• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12
  13. 13
  14. 14
  15. 15
  16. 16
  17. 17
  18. 18
  19. 19

Shifting Gender Norms: The Ideal Woman in Story of an African Farm.

Extracts from this document...


Shifting Gender Norms: The Ideal Woman in Story of an African Farm The true genius of The Story of an African Farm is not in the unusual way it is constructed, although critic Patricia Murphy praises author Olive Schreiner's non-linear, feminine time in the novel and the ways cyclical time influences the story's development. Neither does the novel's true achievement lie in its artistic allegories, though Schreiner is commended for her mythological uses of South Africa's landscape (Marquard, 294), and for the meaningful "Hunter Tale" told by Waldo's stranger in the novel's center ("Politics of Power," 585). The most remarkable, complex aspect of the work has to be the way that it attempts to define gender norms for women, enlarging their potential role in society to equal the scope of a man's station. This facet of Schreiner's best-known book is the reason that she has become famous as, "a feminist who hated being a woman" (Showalter, 195), and the reason that African Farm has endured as an early feminist manifesto. Like other novels written by women in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, Schreiner's book attempts to expose the precarious position in society in which women of the time found themselves. Schreiner does not have a single character embody all the roles and positions of women; using three women characters, Schreiner successfully captures the whole spectrum of possibility for women of the time. These three characters, with their different attitudes and relationships with men, embody Showalter's three stages of women novelists (feminine, feminist, female): Tant' Sannie, the monstrous epitome of the traditional Victorian woman, imitating and internalizing the prevailing standards for women; Emily, who in her attitude towards marriage protests against traditional Victorian standards and advocates new values; and Lyndall, the primary heroine, who seeks her own place in the world unhindered by society's values. She serves as a model for what is known as the "new woman." ...read more.


The relationship of Em and Gregory demonstrates some of the perils that women like Em (Showalter's feminists) face in relationships. When a relationship is based solely on something as indefinable as romantic love the risk is always present that one party in the relationship feels more than the other. The fact that Em chooses not to marry Gregory because of his feelings for her cousin and that she is comfortable with her place in the world-on the farm-alone or with a husband shows how far she has developed as a person. This development is especially noticeable when Em is compared to Tant' Sannie, with her unyielding appetite for her next spouse. Sannie says to Em, "If a woman's got a baby and a husband she's got the best things the Lord can give to her" (227), clearly voicing her Victorian ideas of the limited place for a woman in the world. Younger and more open to change, Em does not make the oppressive, black-or-white statements that Sannie does. She merely states that "Perhaps it [marriage] might not suit all people, at all times, as well as it suits you, Tant' Sannie" (227). Em, according to this statement, is more concerned with what works for each individual-emotionally and socially-rather than what society dictates. Likewise, Em also stands out from Tant' Sannie's model of women in her relationships with other women. While Sannie seems to constantly compete with the women she is around, Em actually loves Lyndall, who is her closest competition for attention. Sannie either rules over other women, like her Hottentot maid, or she competes with them. The episode in which she chastises Em for the new method she uses to make soap reveals her position (227); as the epitome of woman empowered by Victorian society she is very interested in policing other women. Fortunately, Em listens to her rant about the coming plague from God without heeding, wondering only of the changed, enlivened state Sannie has achieved. ...read more.


But before she runs away with her mysterious lover, she thinks of marrying Gregory because she will be able to ignore him, rule him, and maintain her power despite him (173). This sounds very much like Tant' Sannie's idea of the marriage union. Still, Lyndall recognizes that this way of empowering herself is not for her and flees with the stranger on the condition that they not marry (179). This is the last we encounter her directly as Schreiner has her die after an illness from childbirth. She has done the unthinkable in choosing to completely reject the role of woman that society offers based on her own self-knowledge-that role would not fit her. She instead decides to take her chances in the unknown, outside of society in the effort of forging a new way for women to retain self-respect and power. The Story of an African Farm is not a perfect novel. Schreiner biographer Clayton Cherry notes that many 19th century critics claimed to make no sense of its non-linear narrative and disliked its didacticism (29). For its supposed flaws it is a novel filled with white feathers from the bird of truth in Waldo's hunter's story. The character Lyndall is a prototypical female straight from Elaine Showalter's theory of 19th century women novelists, but more importantly she has come to be regarded as a model for females that followed her. Looking at her from inside the novel, set against the other women of the work, her status of new woman is undeniable. The courage that she shows in departing from her prescribed "place in society" is one of the aspects of this book that makes it inspirational. African Farm is an important work that directly deals with the issues that women of the 19th century actually faced. By creating three characters that embody different ideals of womanhood Schreiner demonstrates how society's "gender norms" may be made to shift to fit women, rather than women having to shift to fit roles. The genius of the novel is in the complex way "right" behavior for both men and women is called into question. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Sociology section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Sociology essays

  1. The Go-between, while a powerful story of a young boy’s premature involvement in an ...

    For example the conversations held between Leo and Marcus that contain the use of schoolboy slang "prayer buggins." Leo's obsession with nudity is another step towards losing his innocence "My notions of decency were vague and ill-defined, as were all my ideas relating to sex", but we see that he

  2. Comparison between 'Woman Work' and 'Overheard in County Sligo'

    The woman in Woman work is not well off. We know this as she says 'Star shine, Moon glow, you're all that I can call my own.' This implies that she does not own materialistic possessions. It could also imply that she does not even own her own time, as it is always taken up by doing the household chores.

  1. Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 - review

    connection to his blood and feels he is made whole through it. When Mildred's blood is replaced after she overdoses, it has no effect on her. Mildred already lives a half life existence and has no connection with her primal self, hence has no connection with her blood.

  2. The Go-between, while a powerful story of a young boys premature involvement in an ...

    His loss of interest in things like the haystack symbolises his loss of innocence Now the thought of the farmyard had lost its magic for me. There are also various reminders of Leos age throughout the novel, which contribute to the emphasis of his loss of innocence.

  1. In what ways is the concept of gender useful in the study of ancient ...

    social system managed by men: their influence was not to be publicly acknowledged.'16 However, it has also been recorded that other imperial women had infiltrated the very male event of patronage. Octavia had acted or had interceded with male relatives as a patron, also, Messalina and Agrippina the Younger, were the patrons of Claudius' freedmen, such as Narcissus.

  2. Money and Power still remains with Caucasians

    Indians were the largest minority group, followed by Pakistanis, those of mixed ethnic backgrounds, Black Caribbeans, Black Africans, and Bangladeshis. The remaining minority ethnic groups each accounted for less than 0.5 per cent but together accounted for a further 1.4 per cent of the UK population.

  1. The Hindu Woman: Life under the Laws of Manu

    But his laws reflect a conflict even within himself... He averred that a mother is more to be revered than a thousand fathers, yet his laws place women socially on a level with the lowest of all groups in Aryan society, the Sudra" (Das & Quayson, 1932:27-28).

  2. Free essay

    What was distinctive about gender roles in the nineteenth century?

    Both character and sexuality were seen in more sharply gendered terms than ever before or since".4 The Middle-Class females were expected to be of indirect economic help by raising children and managing the cost of domestic chores. "At a time when the concept of occupation was becoming the core element

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work