femininity and masculinity

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Since time immemorial, several authors have discussed the social construction of humans in various ways. They also long investigated the bond between the sexes, providing a reflection mirror that society regards as socially correct and which should be so for peaceful coexistence. While various authors can portray their views on society and its social system in different ways, the similarities of themes in these writings are obvious and should not be overlooked for whatever purpose. Othello by Shakespeare; Tale of an Hour by Chopin and Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, work collectively to bring to the surface the themes of masculinity and femininity in their respective cultural settings. The authors have successfully contemplated the wayward idea of women as being something more than docile. This paper seeks to analyze the themes of femininity and masculinity as considered by the writers for being the level of equality and freedom of the era.

Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour admittedly represents the forms of oppressions that women have to live through in the society. The protagonist in the story, Louise Mallard does not only suffer in her marital and medical status, but also exposes herself to threats, as Josephine warns (Rich 158). The danger is particularly observable since every action present in the story rotates within the preservation of Louise Mallard. In fact, everything is deemed to deliver her from any extreme and sudden distress. The equilibrium of her situation is what survives in the end. Brently’s return signifies the return of Louise’s oppressive condition ensuring that the protagonist experience nothing more than a momentary change of her condition. The unchanging prospect that circulates within the oppressive condition is what proves Louise Mallard, or rather her situation fatal to her existence (Rich 164).

As culminated in the diagnosis by the doctor, Mallard is not only a subject to feminine but also a subject of masculine discourse of the narration. This discourse that is already fixed at the beginning is what pronounces her dead at end. The story introduces her as “Mrs. Mallard” (May 4) and refers to her as “she” for the better part of the story, she is addressed by her name only after she has become “free! Body and soul free!” (May 39). The change and denomination is however short-lived as her status of “wife” is already established in the story.

The medical condition of Louise in the narrative is also a construct of the masculine world. Undoubtedly, the medical profession is identified as male-dominated, yet is not capable of treating her heart difficulties. Louise perceived frailty is what prompts Richard to perform chivalric intercession. The narrator also puts that Louise “as a child who has cried itself to sleep.” (Chopin and Gemma 12). Similarly, Louise’s marriage is a representation of the women’s statuses in the in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries that see women as subjects to the patriarch’s “powerful will bending hers.” (Chopin and Gemma 38). Although her husband “had never looked save with love upon her,” he was not concerned with Louise’s happiness (Chopin and Gemma 62).

Change becomes perceptible to Louise when she finds out that her husband is dead. Perceiving her husband’s death as an absolute happiness is a landscape that reflects the agony she lived in. Instead of getting paralyzed and accepting the difficulty of living without her husband, Louise is motivated and enliven (Rich 45). Like many other women of her era, she can only live and be the master of her life after the death of her husband and that “she would live for herself.” (Chopin and Gemma 176). The failure to have children of her own might have been ascribed by the same doctors making the feminine discourse to completely fail (Rich 165). The protagonist cannot attend to Brently at old age and she is of no value in the masculine world where women lived for others.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart indicates the feminine and masculine nature of cultures influenced by an individual’s gender. The gender characterization is that which identifies and portrays men as stronger as and more powerful than their counterpart women who are thought to be submissive and to some degree weaker (Jackson 12). Throughout the narrative, Okwonko’s thought and evidence of his masculinity earns him respect within and beyond his community (Achebe 1-278).

In his community, the protagonist earns a lot of praise following his success in defending his community and the masculinity traits. The kind of integration with masculinity sees Okwonko become an “outcast” and even leads to his death. However, Okwonko believes that he would rather die than to summit to femininity (Achebe 178). Accordingly, a man’s action that is feminine is considered a humiliation. Unoka, Okwonko’s father is a perfect example of a man having a humiliating personality (Achebe 74). At the point of his death, Unoka had not acquired any title and was heavily in debt, thus he was labeled “agbala”; meaning a man with no tittle, or simply a woman (Achebe 156).

The masculinity presented in Achebe’s literary piece is perhaps the reflection of the society that defines what being a man entails. This kind of masculinity cannot be adjusted in womanly way otherwise the man becomes “useless” and unfit for respect (Jackson 34). It becomes impossible for a man to live with such cowardice trait and as such one would perish instead of submitting to cowardliness, a trait associated with women.

William Shakespeare’s Othello can also be read from a feminist angle. Feminist analysis of the book allows the readers to judge the varying social status and values of women in the Elizabethan society as well those in the early twentieth century. Shakespeare successfully demonstrates the expectations of patriarchal society showing privileges and practices of patriarchal marriages and the restriction and suppression of femininity. According to the Elizabethan society constructed on renaissance belief, the main role of women was to marry; a single occupation with huge responsibilities of child rearing and house management (Appignanesi et al. 23). Nevertheless, women were expected to be chaste, be silent, and obedient to men, Desdemona herself declares that “I am obedient” (Appignanesi et al. 24). This kind of rule justified the subordination of women as a natural order since they were thought to be psychologically and physiologically inferior to men.

Duke’s action of granting Desdemona permission to accompany Othello to Cyprus is ironically described as an act of “honesty and trust” (Appignanesi et al. 43). Brabantio’s act of assigning his wife Desdemona to Othello as the husband is a kind of possession treatment implying that women were just but like other commodities which could be guarded and transported at men’s will. Lago, Emillia’s husband also has desire to revenge on Othello for sleeping with his wife (Appignanesi 62). It is justified to argue that Lago has no love and respect for his wife when he publicly insults her and ultimately kills her. The evened desire of Lago for Othello’s wife indicates that by spending with Desdemona, Othello and Lago will be equal (Appignanesi 74). Although he is an extreme example, Lago represents through his thinking, the idea that women in the Venetian and Elizabethan society were possession and just existed to satisfy the desires of men.

Indeed the oppressions under which the women in the Venetian period are unusual for the time and are evident in both The Story of an Hour and Othello. The definition of their happiness is determined by their commitment to the expected “woman’s perspective” and that which it holds beyond the male’s discourse horizon. Similarly, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a perfect representation of masculinity that is detrimental; nonetheless it still shows the only way of distinguishing men from women.

Works Cited

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Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. , 2017. Print.

Appignanesi, Richard, et al. “Othello.” Manga Shakespeare, 2009.

Chopin, Kate, and Gemma Correll. The Story of an Hour and Other Stories. Portland, Or: Good Ink, 2011. Print.

Jackson, Ronald L, and Murali Balaji. Global Masculinities and Manhood. , 2017. Internet resource.

May, Charles E. Masterplots Literature: Short Story Series. Pasadena, Calif. Salem Press, 2004. Print.

Rich, Charlotte. “Kate Chopin.” A Companion to the American Short Story, 2010, pp. 152–270, doi:10.1002/9781444319910.ch11

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