Most feministic writers view the institution of marriage as a deliberate creation by the society to oppress women, as revealed through their works, which always have characters that represent their views on the issue. The writers are mostly radical in their view of the norms that shape the marriage institution.
Women are exposed to unbearable situation in their marriages, only because the society requires them to be married. The works of Kate Chopin, Mary Wilkins Freeman, and Willa Cather, exposes the nature of marriages, suggesting deliberate attempts and positive attitudes towards reforms encouraging women to have second thoughts when joining the institution.
Views on 19th century marriage norms
The 19th century marriages remain hit by problems ranging from infidelity through pretence to oppressions as the paper unfolds. In Mary Wilkins, “A New England Nun”, the woman character Louisa is compelled to wait for her suitor for fourteen years in order to get married.
This is quite oppressive considering the fact that Joe has another girlfriend and wants to Marry Louisa because he has promised so. Louisa has to leave her solitary life of happiness to go and live with Joe in his place as dictated by the marriage. She is to sacrifice her happiness at the altar of the marriage institution (Wilkins 9). When she gets the opportunity to dismiss it, she does so without any regrets recovering easily.
Through satirizing the marriage institution as one shaped by the governing norms, the women writers are advocating for a system that is more flexible for women to pursue their happiness beyond the confinements of marriage. Willa Cather has her males portrayed as weak since the women have to work in order to support them (Cather Para.33).
Louisa in Wilkins story, associates the presence of the man around her and having to do some roles shaped by the norms within the oppressive marriage institution. She has to wipe his muddy boots as well as placing a chair for him. These are some of the duties that the woman is compelled to undertake that these writers seem opposed to, hence their campaign for reforms.
Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” gives a description of the events of infidelity that take place during the storm. The story portrays the marriage institution as fake and full of pretence. Through the description of the sexual encounter between Alcee and Calixta, who are both married to different people, Chopin satirizes the serenity that appears from outside when viewing the marriage institution as bogus.
The two characters seem to satisfy each other best feeling restricted by the rules of their marriage, which they keep stable by simply lying to their spouses (Chopin, “The Storm” Scene II). Rather than staying in marriages only to regret, Chopin implies that it is better if people can only pursue their happiness even if it breaks the norms that have been set forth by the institutions such as marriage.
Minutes after having sex with another man, Calixta welcomes her husband and pretends to be happy when presented with a gift. She even goes further to give him a casual kiss on his cheek as a sign of appreciation. The husband does not suspect anything and so does Alcee’s wife. This depicts the network of pretence and lies incorporated in the marriage institution.
Marriage is an institution that lacks freedom as seen in the manner that the character Louise in Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an hour” reacts to the news of the death of her husband (Chopin, A Story of an hour” Para.10). She whispers to herself that she is free at last only to die when she discovers that her husband is not actually dead.
Most critics of the 19th century marriage norms base their arguments on the organization and formulations that shaped the then marriages. This is in the sense that to them marriages meant that a person had to lose his/her freedom absolutely to the other and that however dissatisfied one felt, there was no way out.
Cather, Willa. Paul’s Case: A Study in Temperament. London: MacMillan Publishing, 1906.
Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1894.
The Storm. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1898.
Wilkins, Mary. A New England Nun. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1912.