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The Characters' Conformation to Social Restrictions in the stories The Gilded Six-Bits by Zora Neale Hurtson and The Waltz, by Dorothy Parker.

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Introduction

American Literature of the 20th Century, 4.287 Wednesday, July 30, 2003 The Characters' Conformation to Social Restrictions In the stories The Gilded Six-Bits by Zora Neale Hurtson and The Waltz, by Dorothy Parker, the main characters find themselves acting under the tight social constraints that society projects on them. Their gender, race and class all dictate how they see themselves and how others see them, and therefore how they must act. Missie May, Joe and the narrator of The Waltz are all puppets to convention, although not always conscious of it. Through this essay I will demonstrate the social restrictions and rules that existed for people of color and women in the early 1900s, with evidence from the text. The Gilded Six-Bits is a moving story of frustration and greed. In the home of a poor young black couple in the southern states is where our scene takes place. As we find out, Missie May is an attractive black newly married homemaker who takes pride in her husband's hard work and in her own work around the house. Her husband who works at a fertilizer company adores her, and puts her on a pedestal and yet expects her to stay in her role as a subservient homemaker. As is demonstrated in the story, Missie May struggles with her social restrictions and expectations. Firstly, the color of her skin decrees of what class she is. ...read more.

Middle

"Ah ain't never been noewhere and Ah ain't got nothin but you." (p.1441) Joe also feels the need to parade Missie around to show off what he's got: "Go 'head on now, honey and put on yo' clothes. He talkin' 'bout his pritty womens - Ah want 'im to see mine." (p.1442) Another instance of keeping in the role of a lady is when Joe refuses to give Missie a second helping of the tater pone: "Nope, sweetenin' is for us men-folks. Y'all pritty lil frail eels don't need nothin' lak dis. You too sweet already." (p.1440) I interpret this to mean he doesn't want her to take more because it isn't lady-like to have seconds and he wants her to keep her nice figure so he can show her off. His possessive attitude changes when he catches Missie May in bed with Otis D. Slemmons. His attitude towards her changes immensely. She no longer has 'marital duties', but still must maintain the cleaning and cooking. This makes her more of a slave than a wife, because she is supposed to do these things as a wife, but once the intimacy is gone, what is left is the bare bones of being a wife, which is to cook and to clean for the husband. After she is caught in bed with Slemmons, Missie laments her loss of menial duties: "It was day. Nothing more. Joe wouldn't be coming home as usual. ...read more.

Conclusion

It didn't hurt the least little bit. And anyway it was my fault. Really it was. Truly. Well, you're just being sweet, to say that. It really was all my fault.' Die he must and die he shall, for what he did to me. I don't want to be the over-sensitive type, but you can't tell me that kick was unpremeditated...but when it comes to kicking, I am Outraged Womanhood. When you kick me in the shin, smile." (p.1463) Mary apologizes profusely, and is always saving the man's embarrassment, always cradling the man's ego. This high-class woman is expected to stay mute about her opinions and stoop to pleasing the man. Even though she is not serving a man directly as Missie May serves Joe, Mary is in a sense serving under male society's laws. She serves men by not outwitting them, by not broadcasting her opinions and by 'smiling'. Mary is just as servile as Missie May in that she obeys a man based society. The three characters discussed in this essay, from The Gilded Six-Bits and The Waltz, all deal with the challenges of their roles in society differently. Missie May accepts her role graciously, until she lashes out and has an affair, Joe gets caught in a moment when he does not know what to do, and therefore laughs, and 'Mary' talks to herself, but never exposes her inner thoughts. No matter the class, race or gender they all found ways to cope with the roles society had imposed on them. ...read more.

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