Women In American Literature Essays

The Portrayal Of Women In American Literature

The Portrayal of Women in American Literature

Throughout American Literature, women have been depicted in many different ways. The portrayal of women in American Literature is often influenced by an author's personal experience or a frequent societal stereotype of women and their position. Often times, male authors interpret society’s views of women in a completely different nature than a female author would. While F. Scott Fitzgerald may represent his main female character as a victim in the 1920’s, Zora Neale Hurston portrays hers as a strong, free-spirited, and independent woman only a decade later in the 1930’s.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby, the main female character, Daisy Buchanan, is portrayed by, Nick, the narrator, only by her superficial qualities. “Guided only by Nick’s limited view of her, readers often judge Daisy solely on the basis of her superficial qualities” (Fryer 43). What the reader sees through the eyes of Nick only appears as a woman whose impatience and desire for wealth and luxury cost her the love of her life, Gatsby. Nick’s narrow perception does not allow one to see that “…[Daisy’s] silly manner conceals a woman of feeling or that her final ‘irresponsibility’ towards Gatsby stems from an acute sense of responsibility towards herself” and that Nick “…clearly does not understand what motivates her” (Fryer 43). One can easily view Daisy as a victim. Fitzgerald distinctly exposes Daisy’s need for stability, which, according to Fitzgerald or perhaps the mentality of the time period, can only be found in a man. “Her need for stability was immediate, and she attempted to satisfy that need through something tangible, something close at hand” (Fryer 51). This “need” that Fitzgerald displays on Daisy’s account is for “…an attainable partner who could provide –through marriage- the sense of identity and stability she so desperately craved” (Fryer 51). As seen in society today as well as in Fitzgerald’s time, men will have affairs outside of their marriages, and the wife, falls victim to this violation of faith. Daisy falls victim to Tom’s affair with Myrtle: “Daisy’s affection for Tom…was soon shattered by his breech of her trust” (Fryer 51). Matters take an abrupt turn in the novel however, when Daisy’s sudden insistence for honesty emerges. At the hotel in the city, when Gatsby pressures her into proclaiming that she never loved Tom she can no longer bear the anxiety. She refuses to deny her love of Tom.

Daisy’s sudden, simple respect for the truth is startling to the reader because Nick’s perceptions of her throughout the novel are so very limited to her superficial manner … her stubborn honesty … is a logical outgrowth of her inner struggle to resolve conflicting needs. It is a brief, futile attempt to declare emotional independence (Fryer 54).

Of course after this unpleasant, yet necessary upheaval, Daisy retreats into her melancholy and monotonous life of superficiality,...

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If you’re anything like me (and lucky for you if you’re not) then you’ve spent most of the last week wallowing your way from one shot glass to another and brushing your teeth with the cuff of your old college sweatshirt. It’s pretty gross, if you let yourself think about it, but I try not to. Instead I’ve been making a list of American women literary pioneers who wrote, fought, and rallied their way into print, and changed American history and culture.

Three hundred and seventy-six years ago Anne Bradstreet became the first poet published in the American colonies. She wrote through smallpox, the births of eight children, and the destruction of her house in a fire. Here she writes about loss and renewal:

All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow is sure to meet.

— “Before the Birth of One of Her Children,” 1666

Two hundred and fifty-three years ago Ann Franklin became the first female newspaper editor in America. Among many other authors, she also published the writings of her brother-in-law, Benjamin Franklin. That guy.

Two hundred and thirty-one years ago Hannah Adams became the first American woman to be a professional writer. She was largely self-taught and self-made she earned money and respect by writing historical and religious books.

One hundred and eighty-seven years ago Sarah Hale became the first American woman to edit a major magazine, Ladies Magazine. She is also the author of Mary Had a Little Lamb, in 1855 she published a non-fiction book highlighting notable women in history.

One hundred and seven years ago Julia Ward Howe was the first woman admitted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was a pioneer in literature and an advocate for women’s rights, but she is best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” whose fourth stanza reads:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment-seat:
Oh! be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

— “The Battle Hymn of The Republic,”1861

Ninety-four years ago Edith Wharton became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with her book, The Age of Innocence. The central theme of that book is the reconciling of a new culture with the old.

Seventy-seven years ago Pearl S. Buck became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was also an advocate for the rights of women and minority groups, but was best known for her book The Good Earth, which explores the lives of poor laborers.

And, finally, this year Carla Hayden became the first female Librarian of Congress. For over two hundred years, nearly since the founding of the US, the Library of Congress has been dominated by men… until this year, 2016.

If you’re anything like me then you’ve been having a hell of a time this week. It might be help the both of us to remember some of the great and radical women who have made their voices heard throughout American history. These women have been advocates, have been writers, and have changed history. I suspect that there are still radical women are all around us, and they’re getting things done.

Tags:Ann Franklin, Anne Bradstreet, Carla Hayden, Edith Wharton, Hannah Adams, Julia Howe, Pearl S. Buck, Sarah Hale

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