Women and Society in Literature

Posted: October 23rd, 2013





Women and Society in Literature

Among the themes illustrated in literature involves the influence of the society over women. By focusing on women and the influence the society impacts on them in literature, the reader is able to determine the importance of themes linking subjects within different literary genres (Kennedy & Gioia, 189). Concerning this case, the subject of women and society will undergo a critical analysis in the short story, A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner, the poems, White Lies and Her Kind by Natasha Trethewey and Anne Sexton respectively and the novel, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. The subject of women and the impact the society has on them is a vital matter to consider. For many years, society has possessed control over women especially in areas involving education and vocation. These pieces of literature provide a singular illustration on the way social control influences women in different ways and the significant effects it influences among them.

Overview & Analysis of Literature

Short Story: William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”

The short story, “A Rose for Emily”, by William Faulkner provides an illustration of the macabre surroundings that exists around Emily Grierson. As such, the story revolves around a woman facing complexities of adapting to the perceived status quo regarding marriage. The setting outlines a period immediately after the end of the Civil War. As a member of Southern aristocracy, Emily undergoes serious changes within her social cycle starting with the death of the last surviving member of her clan, her father. This is because Emily did not participate in the leadership duties associated with the clan, which gain assumption by men. Since Emily did not possess any experience in decision-making especially in matters involving her personal life, the death of her father made her confused and disoriented regarding the subsequent steps that she would take in order to ensure her survival. Even after her father dies, Emily is confused to the point that she leaves her father’s body to rot within her house. This indicates the manner in which she was unable to make decisions as well the need to have her father beside her in order to assist her in decision-making.

Additionally, Emily also faces challenges in agreeing to give her hand in marriage based on the assumption that she cannot marry a man of low status. In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, before her father’s death, Emily Grierson underwent control from her father to the point that she could not make her own decisions irrespective of her being a woman in her adulthood years. Furthermore, her father controlled her by coercing her not to marry men who were below their family’s perceived status. According to Faulkner (31), “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such”. This illustrated the manner in which her father possessed control over her even after his death to the point that she could not marry her choice.

Further complexity within Emily’s life gains depiction where she ends up possessing a formidable connection with Homer Barron. Her relationship causes a furor in society since the community deems Homer as a man of lower and deplorable status, a factor that Emily, despite her earlier nuances towards status, seems to ignore. As indicated from the mentioned texts, the subject of women and society revolves consistently within the specified literary texts. One of the main issues explored involves the controlled position of women in the society. Based on the chronology of these particular literatures, it is evident that women played a domesticated and controlled role in society.

Poem 1: Natasha Trethewey’s “White Lies”

In the poem, “White Lies”, Natasha Trethewey provides a lucid account of a biracial woman in a racist society in her life as a young girl. The persona of the poem utilizes flamboyant color imagery in order to create an illustration of racism as well as existing moral predicaments in the old South by the end of the 20th century. As such, the poem provides an accurate and real-time event of the author’s experience with bigotry while living in the South. This is in accordance to the fact that the South acknowledged slavery as a law. The persona provides a primary account of the social problem of racism she faced while growing up. The society Natasha grew in supported racial segregation. Most African-Americans experienced slavery as well as considerable discrimination based on the color of their skin. As such, the persona illustrates the dilemma she faced as a biracial by lying to her white comrades about the things she did which gained consideration as white.

Further evidence of social control over women is evident in Trethewey’s “White Lies”. As mentioned, the poem illustrated the life of a biracial woman living in the racist region of the South. The author recounts her biracial life as a girl living in a racist society. Verification of control over women in the respective society is evident whereby; the conduct of the society regarding the races of White Americans and African Americans undergoes extensive alteration in order to favor one group over another. As such, in affecting conduct, the society deemed the White community is superior over African Americans within the South. As such, the woman, as a girl undergoes control from the society when she denies her African-American background based on the white lies she tells to her friends. This is evident where the author alleges, “I could easily tell the white folks that we lived uptown, not in that pink and green shanty-fied shotgun section along the tracks” (Trethewey, 680).

Poem 2: Anne Sexton’s “Her Kind”

In the poem, “Her Kind”, Anne Sexton provides an account of the stereotypes attached to women based on the role they assume in the society as the lesser sex. The persona’s contention focuses on the manner in which the modern woman undergoes negative stereotypes based on her liberation from conventional societal practices. As such, the poem outlines the shift regarding the position of the woman in the society. The author expresses a feminist passion based on her personal experiences within her respective society. Because of the momentous nervous breakdowns and admission to hospitals specializing in neuropsychiatry, the author gained a label as an outcast by the society. The society viewed her as a psychopath and a mentally disabled person. This allegation from the society motivated the persona to support the image of the modern women regardless of the view of the society towards her.

Such a connection of women’s controlled nature is also evident in Sexton’s “Her Kind” in which the author deems herself as an outcast based on her power and subsequently, her authority over the controlling institutions set by the society over women. Sexton alleges that, during conventional times, society expected women to live enclosed lives. In addition, as such, women underwent control based on the expectations society reserved for them. Typically, women were to be kind and tender. Thus, they were restricted from “dreaming evil” (Sexton, 687). Nonetheless, this depicts the control the society possesses over the woman to the point that the modern woman gains reputation as a rebel and a non-conformist. Furthermore, the modern woman breaks this control stemming from traditional views of women by being open with her thoughts and supporting herself on her own. The modern woman receives empowerment while seeking education and receiving a steady career instead of a domestic living. Thus, such a woman does not stay within the customary stereotype, “A woman like that is not a woman quite” (Sexton 687).

Text of Own Choice: Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

In the novel, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley provides a narrative of the creation of a monstrous creature by the peculiar scientist, Victor Frankenstein. The author narrates a first-person account of Victor Frankenstein from the obsessions he possessed as a child in learning ancient science theories and postulations regarding the accomplishment of natural amazements. As such, Victor possesses the ability to duplicate creation as well as determine the fate of the entities he creates. For instance, after creating his monstrous creature, Victor proceeds towards creating a female companion for the monster in order for him to be happy since man cannot experience absolute happiness without the presence of a woman. The controlling nature of the society on women is evident where Victor, while creating the woman for the monster decides to destroy it based on the reasoning that the offspring arising from the woman would actually bring disaster to the whole mind.

The controlled nature of women is also evident within Shelley’s Frankenstein. Even though the novel acknowledges a considerable role played by men within the novel, it also comprises significant instances of social control regarding women in the conventional society. This is evident whereby Victor Frankstein possesses the power to control the creation of a female companion as well as her ability to give birth. Frankenstein promised to make a female companion for his reanimated creature based on the creature’s request to have a woman beside him in order to live in happiness as an outcast together with his companion. Nonetheless, after Frankenstein thinks of the absurd ramifications that creating a female companion would pose, he immediately destroys the female creature.

According to Frankenstein, providing a female companion to the creature would lead to the procreation of more creatures such as his original creation that may plague all humanity in the coming future (Shelley, 191). This represents the social control of men over women in determining their reproductive right to procreation, which was a factor eminent in past as well as current society. This connects directly to the influence the society possesses on determining the reproductive privileges of a woman. Furthermore, the fact that Shelley uses Victor, a man, as the creator and determinant of the female creature’s current and future life, indicates the manner in which the society, under man’s control, determines a woman’s reproductive life regardless of what the woman desires.


In conclusion, literary criticism of the four literary compositions illustrates the controlled nature of women within the society. Furthermore, it also portrays the consistent role of the society in controlling women through the implementation of traditional standards that favor men over women. As illustrated by William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, Anne Sexton’s Her Kind, Natasha Trethewey’s White Lies and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the institutions placed by the society regarding women focus on standardizing them and controlling every aspect of their life to the point that going against such norms and values labels them as outcasts. As such, an analysis of the texts provides the reader with an absolute and deep perspective regarding the status of women in the society and the various approaches of control that the society possesses over women in past and contemporary eras.


Works Cited

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily”. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Eds. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Boston: Longman, 2010. 29-34. Print.

Kennedy, X J, and Dana Gioia. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Boston: Longman, 2010. Print.

Sexton, Anne. “Her Kind.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Eds. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Boston: Longman, 2010. 687. Print.

Shelley, Mary W. Frankenstein. London: Penguin Books, 1818. Print.

Trethewey, Natasha. “White Lies.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Eds. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Boston: Longman, 2010. 680. Print.


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