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Explore How The Women Are Portrayed In The Texts The Withered Arm and Lamb To The Slaughter.

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Explore How The Women Are Portrayed In The Texts The Withered Arm and Lamb To The Slaughter The main characters in the two texts, The Withered Arm and Lamb to the Slaughter are female: Rhoda Brook and Gertrude Lodge in The Withered Arm by Thomas Hardy and Mary Maloney in Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl. Both are stories primarily about women but written by men. Despite the gulf between the centuries - the Withered Arm was written in 1880 and Lamb to the Slaughter in the mid to late 20th century - there are many similarities in both the way the women are portrayed and the problems they face. Rhoda Brook is lower, or working class - she is a milkmaid. Her physical appearance is not described in great depth but we are told that she is a 'thin, fading woman of thirty'. Hardy also describes her as being 'once handsome'. She is a single mother and after having had an affair with the owner of the farm, Farmer Lodge, who is the father of her child, she was rejected from being his wife, which at the time she would have welcomed, as she is of a much lower social class than Lodge. 'Fading' and 'once handsome' are used by Hardy to help highlight the status of Rhoda's relationship with Farmer Lodge, ie it is past tense. In that era a woman's status would be defined by her husband's status, and so by implication, we learn that Rhoda had no social status - she is in fact an outcast. The fact of her being an unmarried mother would make this even worse because in the 1800's it was considered shameful for women to have sex outside of marriage and so a child outside wedlock would be condemned by all of society. But men, in this case Farmer Lodge, lost no respect, as it was deemed to be acceptable for them to behave in this way, to 'sow their wild oats', even when they subsequently neglected to provide for any resulting children, as was the case with Farmer Lodge. ...read more.


At that time, this would probably have suggested a porcelain doll and porcelain is obviously easily broken. There is probably also a reference here to the fact that a doll is a toy or a plaything to be cast aside when one has no further use for it. Hardy also describes Gertrude as 'soft' in two separate places. In the first description he calls her soft and evanescent, and later on he calls her a 'soft-cheeked young woman'. Part of the meaning of the word evanescent is transitory or fading. The reader might remember that this had been said about Rhoda - 'a thin fading woman' - implying that her relationship with Farmer Lodge is past, and so maybe it is included, along with the rose petals which will die quickly, to give the reader insight as to what is going to happen to Gertrude in the story, ie Gertrude and Farmer Lodge's relationship will not survive long either. In comparing Rhoda and Gertrude Hardy tells us that 'there was more of the strength that endures in her (Rhoda's) well-defined features and large frame than in the soft cheeked young women' ie. Gertrude. Gertrude, at the start of the story, shows a certain amount of confidence and independence. Although she is young and inexperienced, Rhoda's son says she is 'growed up and her ways be quite a woman'. She uses her own initiative leading to her making her own friends in the form of Rhoda, and doing charitable work of her own accord - 'she gives away other things to other folks in the meads besides us', says Rhoda's son. She takes her responsibilities seriously and her role as Farmer Lodge's wife is an important one in the village. At that time, it was common for the landlord's wife to take care of the parishioners and Gertrude seems to fulfil this function competently. This side of Gertrude changes though, when Farmer Lodge starts to lose interest in her when she gets the withered arm. ...read more.


She is just doing petty jobs to make her husband's life easier, whereas the other two are actually doing work which contributes properly to society, even though in Rhoda's case, it is monotonous. It could also be argued that Mary's life is the most isolated - we are told that she has been alone all day - 'after the long hours alone in the house'. Even though Rhoda is called the 'Lorn milkmaid' and is a loner and a social outcast, she works with people every day, and in this sense, is part of society. Nevertheless, of all the women, Mary seems to achieve the best result for herself. Capitalising on her 'weakness' as a woman and using her 'feminine charm', she gets away with her crime and goes unpunished. At the end of the story she is giggling over the irony of this and has obviously experienced some kind of liberation, whereas Gertrude dies prematurely from the strain of her experiences, and Rhoda continues to an old age in a physically wearing, monotonous lifestyle. The reader would also conclude, especially from the Withered Arm, that your life and character are not wholly determined by your position in society. Hardy also illustrates, through the character of Rhoda, that intelligence is not necessarily the product of education, and certainly not, as society has often suggested, only found amongst upper and middle class people. Both Gertrude and Mary are of a much higher social standing than Rhoda and would have been educated whereas Rhoda was almost certainly illiterate. Rhoda, however, is the one who strikes the reader as most true to herself. Hardy, in particular, is also challenging the superficial value judgements of society with reference to image and physical attractiveness. Both stories therefore show to me in the ways that I have described, that the authors are, to some extent, both standing against the notions of the society of their time. They are challenging what the readers of their particular era think of as normal and showing that these ideas are not necessarily true. ...read more.

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