Portrayal of Women in Fiction
Portrayal of Women in Fiction
Girl by Jamaica Kincaid is one of the world’s most popular feminist pieces of literature despite its unorthodox style of narration. The Storm by Kate Chopin, on the other hand, is also a prominent feminist work about women independence in marriage. Girl seems to be a story about a mother preaching to her daughter about how to do things “properly. ” The Storm, meanwhile, is a slice-of-life story about women independence in light of married life.
Girl is rather pessimistic in its portrayal of women, as the entire short story draws a picture of an overworked woman that has to be conscious in everything she does, while The Storm portrays women’s seemingly inferior role in marriage and at the same time, their desire and capability to be independent. The Housewife Even to this day, there are still cultures in the world that only see women as a housewives whose only purpose in life is to tend to their husband’s needs and bear him children. This negative portrayal of women is evident in both The Storm and Girl.
In The Storm, Calixta, the main protagonist of the story, is left alone by her husband Bobinot and son Bibi. The opening scene of the short story mentions only the presence of one man and his son. This suggests that Calixta was left home to tend to the house, to do whatever it was that wives do during the setting of the story. Even Bibi, described as wise, (presumably wiser than her mother) as young as he is, somewhat belittles her own mother. “Bibi was four years old and looked very wise. “Mama’ll be ‘fraid, yes,” he suggested with blinking eyes (Chopin I).
Back at their home, the extent of the role attributed to women through Calixta is described. Calixta is introduced to us immediately as a working housewife just when the storm is approaching. “She sat at the side window sewing furiously on a sewing machine” (Chopin II). As the storm approaches, more work that she does is revealed. “Out on the small front gallery, she had hung Bobinot’s Sunday clothes to dry” (Chopin II). Calixta is a princess compared to what “the girl” in the Girl have to do. The entire story in fact is a list of either chores for the girl to do, or restrictions on her actions so she would do things properly.
There is not even an introduction to the narration, it starts immediately with the “commandments” of the mother: “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap” (Kincaid). This straight and non-stop work approach of Kincaid is the author’s way of expressing her message — that women are being treated merely as the house workforce. As mentioned before, almost the whole short story is composed of the dictations of the mother to her daughter on what to do, so it is not hard to find another example that highlights the negative portrayal of women.
Just to show another example that shows women as laborers, the mother demonstrates, as it were, how to set the table during different circumstances: “This is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest… ” (Kincaid). Everything from washing clothes to acting in public, and even how to love a man, is taught to the girl . This suggests that women have to do a bit of everything even if they are not treated as equals.
Independent Women In a more positive side of the short stories, they show women as independent individuals, strong enough to stand on their own without the aid of their spouses and do whatever they please when given the chance. In The Storm, women are left alone. First is Calixta when her husband and son go out before the storm strands in a store, while Clarisse, the wife of Alcee, is asked by her husband to take more time in enjoying her and their children’s vacation. It is during these times when they are away with their families that the women feel more independent. Thus, they exploit the absence of their husbands to do whatever they please.
While Calixta is all alone in their house during the storm, Alcee, who appears to be a former lover of hers, gets caught in the storm and seeks shelter in her household. The combination of the rainy weather and an inherent desire to rekindle an old affair causes the old lovers to take a stroll down memory lane and do things that are not supposed to be done by people when they are already married to another person. Thus, Calixta is independent in a sense that she has chosen what to do and that she is able to take care of the house and do all those chores.
Clarisse meanwhile also becomes independent but at the cost of her husband cheating. Alcee asks her to extend her vacation which she gladly accepts, and as the narration itself shows, it gives her a sense of independence that she used to have when she was single: “the first free breath since her marriage seems to restore the pleasant liberty of her maiden days” (Chopin V). Finally, the girl in Kincaid’s story, in spite of all her work, gains some independence ironically through her work — she is able to do all those things by herself, making her independent.
This portrayal of women by Kincaid is very feminist, as Kincaid is able to find the positive side of the hard labor done by women. Conclusion In classic literature, women are portrayed as inferior to men, doing only what men want them to do or what is expected of them even in the works of Chopin and Kincaid, though shown as a form of protest, women are portrayed as housewives who work at home. However, despite this sad notion in literature and even in reality, women are sometimes portrayed positively as well, just like the independence shown by the women in the short stories of Kincaid and Chopin.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 23 September 2016
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