Literature, apart from being a written works with artistic value, are also media forms in which the writer/author expresses and conveys to the audience his/her own interpretation of the social realities that exist in human society. Through literature, humans are able to reflect their own experiences of lifes joys and sufferings, experiences that mark significant events that influenced the way people behaved and acted within human society.
As a media form, literary works are effective media wherein the writer mirrors portrayals of peoples preoccupation, behaviors, and actions, which are often subjected to the writers perception and interpretation of an event, place, individual, or situation. Furthermore, literature goes beyond being a mirror to the social realities of human society; it also has the power to break the barriers dividing the real and imaginary world. This means that, writers go beyond being subjective chroniclers of the history of human society; they also provide their own inputs about the plight or outcome of an event or situation, which provides readers an idea of the ideals and principles that the writer subsists to.
The powerful influence that literature wields over the human societys perception, beliefs, and even consciousness concerning an ideology or event is illustrated in Virginia Woolfs modern literary work entitled, A Room of Ones Own, written in 1929. This particular literary work from Woolf cannot be categorized as a novel, but a special literary technique called as the stream of consciousness, where Woolf immerses herself in a monologue that represents both subjective and objective interpretation of the writer about the society and the individual.
A Room of Ones Own, using the stream of consciousness technique, talks about the prejudices and inequality that women, particularly women artists, face in the 19th century society (in Woolfs case, the 19th century English society). In this work, Woolf cites the historical, social, political, and even economic dynamics that influences the societys outlook on the women sector, i.e., that women should not enjoy the freedom that men receive from the society. In discussing and analyzing the treatment of human society to women, Woolf objectively narrates in detail the discriminations committed against women in the third chapter of A Room.
Chapter 3 focuses on the limited social acceptance of women in the society because they are less politically and economically free compared with men. Woolf illustrates how women are viewed by the society during her time, or how society perceives women (especially artists) during the 19th century: [t]o have lived a free life in London would have meant for a woman who was poet and playwright a nervous stress and dilemma which might have well killed her. Had she survived, whatever she had written would have been twisted and deformed, issuing from a strained and morbid imagination. This passage shows Woolfs comparison of a woman William Shakespeare, to the real, famous playwright William Shakespeare. Gender differences between the two artists (i.e., the female and male Shakespeare) are significant because it is evident that society appreciates more the literary works written by men than those written by women.
The lack of acceptance of society to revolutionary changes about womens roles and image, which involves behavior and actions that are submissive to men and the society in general, is just one point that Woolf addresses in A Room. Going further her monologue, she enumerates the hindrances that prevent women from attaining a status equal to or higher than male artists, which are material and immaterial. The material hindrance concerns economic freedom, where Woolf posits, for womento have a room of her own was out of the question [s]ince her pin money was only enough to keep her clothed; she was debarred from such alleviations This passage can be interpreted literally and figuratively, where the literary interpretation centers on the economic constraints that society imposes on women, resulting to financial dependency to men and ignorance because of lack of or insufficient education. The figurative interpretation, on the other hand, discusses a deeper effect of women subjugation, which is more than financial or economic dependency, such as the intolerance of society to acknowledge the skills, talents, and rights of women to enjoy an equal status with men.
The figurative interpretation of Woolfs analysis of the lack of economic freedom of women is identified as the political constraints that women experience in their society. Also called the immaterial hindrance in the progress of women status in the society, the politics of gender during Woolfs time ties women with the political and social ideology that there was an enormous body of masculine opinion to the effect that nothing could be expected of women intellectually. Propaganda against women is evidently prevalent, and accepted, in a rigid and conservative society, where modern ideals of women as equals of men are not tolerated and acknowledged.
Woolfs discussion and analysis of the political and economic factors that affect the societys perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, and actions on the women sector is also studied in Milton and Rose Friedmans (1982) discourse entitled, Capitalism and Freedom. In Friedmans work, he discussed how economic freedom is an imperative requirement in obtaining political freedom, and vice versa. Using economic and political models, Friedman illustrates how an individual empowers him/herself politically by having economic resources, and how these economic resources are easily obtained if an individual has also substantial political power that enables him/her to access these resources (in the context of a free market). In discussing the relationship between economics and politics in obtaining personal freedom of an individual, Friedman argues, there is an intimate connection between economics and politics, that only certain combinations of political and economic arrangements are possible in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom (7). This means that economic prosperity is gained through political freedom that society allows an individual to have, while political freedom is acquired if an individual has the economic resources to wield influence to the society that s/he is capable of providing for him/herself (14).
Applying this argument in Woolfs discussion of the importance of economic and political power as the means of the women sector to be recognized by their society, it is indeed evident that because of political and economic constraints that society imposes on women, they are easily overpowered by men and has remained to be subjugated in a patriarchal society for many years. Woolfs (A Room of Ones Own) discussion of Friedmans (Capitalism and Freedom) political and economic freedom in the context of women subjugation and subservience in the 19th century English society shows the important role that economics and politics play in forming the societys perception of people and ideologies, which are considered either tolerable or intolerable, and accepted or rejected in the social, political, and economic environments the society is in.
Friedman, M. and R. Friedman. (1982). Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Woolf, V. (1929). A Room of Ones Own. Available at: http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/w/w9lr/chap3.html.