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Consider Hardy's portrayal of female characters in society in two or more of the short stories you have read in, 'The Withered Arm and Other Wessex Tales'.

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Introduction

Consider Hardy's portrayal of female characters in society in two or more of the short stories you have read in, 'The Withered Arm and Other Wessex Tales' 'The Withered Arm and Other Wessex Tales' is set in Wessex, a fictional place in South West England, on Dorset. It is set in the mid 19th Century where there was a huge gulf between the rich and the poor and many people had begun to migrate to the city to find work. Farming traditions and families were dying out. Hardy began to question whether this was real progress or were we losing the community values and traditions upon which the society had been built. He especially focuses on the portrayal of women; they are seen to be beneath men and are restricted by the boundaries of class. Hardy often highlights these prejudices by his choices of location; the women I have looked at are often isolated and are spectators watching their own life go past. Although they are not all weak they have all been restricted in one way or another by society's treatment of women. In 'The Withered Arm' Rhoda has a very skeletal appearance: 'A thin faced woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest'. Hardy portrays her isolation in the story through aspects of her life. ...read more.

Middle

This highlights her pride in the story. She tries to pretend she is not interested in Gertrude but we know she is because we can see it always on her mind. Hardy is showing that some women can still retain personal dignity. Gertrude starts to change when her arm becomes withered. We start to see similarities between her and Rhoda, and she becomes desperate to fit in and win back his love, so desperate that she is obsessed with finding a cure for her withered arm. Once she has this deformation she feels that her husband no longer loves her. She feels she needs to be pretty so he loves her. This shows us that the man was in control of the relationship and the woman just had to try and please him. We start to feel sympathy for both of the characters in the story as Gertrude becomes paler and is unable to have a child, which is ironic because Rhoda had actually given farmer Lodge an illegitimate son. By the end of the story Rhoda and Gertrude are together again, both women are haggard and are unhappy. Their unhappiness has been caused by social and class prejudice. ...read more.

Conclusion

Sophy's life treats her harshly, she is a good example of some one steadily destroyed by the unforgiving and snobbish society in which she lives. 'She soon lost the artificial tastes she had acquired from him.' In making Sophy the defenceless victim of class prejudice, we see Hardy's thought on distinctions and divides between people is ruthless. The description of her funeral shows the desolation of her death. She had sacrificed her happiness, and hence her life, in order that her son may not be socially damaged by her marrying Sam. In Hardy's short stories I find him questioning the older tradition of the weaker women being more attractive and sees the way forward through stronger females. He wants our sympathy for women. He shows them with unnecessary hardships and it's not fair that these good people should have these lives. For example in 'The Distracted Preacher' Lizzy is the only truly independent character in all of the stories. There is a glimmer of hope in her situation as she is independent, thrill seeking and determined, in the end of the original version of the story she again end's up not happy as she marries the smuggler. However, in an alternative ending, he published later on she does not marry this man. This confirms Hardy's view that women deserve more. They should not be subservient to men. Hardy's view ties in with modern ideology- equality between the sexes. ...read more.

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