Changing Roles of Women
At the turn of the twentieth century, America was changing rapidly. As industrialization and immigration changed cities, women slowly began changing their traditional roles. Society believed that women played a central role in the family. Their lives were tied to the house and children, endlessly unacknowledged work, little opportunity for outside contact, and relief from everyday triviality. Womens roles were meant to steady the troubles of the world, yet women could not help to resist against these obligations and see new opportunities for themselves. Although society labeled women as weak and dainty some were willing to take big risks for a change. Author Kate Chopin showed in her female characters behavior that was unusual for women of this time period. Despite the traditional roles of women, her characters often revolted against societal expectations. As a result, Chopins reputation was so badly damaged that her work was ignored for decades after her death. No longer content to be loyal wives, pure empty vessels, and passive women, Chopins female characters broke free from societys traditions in Respectable Women, The Kiss and Story of an Hour.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, women were educated to be the perfectly devoted wife. Women were expected to uphold the values of stability, morality, and democracy by making the home a special place, a refuge from the world where her husband could escape from the highly competitive, unstable, immoral world of business and industry (Lavender 4). This meant that their main priority was to keep the home peaceful for their husbands. Women were expected to put her husbands needs, wants, and desires above her own. Love is apart of the relationship but she is to contain her passion and be serene. A wife is suppose to be happy all the time and not share her problems but to keep them contained inside. Mrs. Baroda resists taking on the perfect wife image in A Respectable Woman by putting her priorities above her husbands. Mrs. Barodas behavior shows that she is resisting the role of being a wife because she is being loyal to herself, instead of her husband. She has feelings for her husbands friend Gouvernail, who has come to visit them for a week or two. At the time her husband told her he was coming to visit, she was upset because she wanted a rest from entertaining. Yet her feelings changed as she spent more time with Gouvernail. She wanted to reach out her hand in the darkness and touch him with the sensitive tips of her fingers upon the face or the lips (Chopin, Respectable 186). This quote shows that he really just wanted to draw close to him. Chopin uses Mrs. Barodas thoughts to show that women during this time period were irritated from societys expectations and were revolting the characteristics of a perfect wife.
During the early 1900s, women were brainwashed to be pure. A woman must guard her treasure with her life (Lavender 2). This means that purity is the ritual cleanness and freedom from guilt. To maintain their purity women had to remain chaste in their thoughts and actions. They must not give into seduction or give away their treasure to the wrong person. Women were expected to remain abstinent until the marriage night when she bestowed upon her husband her greatest treasure. In The Kiss Nathalie opposes being pure through her actions by kissing a man named Harvy. A stride or two brought him to her side, and bending over her chair before she could suspect his intention, for she did not realize that he had not seen her visitorhe pressed an ardent lingering kiss upon her lips (Chopin, Kiss 1). Nathalies actions show that she is revolting against purity because though she kisses Harvy, she is really betrothed to a rich, yet unattractive man named Brantain. She is rude and greedy, as she only likes Brantain for his money, and is secretly seeing an attractive man, Harvy. At their wedding, Harvy tells Nathalie that Brantain has sent him to kiss her. She wanted to kiss him, but Harvy tells her he has stopped kissing women. Chopin uses Nathalies behavior to show that women were tired of buying into society and were no longer remaining pure.
During the late 1800s, women were instructed to be submissive to men. Women were to be passive bystanders, submitting to fate, to duty, to God, and to men
(Lavender 3). This means they devoted themselves to their husbands without complaint. They allowed their husbands to make all the decisions for them, without any opinion of their own. Womens emotions would become bottled up inside of them, which they in turn could not express how they felt to their husbands, thus having to deal with her feelings all alone. On the outside she would show a face of weakness and dependence. A true woman knew her place, and knew what qualities were wanted in her opposite (Lavender 3). In Kate Chopins A Story of an Hour Mrs. Mallard rebels against the passive role because after the death of her husband, she feels a sense of relief. In her heart she becomes joyful that she is free from him. Mrs. Mallard initially acts like she is upset by crying, but her emotions quickly change as she realizes her new found freedom. Through the window, Mrs. Mallard received a sense of relief and she saw beyond all the bitter moments she had when her husband was alive. She said it over and over under her breath free free free (Chopin, Hour 594). As she sat looking out the window, she realized that in her ordinary life she was controlled by her husband and she then had peace within herself. Mrs. Mallard begins a new life with the death of her husband because she now has control over her own life. Chopin uses Mrs. Mallards behavior to show that women during this time period were tired of being controlled by their husbands and were rebelling the role of a passive wife.
The women in the late 1800s had specific responsibilities to fulfill. They were expected to devote their lives for their husbands by maintaining values and making the home a special place. Even as wives, women were educated to remain pure in their thoughts and actions. The passive virtues necessary in women were to be submissive to their husbands. At the turn of the twentieth century, women were tired of being perceived to be lower then men and began resisting these roles. Author Kate Chopin began writing about women changing these traditional roles. As a result, her reputation was so badly damaged that her work was ignored. In todays society, most women have jobs and no longer depend on their husbands to support them. As for the late 1800s, women today are still to fulfill their lives to their family, and uphold the values of a respectable women.