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Discuss Hardy's Portrayal of Women in The Withered Arm

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Introduction

Thomas Wingate (June 16 2001) The Withered Arm: Discuss Hardy's Portrayal of Women in The Withered Arm In The Withered Arm, Hardy portrays women in many ways, but principally both positively and negatively. In those times, in early Victorian England, women often were judged according to their beauty: thus, the prettier the girl (providing that she had a good family and breeding), the wealthier and more powerful man she would marry. This story was set in a rural English West Country area around 1850, when most women used to work under rough conditions and led a hard tiring life. If this short story were set in the 21st century, it would be very different because women's rights are respected more and women do not have to work under such hard conditions. In this story there are two women, Gertrude and Rhoda. Mr. Lodge had a son with Rhoda but then he left her for Gertrude who is a young beautiful lady. There is the presence of negative stereotypical images portrayed in The Withered Arm. ...read more.

Middle

Since the village in which this story took place was quite small (no more than 1000 inhabitants) gossip spreads very easily and very quickly, and eventually everybody would find out about a rumour. Probably the worst characteristic about women in this story is jealousy: we realize this when Rhoda asks her son to go and spy on Gertrude to see if she has "rough hands or soft white hands". Rhoda was very jealous because Gertrude essentially was her replacement. Life in those days was very boring and so, over generations, one can understand women and children inventing their own superstitions and witchcrafts. That is why Gertrude believed that she would be healed if she did what the Conjuror told her to do. Also, some women were accessories for men because men gave their wives all the economic stability that they needed; therefore they had to obey their husbands because they had legal and moral authority over them. The single women had to do all the work themselves. Women lacked economic independence because generally men had more education - even if little - and they possessed higher paying jobs. ...read more.

Conclusion

Interestingly, Hardy used pathetic fallacy in The Withered Arm. One example is when Gertrude was travelling to the wicket. She was tired and the day was horrible and the atmosphere around her reflected what she was feeling inside. The women are within and a part of their natural surroundings. Hardy repeats many times that women were objects to men and that they possess their own sense of determination to live as they wish to live. This repetition is used so that the reader understands the emphasis, namely, a key idea which the author is trying to transmit through the story. Thus, in this context, it is very interesting how Hardy blends the contrasts and the similarities of the two women. We may conclude that the working class women in the world of Hardy's tale were seen as child-bearers, invariably accessories for men. It would have been very different had this story been set in the 21st century. We do feel sympathy for these women rather than empathy because we have not gone what they have gone through. Not only that, life in those days was very different for women of different classes, and this economic distinction accentuates the different fates represented through their lives. ...read more.

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