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Victorian Femininity Essay

Thomas Gray’s charming way of assembling words together offers the reader a subtle insight on the woman’s role or “place” during the Victorian era. The woman’s role consisted of childbearing, and basic domestic duties. It is clear that women were not allowed the freedom men were, not even a fraction of it. Gray delicately points out certain restrictions for women, in Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat, and why these limitations exist.

The poem describes the adventure and eventual death of Gray’s tabby cat, who is frequently regarded as a female character. It appears that throughout the ode, Gray is addressing the cat, but the first line of stanza 7, the author seems to make a moral point and addresses “ye beauties.” Clearly this is directed towards the fairer sex, and using the word ‘hence’ insists that, for all the above reasons listed within the poem, women like cats, are capable of the same foolishness. The following line is the ethical message which should apparently prevent tragedies, such as the death of Gray’s cat, to happen again. It is the classic theme that one severe mistake could cost a life and that there is no turning back from a road already traveled. The
word “false” suggests that it is woman’s nature to be false. The word usage is deliberate and describes intentional deception. This contradicts Gray’s first line of the stanza when he considers women “undeceived.”

The following line, “be with caution bold,” can be interpreted to mean be either cautious or reckless. The speaker may validate this statement as being merely a suggestion, but the opening of the stanza clearly shows that this warning is limited to the female gender.

The rest of the verse articulates that all desirable things are not necessarily authorized. Gray introduces the concept of forbidden desire, but once again the restrictions are put upon women. The author’s use of “wandering eyes” implicates that women have a flight for fancy, and a natural tendency to deviate from the predestined path. These “wandering eyes” are used as an instrument for lusting after things, Gray means to entail this statement with the difficult time “wandering eyes” might have resisting temptation. Wandering, is also associated with erratic behavior which is reinforced by “heedless hearts.” One’s deepest desires, supposedly, lies within the heart. To be heedless simply claims that women have a propensity for thoughtlessness. This combination of negative characteristics prove to make lawful this moral diction.

“Nor all that glisters, gold.” Not everything is what it seems. This can be applied to the actual stanza to describe, not only a woman’s desire for material objects, but man’s perspective on woman. A revealing of their “identity” as beautiful on the outside, but not necessarily gold within. During this time period, women were restricted to usually their homes. They were allowed very few pleasures in life, including a solitary walk anywhere. Although thought of delicate and fragile, they were required to bear multitudes of children and were limited to their own class system. Gray might not have been directing this towards the female sex, but maybe just merely trying to make the audience aware of sexism in general.


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