As human beings we experience trials and forces that contain us. Oppression is experienced by mostly everyone but as we see ourselves, or others see us as more diverse beings, oppression begins to layer. This is evident in The Help. The first layer is gender, whether you are a man or a woman you are immediately given roles to fulfill. During the times of The Help, the men provided for the family while the women were meant to be in the home. This crosses paths with class, lower class families had both parents working and middle and upper class families had just men working. Class, as a layer of oppression, dictates who works and what their work is in a family. The type of work done is often indicated by race, the third layer of oppression. In The Help, we see black women strictly as maids to white families. It is interesting to see the layers of oppression and how everyone is oppressed by different things.
Like these days in time, clothing plays a major role in the class and status of the characters in The Help. Now, we see clothing as a way of expression and reflection of who we are or who we wish to be. During the 1960’s there was not much choice in the matter according to societal status and line of work. In our class discussion about oppression, I pointed out how the maid’s uniform oppresses status and is an indicator of one’s line of work, oppressing the job of being a maid. They all wear the same uniform and I feel like the word uniform has been used so many times since we have been reading. Most of the time when Miss Skeeter did interviews, the maids were still in their white uniforms. Another example was how maids were invited to the white children’s weddings but they had to be in their uniform. This physically shows the class and status barrier that was being faced during their time. The black women were oppressed by their job as maids, it being their one indication of social status, and their uniform was the physical oppression they faced, having to wear it all the time. As for the white women in the story, their ability to wear anything they wanted and buy clothing for special occasions was an indication of their higher social and economic status. From Celia’s tight green dress to Miss Skeeter’s transformation from blue jeans and an untucked blouse to a new light blue Lady Day skirt and matching jacket for the Senator’s house, the author uses clothing to depict personalities of the white women as well as their oppression by societal standards; like how she also depicts the oppression of black women through the white maid uniforms. Clothing plays a vital role in creating the imagery of oppression in The Help.
I look forward to finishing The Help because I have enjoyed the reading so far and I enjoyed the movie. The Help gives us a humorous, sometimes light-hearted, and other times heavy-hearted, look at the community dynamic during the 1960s. From the prospective of our class, The Help gives us a nice look at a few different housewives as well as dynamic between housewives in a neighborhood community.
Miss Leeloft and Miss Hilly embody the typical white housewife during the 1960s: having other people raise their children and do the housework while they socialized with other housewives or dare I say, compete with each other to build their status in society. The people who raised their children are in a separate society or class, lower and “the help”. Within their community, they share housekeeping stories and gossip. I love how Aibileen’s ears “perk up” at lunch when they start talking about her best friend, Minny. As well as making up for where the white housewife lacks in domesticity, the black women also have to play the housewife, motherly role at their own home to their own children. Their job effects their home dynamic because they are not able to be motherly to their children like they are with the children they keep. But being help is just about the only job they can attain. It is a hard and frustrating subject to grasp and discuss.
Miss Skeeter is the fresh flower of hope and change for women in 1960s Mississippi. She embodies women and civil rights, she believes in equality, which is something that was few and far between at the time and place. I am interested to see what she does in the book, I have seen the movie and I know it will be similar but I am interested to see the differences.
So far, I love Cheaper by the Dozen! On the first page, a sentence really stood out to me: “One reason he had so many children – there were twelve of us – was that he was convinced anything he and Mother teamed up on was to be a success”. This is something we have not seen in any stories we have read, a married couple working as a unit to manage the household. Their family rides in the car seem like good bonding time and it is cool to see the family in a different setting, something other than the home. The story is told from the children’s point of view, which is interesting because we see this dynamic through their eyes. The family seems so perfect and happy together but when Lillie said “’Right now is the happiest time in the world’” I could not help but question if this was a cover or how she truly felt because of all the unhappy women we have read about. I love the dynamic of Frank and Lillie’s relationship so far but I am wondering when and how it will take a turn south. Lillie does not seem like most women we have read about. She seems happy in her position as a housewife but I feel like she also has more freedom than most housewives. Like when the girls do not want to wear dusters anymore since they got mistaken for an orphanage, Frank asserts his dominance telling the girls they are going to continue to wear them but then Lillie asserts her dominance saying that they would be done wearing them. The children narrate saying, “It was a rare thing for them to disagree”, which added to my love for their dynamic because she won the argument!! Frank answers with “’All right, Lillie, as I always say, you’re the boss’”, SO AWESOME. This made me so happy because it is an example of Lillie asserting her dominance over his. When have we seen this at all this semester?!?
I was really excited to start “Quicksand” because although it has the mostly the same themes as the other books we have read, according to the back of the book, it also incorporates race into the struggle of women being oppressed. The first chapter unravels the story of yet another woman oppressed by classism and sexism and the additional whammy of racism as her story as a teacher in a southern historically black boarding school, Naxos, is depicted. Helga Crane yearns for “complete, mental relaxation” and in the mist of this rest she questions what she wanted, how she ended up there and reveals desires of freedom from the “trivial hypocrisies and careless cruelties” of Naxos. It seemed that the school had intentions of educating black society but still talks down to them, they are somewhat trying to assimilate them into a glimpse of white society and power. Helga realizes all of this and refuses to conform as she sees the people around her have already conformed, including her fiancé, James. She sees her unconformity as proof that she can experience and become more than what others expect, or lack there of, of her. She blames her lack of family for her failure to conform in Naxos and her loneliness in Naxos. I see her not having family as her being anchorless and wanting to float and experience all that she can. Helga reveals many desires that would break her away from her current circumstances: nice things, money, rest, mental relaxation, escape, pride and vanity. She shares her plans and I see this as an indication of her want and need to experience freedom as an independent woman. We have observed this in most of the books we have read, women being oppressed but expressing some sort of want and desire to breakaway from their circumstances and societal standards, but I am interested in seeing how Helga Crane’s story pans out with being suffocated by the “quicksand” of racism.
I think the topic of abortion in Revolutionary Road is important to address because it is such a controversial issue now. Like April, married with other children, some women may find themselves in a position similar to hers. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 61% of women that get abortions in the United States have one or more children and 15% are unmarried. Right now all the rage in abortion laws is if it should be legal and should women be able to make the decision on their own. In North Carolina, as of January 14, 2014, “a woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided”. I find this really interesting because in Revolutionary Road, April was also discouraged by her husband and society. Her husband demands to have a say in her decision when she is contemplating aborting the child and seemed to have already made her decision by buying the contraption. April had hopes of moving to Paris and working but her pregnancy limited her in traveling and Frank did not want to have the child in France. When we learn that the first child they had was a mistake and they only had the second one to make the first not seem like a mistake we see Frank and April are unhappily trapped in their societal roles as parents; it seemed that they only had children because that is what society told them to do. As I tie this into today’s society, as a country we promote freedom of speech and choices; I think abortion is a choice that women should make according to their circumstances and should not be persuaded otherwise if they make the decision to abort an unborn child because considering it is their body and would end up being a major responsibility for them.
While reading The Yellow Wallpaper, I found myself predicting what would happen based off our other readings and the reoccurring theme of women being imprisoned by their husbands and society. This was indeed the case with The Yellow Wallpaper but it seemed to have a deeper meaning. I saw many similarities between Virginia Woolf in The Hours and the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper; I thought it was interesting that The Yellow Wallpaper, being a fictional piece, could be compared to a real life woman, struggling insanely to find sanity.
Woolf and the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper, both struggled to find sanity in a society where they were deemed insane and were told what was best for them instead of deciding for themselves. When the woman points out how her husband said “we solely came here on my[her] account, that I[she] was to have perfect rest and all the air I[she] could get,” I immediately thought of the scene of Woolf and her husband at the train station. The woman in The Yellow Wallpaper reminded me of their emotions and how he was isolating her for what he thought was her own good, it seemed that this is what John was doing but in The Yellow Wallpaper we get to hear the woman’s thoughts when put in this position. Being in this position, the women were both looked at as if they were weak and insane. John treated his wife like a young child that did not know what was best for her, he would guide her to do things calling her “little girl”, “my dear” or “my darling”. John also used his title as a doctor to seem more powerful over her and execute his plan to make her better, so to say. Although both women are forced to be isolated from their wants and needs, they both use writing as an outlet. I think this says a lot about their intelligence and how they should be able to make decisions for themselves and live lives that they want to live. They both are told what is best for them, which clearly drives them insane, however if they led the lives they wished to live, they would easily become sane, balanced, and strong.
One major theme that has been present in many of our readings, as well as the movie we are currently watching, is the struggle within women to find their social identity in a world that presents a picture of the perfect, submissive woman that holds it together emotionally. This is a pressing theme in women’s literature especially when written by women. In the works of Chopin and Woolf, this is explicitly depicted.
In Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” we encounter a woman who has clearly been defined by her husband and societal expectations until her husband’s death. This is where Chopin portrays the emotional struggle she comes up against when becoming “free’’! Although she does not get a chance to experience freedom for more than an hour (suggested from the title) in that time frame many emotions are released, exposed and analyzed; she is vulnerable to the societal standard of being a perfect, submissive wife, or widow in her case, that holds it together emotionally. Chopin suggests that this stress can do harm to one’s health through Mrs. Mallard’s death after she sees that her husband is alive.
In the film, “Mrs. Dalloway” based off Virginia Woolf’s novel, we observe the main character, Clarissa’s, internal struggle with holding her emotions together while struggling to balance her social roles and relationships. We also witness Virginia Woolf herself expressing a great need to find her self-identity but being so trapped, just like Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf has a major theme of death and suicide in her writing that could also be seen in the movie. The theme reflects her reaction to the conflict with self-identity; she would rather die than be trapped in a life that she does not wish to live. Thoughts of suicide and discomfort from leading an unsatisfying life led Woolf to write and express her struggle through her characters.
Coming from a woman’s perspective, we can conclude that this internal conflict of social identity can be devastating to a woman’s health, physically and mentally.
Virgina Woolf was an inspiring author for women’s rights activists and people pushing towards equality in education for women during the early 1900s. Her voice is strong and aggressive, encouraging women to take control of their futures as well as their daughter and granddaughter’s future. Her essay “A Room of One’s Own” is a good representation of how far we have come to assimilating ourselves into a world where producing educated men was more important than creating educated women. Woolf focuses on the differences between how women and men were treated in schools during the times of gender inequality.
Woolf turns her writing prompt, women and fiction, into an argumentative essay that begins by exploring the meaning of the prompt and ends in arguing that there was no point to be made but an opinion. Her opinion that “a woman must have money and a room of one’s own to write fiction” guides her essay in describing a woman’s struggle in the world of education. She describes how hard it was to get to the point at which women’s education was at during that time, “what force was behind the plain china off which we dined?… Committees met. Envelopes were addressed… Meetings were held; letters were read out; so-and-so has promised so much; Mr —- wont give a penny”, gathering money to support the cause of women’s education was rare because it was such a controversial topic at the time. But once enough was gathered to support the cause she includes a quote from R. Strachey’s The Cause, “Every penny which could be scraped together was set aside for building, and the amenities had to be postponed”. Including this in Mary Seton’s address on money leaves hope for the progress to be made in furthering equality amongst men and women’s education. Woolf’s aggressive and strongly motivated writing inspires women to fight for their own rights and independence.
The main character in “A Simple Heart” by Gustave Flaubert, Félicité, embodies the instincts of most women through her ability to cling to everyone and anyone that held a space in her heart. Despite what Flaubert saying the story is “not at all ironic”, I find it to be ironic because her heart has a simple way of loving everyone, each in there own way. Flaubert romanticizes the heart of a woman through Félicité’s love for the people in her life.
Being a maidservant, Félicité had many roles with the home and the children but through out the story she exemplified the importance of the people in her life. An example would be when they were in the field and the bull attacked. Félicité took control, creating a diversion as the children and Madame Aubain ran away to safety. Her diversion of throwing mud in the bull’s eyes was simple yet smart and heroic but “Félicité had never prided herself in the least on what she had done, as it never occurred to her that she had done anything heroic”. I think that this mindset says a lot about how she cares and protects those in her life. Félicité also cares about her nephew in a sweet but almost creepy way. He came to visit her in order to ‘occupy her time’ and they spent time in each other’s company. The bond of attachment that was illustrated in the story was strong considering when he left her, she “thought of nothing but her nephew”. This relationship between her and her nephew confirms her willingness to care and dare I say it, love, those who hold ANY place in her life. Her attachment to her nephew was nothing compared to her attachment to her parrot, Loulou. This attachment sprouted from Loulou’s little getaway when she ran to all of the gardens in Pont-l’Évêque to find him and he magically appeared on her shoulder when she stopped looking. From then on “they held conversations” and he “used to climb up her fingers, peck at her lips, and hang on to her shawl”. Long story short, when he died she put him through taxidermy. These examples show just how relationships are significant to Félicité and how her heart simply loves placeholders in her life obnoxiously.