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Discuss Hardy's Portrayal Of Women In "The Withered Arm"

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Introduction

Discuss Hardy's Portrayal Of Women In "The Withered Arm" "The withered arm is a short story about two women who live in the English countryside. The two main women in the text are portrayed negatively by the author, Thomas Hardy. The story was written in the 19th century and thus it was acceptable to portray women negatively in this patriarchal society. At the beginning of the text Hardy's attitude towards women is made clear. The women are only given low paid menial jobs such as milking cows. The milkmaids are all working under the control of the dairyman. The dairyman has to stop the women from gossiping when he says "get on with your work or 'twill be dark afore we have done". His authority over the women brought an end to their conversation. Rhoda is portrayed as jealous in the first part of the story. She is very curious about Farmer Lodge's new wife and gets her son to report back to her on Gertrude's appearance. She tells her son "you can give her a look, and tell me what she's like". ...read more.

Middle

Gertrude is modest as she "coloured up more than ever for shame at the noise" that her dress was making. Farmer Lodge is portrayed negatively here because "he seemed pleased" by the noise the dress was making. So it can be argued women are not portrayed negatively in the story. However, Hardy only portrays Gertrude positively at first to contrast her good qualities with Rhoda's bad qualities and thus emphasise them. Also, by portraying Rhoda so positively at the start it emphasises her downfall at the end of the story. She becomes selfish, vain, and associates herself with witchcraft by visiting Trendle. So although Hardy shows Gertrude to be good, this is only a literary device used to show how bad she really is. Hardy has an old fashioned view of women that was typical of 19th century society. His view of women is reflected in the text as they are portrayed as inferior to men. Women were expected to be child-bearers. This is shown when Hardy writes about Gertrude's negative characteristics: "She had brought him no child" Hardy sees this as a reason why Gertrude's marriage is falling apart and why farmer Lodge doesn't love her anymore. ...read more.

Conclusion

Other men in the story are also shown positively, such as the dairyman who has "manly kindliness". The ending of the story shows how men were believed to be superior because Farmer Lodge prospers while Gertrude and Rhoda suffer. Gertrude "became bent and her once abundant hair white and worn away", Gertrude dies, whereas Farmer Lodge ends up a "chastened and thoughtful man" The entire story is based around Gertrude's withered arm. The problem with her arm brings about her downfall and causes Rhoda to leave the village. The injury is a physical manifestation of Rhoda's hate for Gertrude, showing how women are evil and full of hate. It shows how jealous and bitter women can get because they all ant men to look after them. It is also significant that it was Farmer Lodge who was to blame for the withered arm however it was his innocent wife who received the punishment. This shows women's subservience to men. Thus to conclude, Hardy portrays women negatively, and men positively in "The Withered Arm". His attitude to women reflects the patriarchal society he was a part of. Before the 20th century his misogynist opinions were considered normal. ...read more.

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