The story of Charlotte Temple is not just another novel. It is not just a story about an innocent, nave and misguided young girl that has to live with the consequences of her bad choices in life. This novel is an attempt to educate and guide young women at the time into making the right decisions in life. The novel illustrates a number of different issues for women during the time period, but the main issue or decision Rowson is trying to educate the women on is marriage. Marriage is a major theme in this novel and the novel gives different examples of marriage.
At the end of the 18th century and in the beginning of the 19th century there were very few opportunities for women. They stayed at home and took care of their parents as they grew old or they married and raised the children and took care of the household. They had very few opportunities to work and make their own money. Because of this women depended on men to support them financially. Many times this put women in a very tough position where they ended up in misery. Men, who essentially had most of the power would treat women dishonorably and use them for their own pleasure. In many ways, love and affection were harmful to women. People married based on financial reasons and social status. People tried to marry someone that would increase their fortunes and make them rise in the social hierarchy. For middle and working class women this was crucial. With few or no opportunities to earn money and with few rights in the society they had to marry someone that could support them. Men on the other hand could base their decisions more on love and feelings rather than financial reasons, but they also based their decision based on money and social status. Men wanted to marry a woman from a wealthy and respected family in order to rise in the social hierarchy.
As I mentioned earlier, the patriarchal society exploited women and the ones that became the biggest victims were middle class women, women like Charlotte Temple. For example, Montraville realizes that marrying Charlotte would wont increase his fortune or help him move up in the social ranking in society, on the other hand he is very attracted to her and she is very attracted to him. Montraville is very tempted to have a physical relationship with the attractive Charlotte Temple and he sort of manipulates the young and nave Charlotte into having a relationship with him. He decides to bring her with him to America and have her as his mistress. Later in the novel when Belcour tells Montraville that Charlotte was unfaithful, he decides to follow his fathers advice and marry the wealthy and beautiful Julia Franklin. This is very beneficial for Montraville because it increases his fortune and makes him rise in the social hierarchy, but it makes Charlotte a victim of this system and she ends up in misery carrying their child.
Parents also played a big role when it came to the choice of partners in the late 18th century and beginning of the 19th century. Since marriage was an institution rather than a union between to lovers, parents often arranged the marriage for their children. Because of their experience, parents were considered to have better judgment and were therefore more qualified to make the decisions for their children. Children had a duty to obey their parents and trust that their judgment was better than their own. We see examples this throughout the novel when Charlotte is always considering her mothers feelings and opinions when trying to make a decision. When Charlotte is trying to decide whether she should go with Montraville or not she is torn between the duty she feels towards her parents and her own pleasure. She says, My resolution is fixed...I will sacrifice love to duty. (P. 69). She is very attracted to Montraville but at the same time she knows that following him is not her parents wish.
Another example in the novel of the parents role in choosing a marriage partner and childrens duty to their parents is when Mr. Temple becomes estrange from his family for marrying Lucy Temple, a common woman instead of following his parents wish and marry Miss Weatherby, who comes from a respected family. We see another example of this during a conversation with Montraville and his father about marriage and Montravilles his father says But mark me, my boy, if, on the contrary, you rush into a precipitate union with a girl of little or no fortune, take the poor creature from a comfortable home and kind friends, and plunge her into all the evils a narrow income and increasing family can inflict, I will leave you to enjoy the blessed fruits of your rashness; for by all that is sacred, neither my interest or fortune shall ever be exerted in your favour. (P. 63).
In the novel we also see an illustration of the importance of how you were perceived in the eyes of others, and how this had a negative influence on how people behaved. For example, Mrs. Beauchamp, which is one of the good characters in the book, hesitates to help Charlotte Temple out because she is afraid of what her neighbors might think of her. Since the social status was important in the late 18th century and beginning of 19th century, people would also try to act and behave as refined as possible and give and image to others of how high you were in the social hierarchy. For example, Mrs. Beauchamp, which is one of the good characters in the book, hesitates to help Charlotte Temple out because she is afraid of what her neighbors might think of her. Another example of how this made people act and misjudge people is when the people in New York think highly of Mademoiselle La Rue because of her beauty when in fact she is a very horrible person.
Going back to the educational aspect of this novel, I think that Susanna Rowson was trying to educate her readers on the situation in which women are in during the time. When she writes Oh my dear girlsfor to such only am I writinglisten not to the voice of love, unless sanctioned by paternal approbation.(P. 55), she is trying to tell women to put themselves in a position in which they are not exploited, and listen to their brains and parents rather than their heart and emotions. The story of Charlotte Temple is somewhat extreme in the sense that she was a very nave and sheltered young woman that didnt really know what the world was like outside the walls of her home or the border school. She was weak and she was dependent on other people to make the decisions for her. Rowson is also warning the women about other people in their life. The parents have the best intentions for their children, but other people might not. People do not always have honest intentions and dont actually mean what they say. La Rue, Belcour and Montraville are all examples of people that are manipulative and selfish.