Position of Women

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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“In “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, women are confined as objects of desire to men. In the novel, Janie’s first husband, Logan, believes that having a wife is to make his life easier so he would not be constantly working. Logan insists that Janie helps him with his stuff when he says, “You ain’t got no particular place. It’s wherever Ah need yuh. Git uh move on yuh, and dat quick” (Hurston 30). It is obvious that Janie is seen as an object to Logan because he thinks that women should serve the man, no matter what place he wants to put her in.

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Sigrid King, author of “Naming and Power in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God,” says, “When they argue about her doing outside work in their yard, she calls him “ ‘Mist’ Killicks,’” a name which ironically reflects his attempt to be her master. He, on the other hand, calls her “ ‘Lil Bit,’ ” a name which reveals her position of powerlessness in his mind” (King 688).

This shows us that Logan’s relationship with Janie quickly ruins her definition of marriage because she is seen as nothing but an object to Logan. Here, Janie is equated with a work animal by Logan, with Janie working in the fields and doing his dirty work. Therefore, a woman has no role other than what her husband assigns her; she is expected to be obedient and do what he says.

In the short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator faces the conflict of male dominance. Gilman reflects women’s roles in society, where they were dominated by men, when the narrator says, “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.” (Gilman 131). This clearly explains the disrespect that John shows his wife. He denies her work of writing, even the freedom to explore the world outside of the house.

Not only does her husband agree that it’s the best for her, but so does her brother, who is a physician as well. This shows the principle of male dominance of her husband and brother who both forbid her to work until she is well again, although she disagrees with their ideas. Conrad Shumaker, author of “Too Terribly Good To Be Printed,” claims, “Though he is clearly a domineering husband who wants to have absolute control over his wife, John also has other reasons for forbidding her to write or paint” (Shumaker 591).

The control her husband had over her was overly powerful. Both John and her brother’s roles as doctors and as males were known to be more knowledgeable because of their high standings. So the narrator and women at the time were expected to listen to men because they were dominant and knew more things than women. The narrator was forbidden to have any occupation and to stay in that room with the striped yellow wallpaper. The narrator struggled to find her freedom through the society that was held dominant by her husband and brother.

In “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the author uses Janie’s series of relationships with different men, such as Logan Killicks, Jody Starks, and Tea Cake, to illustrate the concept of power dynamics. Logan Killicks and Jody Starks expect Janie to be obedient, silent, and proper. Logan sees Janie as a worker, expecting her to perform his tasks as well as her own. Jody views her as someone who can validate his endeavors to control everyone.

Tea Cake treats Janie equally, but there is a certain power struggle in Janie’s relationship with him. In each of her relationships, we observe Janie losing parts of herself under the influence of these power dynamics. When Jody says, “Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home” (Hurston 40), the gender dynamics are made clear. The power dynamics that Janie experienced in all three of her marriages are evident.

The power that men had over women and the disempowerment women experienced from men are significant. In the article “Naming and Power” by Sigrid King, she states, “When Jody names her in the socially prescribed role of wife, he says, ” ‘Ah wants to make a wife outa you'”. He clearly positions himself in a place of power by naming Janie. When Janie attempts to name him, substituting the more affectionate “Jody” for “Joe,” he is pleased, but still controls the naming” (King 690). Her power is compromised in all her marriages. She is unable to express herself or pursue her own interests. All three of her marriages force her into the role that men and society expect from her.

In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the author draws attention to the differences in the narrator’s life with her husband as a means of illustrating her isolation from society. Her sole aspirations are to engage in sociable occupations and to spend time outside. As she notes, “I sometimes fancy that in my condition, if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus—but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad” (Gilman 132). The narrator is isolated from the rest of society. Her husband, who prescribed bed rest, won’t even allow her to care for her own baby.

Her husband goes to work and gets to interact with the outside world, while she is forced to stay in bed all day. As she mentions, “John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious” (Gilman 134). John makes all of the decisions for her, much to her frustration. In the article “Too Terribly Good to be Printed,” Shumaker suggests that “the thought of the windows leads to a description of the open country and suggests the freedom that the narrator lacks in her barred room” (Shumaker 596). It’s clear that John completely controls her life. She is distanced from society because her husband won’t let her engage in any activities, so she obligingly accepts the circumstances.

Janie feels trapped in her marriages, which depict men as always expected to be dominant. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie suffers from being trapped in affectionless marriages, with both Logan and Jody dominating her. Jody says, “‘mah wife don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home” (Hurston 43).

He often degraded Janie and expected her to do his work. As the story progresses, we discover that Tea Cake, too, is very domineering over Janie. He would often leave her and manipulate her, just like when he stole her money and was gone all day spending it. Tea Cake represents another example of male dominance in Janie’s life, with the author illustrating Janie as being subconsciously drawn to men who will take charge over her.

In each relationship, her husbands dominate over her until she finally runs away. Janie, like other women, falls into men’s deceitful traps and suffers under their dominance. Janie relies too heavily on the men in her life, which further explains why she easily forgives Tea Cakes each time. Janie yearns for freedom, but she continuously sides with dominating men. Jennifer Jordan, author of “Feminist Fantasies: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God”, discusses Janie’s marriages with Jody and Tea Cake. Jordan says, “Janie escapes the marriage of Logan Killicks, which provides neither affection nor comfort.

Her second marriage to Jody Starks is, at first, emotionally gratifying, but ultimately, Jody reduces Janie to an enviable possession that advertises his superior status to less fortunate men. As a possession, she’s denied any self-defined goals, and even the expression of her own opinions. She is publicly humiliated and physically abused.” Janie’s weakness is evidenced in her lack of control and direction in her actions. Thus, she is a weak-willed woman, driven by the dominance of the men in her life. Her independence is always limited by men.

In The Yellow Wallpaper, Gilman creates a character that she believes is trapped in the yellow wallpaper. The woman in the wallpaper symbolizes the narrator herself and her feeling of entrapment. She lives with her husband who limits her options and dismisses her suggestions, as if she’s incapable of making her own decisions. She’s confined in a large room, which used to be a nursery. Though the bars on the windows were designed for children’s safety, they seem more like prison bars to the narrator. This woman is expected to do nothing—she can’t read or write. Feeling trapped, she asks her husband to move her into a different room or take down the wallpaper. At first, he agrees, but later, he decides to leave her in the room with the wallpaper, saying, “afterward he said I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies” (Gilman 134).

The wallpaper becomes a focal point of this story because it represents her husband’s determination to control his wife and keep her trapped. In the article “Too Terribly Good To Be Printed,” Shumaker says, “yet she is so completely trapped in her role that she can express that knowledge only indirectly, in a way that hides it from her conscious mind” (Shumaker 597). Obviously, his actions are not what we call loving.

The way she is trapped by the control her husband has over her, and the room he has put her in, makes the narrator feel her voice in life is constantly repressed. Every desire she has is overlooked; she feels trapped. Her ability to see a woman in the wallpaper, and the feeling of this woman being trapped just like her, is vivid. She sees the woman trying to get out, in the same way she tries but fails to voice her desires and change her circumstances.

Janie’s marriage with Jody in “Their Eyes Were Watching God” showcases the control of men over women with the symbolism of Janie’s head rags. The head rags represent not just the control Janie experiences in her first marriage but also Jody’s jealousy aimed at his wife and other men, demonstrating how Jody makes her feel ugly and incompetent. Jody was jealous when other men admired Janie, so he insisted she wear her hair up.

Even the townsfolk wondered about it, asking, “Whut make her keep her head tied up lak some ole ‘oman round de store? Nobody couldn’t git me tuh tie no rag on mah head if Ah had hair lak dat” (Hurston 49). Jody restricted not only how much of herself she could show but also how many words she could speak. “That was because Joe never told Janie how jealous he was. He never told her how often he had seen the other men figuratively wallowing in it as she went about things in the store” (Hurston, 55). Janie found this unnecessary.

Joe’s actions showed that he was built entirely upon pride, completely suppressing anything that might make the other townspeople take notice of Janie. In the article “Feminist Fantasies,” Jordan states, “Janie’s marriage to Jody Starks is the devaluation and aloneness of the middle-class woman whose sole purpose is to serve as an ornament and symbol of her husband’s social status”(Jordan 108).

The head rag was a way of putting women in their place. It symbolized the way women are restricted and controlled by society to hide their true potential. The head rag constrains their abilities by keeping them bound to their limitations, denying opportunities for self-improvement.

Charlotte, in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, writes to satisfy her desire to regain control of her life. When she writes, it not only gives her the opportunity to confess her feelings but also to voice the things she really yearns to say to John. John, however, tries to stifle her writing. She says, “There comes John, and I must put this away—he hates to have me write a word” (Gilman 133). He believes writing isn’t beneficial for people who are ill, and insists it will hinder her recovery. Writing is the only thing keeping her sane, but she can’t write freely. She is forced to conceal her words so John doesn’t find them.

In “Too Terribly Good To Be Printed”, Shumaker states, “Thus the journal provides an opportunity not only to confess her deceit and explain its necessity but also to say the things she really wants to say to John and would say if his insistence on truthfulness, saying what he wants to hear, didn’t prevent her. As both her greatest deception and her attempt to be honest, the journal embodies in its very form the absurd contradictions inherent in her role as a wife” (Shumaker 593).

Despite this, the narrator continues to write in her journal, keeping it a secret from everyone around her. Forced to suppress her self-expression, she hides all her anxieties and fears to maintain the façade of a happy marriage and to pretend she is conquering her illness. Yet, John’s prohibition to write compels her to be secretive, which results in an exacerbation of her disease. The narrator gradually isolates herself within what she perceives to be her reality, and the repression of her self-expression eventually pushes her towards insanity.

The symbol of freedom in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is represented when the narrator rips the wallpaper, signifying her newfound freedom. While she is isolated in the room, John’s wife begins to spend significant time with the wallpaper, fixating on the patterns, which seem to reflect her true self and craving for freedom. In the novel, the narrator exclaims, “I’ve got out at last, said I, in spite of you and Jane!

And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (Gilman 147). The “Creeping Women”, whom she visualizes, grappling ceaselessly against the paper, symbolically represents her ardor to liberate herself from this relationship and discard both societal expectations about a woman’s role within the home, and the trivialization and inequality within her marriage.

As she rips the paper from the wall, she is free, becoming a “creeping woman” of her own self, liberated, and no longer under control. In the article, “Too Terribly Good To Be Printed,” Shumaker says, “In the terribly comic ending, she has destroyed both the wallpaper and her own identity: now she is the woman from behind the barred pattern, and not even Jane, the wife she once was, can put her back”(Shumaker 597-598). Conrad Shumaker suggests that the narrator has finally gained her freedom. She is free only from the need to deceive herself and others about the true nature of her role. She has finally discovered and finally revealed to John the wife he is attempting to create: the woman without illusions or imagination who spends all her time creeping.

Jody’s death represents Janie’s freedom. Even with all the domination that Janie underwent within her marriage, she stayed until his death. Upon the death of Joe, Janie stated, “Ah jus’ loves dis freedom” (Hurston 93). We are aware that Janie is overjoyed to be free from the overpowering, prideful man she had mistaken as classy and intellectual.

Upon her freedom from Joe, Janie burns the head rags he forced her to hide her hair with, severing the ties that bound her to him and his view of her. When Janie finally removed her head rag, it symbolized the realization of what she could be capable of. It allowed Janie to feel beautiful, to be free and independent after being tied to the head rag that symbolized her husband. It made Janie realize the potential and power she now holds.

It made her think again and unbound her from the social construct that Jody dictated regarding what she can and cannot do. In the article, “Feminist Fantasies,” Jordan states, “the illness and death provide Janie with the opportunity for self-direction and control of her life” (Jordan 112). After Jody’s death, she actively ended her role as his wife, which left her an option to define her own roles. Janie gains strength from Joe’s death; his domination made Janie a stronger person. No longer is Janie restricted from friendships and socializing with the townspeople. With Jody’s death, Janie has gained the freedom she has long desired.”

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Position of Women. (2021, Oct 15). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/position-of-women/