Female characters: Coursework Essay
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For this coursework I am going to be explaining how writers in my chosen stories have presented their female characters. I will be investigating whether or not the females fit their typical stereotype in the nineteenth Century of being very submissive and gullible. I will also look at what sort of way they fit that stereotype within everyday life or on a long term basis. To have a range in this investigation I will concentrate on the contradicting stereotype of being independent and confident as a women not fitting in with how a typical nineteenth century woman would expect to act.
Certain consequences of not acting as the stereotype are proven to not necessarily make that particular woman worse off as we see in the short stories I am looking at.
Through stories I have read containing characters based on the nineteenth century women one of the ideas that was most obvious to me was that of the characters being typical nineteenth century woman at the start of the short story and then turning out to be a lot stronger then we first perceived.
The first character I am going to mention which fits into this idea is Dorothea from the short story ‘The Unexpected’ by Kate Chopin. Chopin shows Dorothea to be a loving, doting wife, impatient towards her husband arriving home. She is shown to be a perfect fit for her stereotype. She is dependant on her husband and excited and desperate for his arrival home. Chopin describes it as ‘torture’ for Dorothea as she waits for her husband. This is very extreme language for the author to use to demonstrate just how Dorothea is feeling. Dorothea is commented to having ‘reached the limit of her endurance’; this suggests why the reader feels she is very reliant on her beloved as it seems she cannot cope without him.
All of the above qualities I have seen in Dorothea fit into being typical of the nineteenth century. Although this is how we first see this of her she turns out to be the opposite of this stereotype upon arrival of her husband. Dorothea is perceived as being independent, powerful and confident as she realises her husband is not what he used to be before he became ill. Now, Dorothea has to make the decision of whether she still wants to be with her beloved. She chooses to leave him unexpectedly and turns out to not be at all like her stereotype describes her. At the very end of the short story Dorothea says;
‘Never! Not for all his thousands! Never, never! Not for millions!’
This shows she wants more in her life then being at her husband’s bedside while he wastes away. Dorothea wants someone she can truly love and have feelings for. It shows she is going to be independent rather then like her stereotype. She is not shallow and staying with him just for his money. Chopin’s use of repetition in the above quote shows that she wants the reader to see how needy Dorothea is for a fulfilled life and not staying with her beloved when he is as frail as he is and only for his possessions.
Another short story which fits into the idea of fitting the stereotype then contradicting it is ‘Tony Kytes the Arch-Deceiver’ by Thomas Hardy. There are two characters, in my opinion that fit this idea from this short story; Unity Sallet and Hannah Jolliver.
Firstly I think Hannah Jolliver fits into this idea I have came up with of fitting the stereotype then contradicting it because of her role in the short story ‘Tony Kytes the Arch-Deceiver’. Hannah is very flirtatious with Tony even though she knows that she is out of bounds as he is engaged to another woman. She is disloyal to her own sex. She toys with his emotions and is very forward about their relationship and is presented as being very independent but shows her stereotype when she is very easily pleased as Tony says;
‘I haven’t quite promised her, and I think I can get out of it, and ask you that question you speak of.’
With regards to the wedding proposal to Milly. All this is being said when all three women Tony is playing against each to her are in the wagon with each other but unaware of it. She is shown to be very gullible at the start of the story when being told of how pretty she is by Tony, this is a feature of the stereotype which we see in all the characters mentioned in this section of my coursework. Hannah is almost won over completely by Tony’s charm but then something goes wrong. The wagon crashes due to Hannah being left by herself at the reins. Tony’s secret is out, all three women find each other to be hidden in the carriage and Hannah hurts herself when she falls out.
Hannah is put across to be the complete opposite to her stereotype for now at the end of the short story. Her father arrives on the scene of the accident just as Tony says;
‘I’ve asked Hannah to be mine, and she is willing, and we
are going to put up the banns next-‘
But was interrupted by Hannah’s father as Hannah was hurt;
‘My daughter is not willing, sir!’
And so Tony tries to save his and Hannah’s future, failing miserably. This is where Hannah feels the need to intervene,
‘I have spirit, and I do refuse him!’
Hannah is shown to be very much the opposite of her stereotype as we saw Dorothea do when things turned out to be different towards the end of her short story. Hannah is confident and strong in her decision of rejecting Tony’s proposal. We see that Hannah is a little bit more of her stereotype then we perceive her to be following what has just happened in the story. We are made to think that this decision was only reached because of the fact that her father was there as Hannah looks back once she is leaving with her father did she really mean it? I think that she would possibly say yes was Tony to ask her again at a later date and show she isn’t as different as she is put across to be at the end of the short story.
Lastly I feel Unity fits into this idea as when we first meet her Hardy represents to us as being very desperate for attention from Tony through questions about her appearance;
‘And – can you say I’m not pretty Tony? Now look at me!’
Hardy backs up this quote with a statement from Unity which shows that she is quite weak because she has to ask the question and answer it to show Tony the answer she is looking for.
‘Prettier than she?’
This further proves how needy Unity is for Tony’s wise words and how gullible she is towards them. In my opinion Tony should not be saying such things to someone when he is supposed to be engaged to Milly Richards. This makes me thinks that he is able to realise that whoever he promises things will believe him because that is what women were expected to be like in the nineteenth century.
As this question is put past Tony, Milly is in fact seen ahead while Unity is in Tony’s carriage. To prove how much more of the typical stereotype Unity is Tony asks her to ‘lie down in the back part of the wagon’ to hide from his future wife and Unity agrees. This is further proof that she is very much like her stereotype.
Now is where the second part of my idea comes with regards to Unity. Towards the end of this short story Unity starts to stand up for herself. Tony asks for her hand in marriage AFTER he has already asked for Hannah’s.
‘Take her leavings? Not I! I’d scorn it!’
And she walks away. This is the opposite of what Unity’s stereotype is. She is shown to be strong and confident in the decision. Hardy shows Unity to stand up for her sex and not shame herself as being second choice, which in turn, leaves it down to Milly as the final choice for Tony…
A second idea worth of exploration from reading the range of short stories I was given is that of the characters totally fitting their stereotype of a nineteenth century women. The main character I feel fits into this idea is Sophy out of the story ‘The Son’s Veto’ by Thomas Hardy.
Like the stereotype Sophy is weak and is described as a ‘poor thing’ within the opening of this short story. We also see just how weak Sophy is through her relationship with her son, Randolph. Her son is her biggest critic. We see this where he corrects Sophy’s grammar;
‘Has, dear mother – not have!’
This is showing that Randolph is using his education to take advantage of his mother disadvantages. Randolph is always correcting his mother and is ashamed of her as she is not as well educated as she should be; this is however, due to her background.
Randolph is very impolite to Sophy even though she is his mother;
‘Surely you know that by this time.’
He is the child in this relationship but seemed to dominate Sophy showing how much more like her stereotype she is, especially when she does nothing about it. She realises her role in Randolph’s life and all men; she is considered to be beneath them and not worth their company. Randolph will not associate with those who are of a lower class then him, this includes Sophy. Hardy perceives Sophy as a fragile character by not letting her stand up for herself.
When Sophy tells Mr Twycott she will not be working for him anymore so she can marry Sam, her reply to Mr Twycott when he asks if she wants to marry Sam is;
‘Not much but it would be a home for me.’
This shows she does not really care who she ends up with as long as she has a roof over her head.
Another useful way that Hardy presents Sophy as being her typical stereotype is when she takes drastic action by marrying Mr Twycott instead of her beloved Sam after a fight with Sam. She marries Mr Twycott more for respect then love which ‘almost amounted to veneration’. Mr Twycott knows he is marrying beneath him and will lose all the respect he has gained as said in the narrative part of the story;
‘Mr Twycott knew perfectly well that he had committed social suicide by this step’.
He moves to London because of the fact he feels Sophy is beneath him. Sophy could have refuses Mr Twycott’s marriage proposal but has no power or confidence in herself to do this as she is scared of the consequences if she does not do as she is told by the males in her life. Hardy puts Sophy across as being the perfect stereotype for typical nineteenth century through this action; domination by males.
The second character that I feel fits into this stereotype for being totally stereotype is Milly Richards again from the short story ‘Tony Kytes the Arch-Deceiver’ by Thomas Hardy. Milly is seen to be the perfect stereotype for the nineteenth century woman. She has the husband ready for her and is very devoted to him and is presented as being very dominated by him and his needs. She is submissive to Tony and gullible to what he says. Her behaviour around him is very much like what women in the nineteenth century were expected to be like and did what was expected of them.
As the short story develops we see that Milly is of a very naï¿½ve nature as she is asked to hide from one of the other women in the story for the sake of ‘keeping the peace’ between that particular woman and Tony. Fitting the stereotype Milly agrees to do as she has been told by Tony,
‘I don’t mind, to oblige you, Tony’
Milly does not seem to mind, in my opinion, that Tony seems ashamed to be seen with her. Milly didn’t ‘care much about doing it’ and crouches down in the wagon unaware that Unity is also hidden amongst the wagon at the other end.
Further into the story Milly realises that Unity is in the wagon and creeps up closer to her. And even though Tony was in the wrong of having three women aboard his wagon Milly is very defensive of him;
‘Mind what you are saying!’
This proves she is even more like her stereotype due to her protecting the male and not thinking he could do anything to harm her and thinking he is perfect. She is extremely protective of Tony and does not think that he would do such things to her resulting in her being disloyal to her own sex for not believing what Unity is saying to her.
Toward the end of the story Milly is found amongst the wagon by the other two women. Tony chooses the other two women over Milly and so chooses Milly last to wed him. This is because he knows she is the typical stereotypical woman for the nineteenth century otherwise he would not have wasted his breath. Milly being the perfect stereotype says;
‘If you like, Tony. You didn’t really mean what you said to them?’
And with a quick ‘No’ from Tony things were settled and Milly believed what he had told her. Tony is actually indeed disappointed he is left with his final choice as it is not seen as a challenge to win over Milly because she is the typical stereotype.
For my third and final idea in this piece of coursework I will comment on contradicting stereotypes. The stereotypes that I have chosen that are perfect for this category are out of the short stories ‘Births. Mrs Meek, of a son’ and ‘The Woman’s Rose’.
Firstly I will mention the character of ‘The girl’ in the story ‘The Woman’s Rose’. The basis of the story is a rose that ‘the girl’ has and is very important to her. This rose is not mentioned very much at all in the opening of the short story but closer to the end it is clear that it is important.
At the start of this story ‘the girl’ is the only woman in the village and so has her choice of men, then ‘the narrator’ comes along.
I feel that ‘the girl’ is contradicting of her stereotype for the typical nineteenth century woman due to the impact she has on men in the story. Instead of being reliant on men and thinking about men all the time she is more interested in the only other woman in this story and she has much more influence on the men in this short story then they will ever have on her. The men in this story worshipped ‘the girl’ like a queen as there was no other women to worship and all the men are trying to win her over and stand out so she will ‘choose them’.
‘The girl’ had power; she was the centre of attention and stood out, what women in the nineteenth century were not expected to do. Schreiner presents ‘the girl’ as being very much what women would loved to have been like and had the power to choose their choice of men rather then having to do the running themselves.
At the end of the short story ‘the girl’ goes up to ‘the narrator’ in a bid to become her friend although she has received mixed messages of whether or not to speak to her or not. ‘The girl’ gave her one of the things that was most precious to her; the rose.
‘The girl’ is not the stereotype of what a typical nineteenth century woman should be. She concentrated more on her relationship with ‘the narrator’ then she did worrying about what typical women did back in those days; getting a husband and producing children for the male in their life. ‘The girl’ wanted more for herself then that and did not depend on males but influenced them. In this short story it was more of a role reversal.
I am also going to mention the only other woman that is in the short story ‘The Woman’s Rose’. She is known as ‘The narrator’. The rose in this short story is straight away put across to be very important to ‘the narrator’ in the opening paragraph which ends;
‘but no one has my rose.’
To show its importance to her. The story then goes on to explain why it is of such treasure to ‘the narrator’. When ‘the narrator’ came into the small village of which ‘the girl’ used to be the only one attention was made of ‘the narrator’ took this away from her. She started t be the centre of attention towards men and they worshipped her instead. She influenced men. This was not necessarily because she was prettier then ‘the girl’ but because she was something new for the men in the village to concentrate on. This is something that she is not aware of but has the fear that it is because she is new and not because they are truly interested in her. She is fresh meat. This made her feelings towards men feelings of hatred and regret for going to the village.
‘The narrator’ liked the power she received from coming to the village but did not have a clue what to do with it and thinks she is hated by the one thing she does not want to be hated by in the story; ‘the girl’. She wants a friendship with ‘the girl’ but does not know how to go about it as she thinks she is hated and has plenty men to keep her occupied if not distracted from thinking about it. ‘The narrator’ never looked at the girl and never had any association with ‘the girl’ as she believed this was the better way to be if she was hated.
Schreiner makes ‘the narrator’ defend ‘the girl’ if she is being spoke of amongst the village to show that she does care about what is said and does want to be her friend. For doing this it pays off towards the end of the short story when the white rose is obtained as an act of friendship by ‘the girl’.
‘The narrator’ is shown to be the complete opposite of her stereotype in this short story and not at all like she is expected to be. She is shown to have other worries than that of the typical worries for women in that time normally.
For the other two characters I will comment on in this idea I turn my attention towards a short story named ‘Births. Mrs Meek, of a son’. The two characters that I am going to mention are Mrs Progit and Mrs Bigby.
Firstly I will talk about how I think Mrs Bigby is contradicting towards her stereotype. Near the beginning of the story Mrs Bigby is said to be able to ‘storm a town, single-handed’ and that she could ‘terrify the stoutest heart’. Mrs Bigby is almost definitely not at all like her stereotype. She is a ‘remarkable woman’. Her son-in-law is scared of her as she is a scary woman. Other women in her time were not forward enough to be scary as such and did not have the confidence to scare males in their lives. This is the complete opposite of what we saw in ‘The Son’s Veto’ and the character of Sophy. She was not so much scared of her son but the roles were in the correct places for the nineteenth century. The opposite is what we see in the relationship between Mrs Bigby and her son-in-law.
Most women in the nineteenth century don’t have much of an education and Mrs Bigby boasts of this knowledge. She is the total opposite of what is expected of women in her time. She is the dominate one in the relationship between her and Mr Meek. She won’t let him see his own son and as a result of this Mr Meek is angry and frustrated; he feels shoved aside. The male in this story feels left out in the cold. With emotions running wild Mr Meek thinks his son is being killed. Mr Meek shows the qualities of a nineteenth century woman instead of Mrs Meek as is expected as she is the woman in this short story. She is possibly the best example of the contradicting stereotype along with the next character I am going to talk about; Mrs Progit.
Mrs Progit is a character of copious figure which gets in the way a lot and an obstruction to other people. She completely contradicts her stereotype by being very confident in her behaviour and brings desolation and devastation into other people lives in the short story. She has taken over the house. Mrs Progit won’t let Mr Meek see his son as well as Mrs Bigby. She wants to keep the child to herself and raised a storm about the subject.
She has power and alienates Maria Jane’s affections towards Mr Meek with the power she has. She pushes Mr Meek about which is not what her stereotype would do. She is supposed to be quiet and dominated by males but instead there has been a role reversal regarding Mrs Progit. She is completely confident in her own nature and does not let herself get pushed around by the male but instead gives them a taste of their own medicine. This is what women in the nineteenth century did not have the power and confidence to do because they were afraid of the consequences.
In conclusion of this piece of coursework I feel I have successfully explored how different writers have presented female characters in their short stories to show different ways in which women could act in the nineteenth century and the results how they act towards other characters in the stories. I read a range of different stories that I felt would get all the different views across and only included those stories that I thought had solid evidence of different ways in which women felt they had to be like or what they wanted to be like. I think I have investigated how the writers create their characters and form the reader’s opinions of those particular characters using structure and clever writing techniques.