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In Gail Godwin’s, “A Sorrowful Woman” the reader is pulled in by what seems to be the beginning of a fairytale. Though, any idea of fantasy quickly disappears. The mother of the story abandons her forced cliché duty as a housewife, and mother. She rebels against societal norms that are expected of her. Gail Godwin depicts the life of a woman that cannot accept the role of a stationary housewife, despite how she perfectly fits the part to be a good mother and wife she regrets it and wishes for freedom.
Due to these circumstances that she is forced into, the wife’s attachment with her family slowly disintegrates, and she begins to suffer from mental illness as the story progresses.
In the 21st-century women are not held in the roles they were 100 years ago. Even 50 years ago the entire viewing of the woman was different than how it is today. Today women are leading courtrooms, are doctors and even fighting crime.
This 100 years ago was unheard of and thought as something that would never happen. The wife and also mother in “A Sorrowful Woman” refuses to live by the laws of being a perfect housewife. “One winter evening she looked at them: the husband durable, receptive, gentle; the child a tender golden three. The sight of them made her so sad and sick she did not want to see them ever again” (39). One of the first lines of the short story unveils the women’s hate but leads to confusion as to why she holds so much hate for them if they are innocent.
She knows the good her husband and child are, but she no longer can be the person for them that they need and what society wants her to be. It can be seen from the beginning of the short story she despises her feminine duties as a mother, and she starts to dislike the body she is in. When her caring husband brings her upstairs after her first breakdown in the story, he undresses her and she shudders with the fact that she wears a bra, and also cringes at the fact that she had breasts. “She looked down at the right nipple, shriveled with a chill, and thought, How absurd, a vertical bra” (39). As a woman, it is very strange to look down upon breasts, because most women view that as one of the most beautiful things a woman has the pleasure to do, to birth the baby and feed it with their bodies. The fact that one point her child completely relied on what she was producing is probably what is making her feel so disgusted towards this part of her body. She now hates the roles she has but also despises her body and any femininity it has, anything that had to do with being a woman made her sick.
The wife refuses her roles and responsibilities of a mother and she passes her duties on to her husband. Which he easily excepts the position, knowing how overworked and exhausted his wife was. Even though the husband was very loving and caring, but did not realize the extent of the strain she felt. “Of course,” he said, “Why, that’s a pleasure” (39). The husband still worked his office job, so the mother was still in charge of watching their child during the day. The woman soon became terrified of the child and his playful ways, and she eventually hit the child. The husband’s concern heightens greatly as he realizes their child is now at risk. The wife has become so distraught and sickly that she without control has resorted to violence. The husband hires a nanny to help care for their child while the mother begins to withdraw herself in her room. “She made a fire in the hearth and put on slacks and an old sweater she had loved at school, and sat in the big chair and stared out the window at snow-ridden branches, or went away into long novels about other people moving through other winters” (40). She puts on her old sweater from school wishing to be free and single again, maybe dreaming she had done something different in her life. She read stories of others to escape her own. The wife eventually admits to her husband that the nanny upset her, and he then fired the nanny. She grew to be jealous of the young nanny and her free-spirited ways, envious of her not being tied down by anything. After the nanny is fired, the wife still is hidden away in her room too sick and scared to come out. The husband ends up doing everything from working, cleaning, cooking and caring for the child. He was understanding towards his wife, though she ended up carrying their entire lives on his back while his wife wilted away.
The wife eventually locks herself away in the white room that was once the nanny room. She stocked the room with books and some food so she could avoid leaving the room. She only saw her child and husband once at night, but soon it turned into a conversation just by writing notes and sonnets. Slowly she lessons her contact in sooner almost seems as if she was detaching herself from their lives. The desire to be a wife and mother has dissolved in her brain completely. Nothing any more draws her to reach out, she is at a loss of interest. So she sits upstairs in her room that acts as a cell, and listens and watches them live their lives without her. “She listened for sounds of the man and the boy eating breakfast; she listens for the roar of the motor when they drove away” (42). The wife begins to act like a spirit that just listens and watches without them knowing, but never intervening due to her inability to have an interest. It gets to a point in the short story where it seems as if she is not there at all, forgotten on her want. She wanted them to forget her and she wanted to be alone. The wife was so displeased with her life as a mother and wife that she completely gave up. Very harshly the woman ends up taking her life at the end of the short story. She ended her life by taking something out of the cabinet, “She went to the cupboard and took what was hers, closed herself into the little white room and brushed her hair for a while” (42). The rest of the dialogue in the story entails the father and son finding her lying in bed, the father knowing that his wife had finally laid herself to rest, and the son not understanding. She makes her husband and son a feast of food, and leaves clean clothing, almost like a goodbye gift.
As the short story progressed the woman had some obvious moments that intertwine different parts of the story that showed signs of mental illness. Especially starting with her being suicidal and having a major depressive disorder, the two of these things together create an awful outcome for the person that is enduring it. The wife being suicidal can be rooted back from the beginning of the short story where she says, “If only there was instant sleep” (39). Even then, she was trying to find a way out of the hole that she felt she was. At the end of the story, when she does take action on committing suicide, she does it with some product that caused her to die peacefully while she was asleep. The beginning and the end of the short story sum up that once you get cut too deep, you can’t come back from it. Meaning that she had gotten pushed so far, and felt so abused with having no freedom, and feeling trapped that there was no way for her to heal, even with the rest and time off that her husband had granted her. She did have a good husband, if she didn’t she would’ve been in a way worse situation. But her husband was blinded by the fact that this was normal and typical in housewives, that he never thought that her health issues were as severe as they were. Depression is evident in many different forms throughout the story. Depression is more than just a mental illness that the mother had. Depression was kind of felt throughout the entire short story. Such as the repetition of the word gray, such a somber color that doesn’t bring light or brightness in. The wife also constantly talks down upon herself such as, “I don’t know what will do. It’s all my fault, I know. I’m such a burden, I know that” (41). She constantly talks down upon herself because she doesn’t know how to think any other way, her depression resides deep because she has been feeling so stuck in her life that she can’t find any happiness for herself. In the DSM-5, which is a world used manual to diagnose conditions, depression can be diagnosed with many factors but these relate to the woman in the story directly,
“Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down). Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan” (psycom.net, Jessica Truschel)
The depression and suicidal thoughts coincide with each other, she became mentally and physically ill because of the severe unhappiness she was holding in her life. On top of that, she felt stuck and did not want to be a mother or a wife anymore because of the restrictions and stress it put onto her. The issues with being a housewife can be routed back to the fact that she possibly may have never wanted a family, or maybe she had dreams of her own that she was never able to accomplish because she was a woman. Though it got to a point where mentioning anything about being a mother or a wife was unthinkable, because it became where she was so sick of taking care of other people and not herself that it ended in such severe depression that she ended up committing suicide.
In Gail Godwin’s, “A Sorrowful Woman” the readers are shown the severity of what societal roles can do to a person, and what can happen when unhappiness and despair take over someone’s body. The wife and mother of the story did not want to be a mother even though she perfectly fits the role. She felt very stuck and restricted in the role that she withheld, and she was never able to take care of herself or do what she wished to do with her life. This caused her to have severe depression which eventually made her suicidal. The wife slowly fell to pieces as the short story progressed, and it ruined her views of herself and destroyed her family.
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