roth would not require this medicine despite it being most commonly prescribed for married women. So, then, Almeda Roth could not live with herself as a normal woman yet not being a typical woman is what eventually led to her demise.