The Hand By Sidonie Gabrielle Colette English Literature Essay
In our American society, females in a marriage or relationship are portrayed through the stereotypical ‘submissive role,’ which has become so common that is has often been expected of the female. In juncture with this subservient role, the male’s dominance originates back to the beginning of the human race, and relations between a man and a woman. These roles were thus formed by the physical ability of the male dominating over the female in most situations. Even in today’s era, with the improvements and developments in equal rights and women’s right, this passivity of women is still presently seen through society, as depicted through “The Hand” written by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette by literary techniques such as mood, imagery, conflict, symbolism, and other elements. It seems well enough that these roles are inbred into our society; a male is raised to take charge and dominate, and a female is taught to conform, and that their place is behind a man, and not alongside of him. In “The Hand,” the author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette conveys the submissive role of women and how it is so expected that from fear of changing the situation due to societal views, women often conform to a male’s dominance.
In “The Hand”, Colette depicts a submissive woman through a story of a young bride. From the mere beginning of the story, Colette illustrates the submissive role of women and the domination of a man through the two characters. She sets up an imbalance of power between the two, as it was accepted during the 20th century in western society. Through the use of scenery (setting) and story conflict, Colette exemplifies to readers how women conform to the needs of the men in their lives because society had deemed it necessary to do so. Because “The Hand” was set during a time period (the 20th century) in which the environment encouraged short courtships and early marriages, women often headed into relationships that they were not prepared for, and remained, for the remainder of their lives, quite unfulfilled, and this unfulfilled life leads to an array of internal conflict, as depicted through the young wife.
As the young bride’s husband sleeps, the wife remains awake, supporting his head proudly so that he may rest in comfort. In western society during this time, women were taught to provide support and be soothing towards their husbands in order to ease their live. Yet, as the husband sleeps, Colette makes sure to display that he still holds the power between the two beings. The young bride, meanwhile fears of moving and disrupting his sleep, illustrating to readers that society has unconsciously forced a sense of authority over her, even if the young man did not force it upon her. When the husband twitches, the bride blames herself and states in paragraph 8, “I’m so heavy… I wish I could get up and turn the light off. But he is sleeping so well….” With all that the young bride has learned through the teachings of society, she, as a submissive female, must do all that she can to satisfy her husband, even if it entails sacrificing her own comfort for his. In the following paragraph (paragraph 9), Colette writes, “the arm twisted again, feebly, and she arched her back to make herself lighter.” Unconsciously, whether the young bride is aware of it or not, she is displaying obedient and passive behavior towards her husband, succumbing to his ever want and need, and eventually resulting in her unfulfilled life as a young woman.
As time progresses, and the newlywed couple continue to lay together, the young wife begins to notice small features of her husband’s hand. She states, in paragraph 15, “The thumb stiffened itself out, horribly long and spatulate, and pressed tightly against the index finger, so that the hand suddenly took on a vile, apelike appearance.” In this hand, that she once regarded with fondness, she now sees a disturbing image, and through the use of words exclaims that the thumb and index finger, now pressed together, took on a sexual form, a sight that unnerved her immensely. With newly found astonishment, she becomes disgusted by the sight of her husband’s hand, and due to her naivety because of society’s limitations and expectations, she exclaims in paragraph 16, “Oh!” Her exclamation of “Oh!” demonstrates that her fears pronounce her awareness about his hand: strong and in a disconnect way; it belongs to a man who exercises authority, possibly unjustly and oppressively. She, overwhelmed by the lack of position in this relationship becomes frightened, and sees her fears, in herself and in her marriage. In this hand, she discovers that the true disgust lies not in the marriage, but within her own internal self.
Sidonie Colette continues to tell the story of the young bride and her husband and throughout it, uses character description to emphasize the unbalance of power. In their relationship (as well as in many others during this time) the husband overpowers the wife, both physically and emotionally. The young wife was describe in paragraph 1 as “slim and adolescent,” while the husband on the other hand was described (also in paragraph 1) as having physical and mental prowess, being a “handsome, blond young man, recently widowed, good at tennis and rowing…” Through these words, Colette depicts to the readers the evident roles of the sexes. The author then proceeds to develop the image of the husband’s arms and claims that he has hands that are larger than the young wife’s head and “powerful knuckles and the veins engorged by the pressure on his arm,” as seen in paragraph 13. By using these words to depict a character, Colette demonstrates imagery- illustrating a man that is almost an animal of sorts. This is supported through the young wife’s exclamation in paragraph 10, where she states, “It’s as if I were lying on some animal.” In this notion, the animal is something that takes control, and can been seen as offering no mercy. This hand of the young wife’s husband, has begun to take on a whole new form, which worries her, and shows to readers all of the troubles she faces, as a submissive part in this relationship.
Through characterization, Colette expresses features of the husband as a tool that exemplifies the imbalance of power between the man and the woman. Pronouncing that the husband has a hand that “took on a vile, apelike appearance,” and “lowered its claws, and became a pliant beast,” (as seen in paragraphs 15 and 17) bears the image of a dominate male who controls the relationship, and shows the submissive female fearing the authority that is imposed upon her. In all aspects of the relationship, the male uses his physical supremacy to augment his position. The feeble wife remains in her position, too terrified of what the dominance may do to her if she were to wake him. Disregarding the fact that the young wife is discomforted by the light in her room, and she desperately wants to turn it off, she relinquished the need, in order to not bother her husband.
The imagery of the room as well as the characters support the notion of sexual roles in society, and depict how a woman must do the accepted thing, as asked by her, in the presence of men. Sidonie Colette points out the young wife’s room in paragraph 3 as “apricot-pink through which the first light of day filtered into the room where she had slept as a little girl.” Through this she states that the young wife was associated with light colors that resemble femininity: pink, red, apricot, yellow, etc- while her husband is related to colors of blues and greens, colors of masculinity. In this bedroom that the young couple share, the curtains are a shade of “periwinkle,” a mixture of blue and purple, which resembles that the blue is more dominant in this color, and essentially, in the marriage. By making the statement that the young bride had slept in a room that was previously the color of pink is necessary in supporting the notion that she has conformed and accepted the ways of the male, taking on his natural color as her own. It is not as though the couple room was painted the color of red or dark pink, rather, it is now a color that resembles a male, and his authority, his dominance over her own meek person.
As the story develops, the young bride notices a darker side to her husband. Prior to her epiphany of her marriage, (one in which she feels overwhelmed and claustrophobic, as though she has simply been passed on from man to man) the young bride did not realize that she was unconsciously succumbing to her husband’s desires (although they were not prominent) and did not notice that he had any power over her. Upon coming to the understanding of the hand, the wife realizes his physical potential to inflict harm. Although, it seems as though the husband is anything but abusive towards his wife; it is not stated that he actually torments his wife purposely and he seems to be quite the gentleman, especially in paragraph 22 where the husband says, “Do you want this slice, darling? I’ll butter it for you.” Metaphorically, Colette shows the readers that through the young wife’s thoughts and beliefs, the hand could cause explicit damage. In this story, the hand is one of the greatest symbols used to demonstrate the roles of sexes. Through the wife’s imagination, the hand takes on the characteristics of an animal. This is quite similar to the barbaric-life role of a dominating male in a relationship.
In paragraph 17, Colette writes, that the hand is “offended, reared back and tensed up in the shape of a crab and waited, ready for battle.” When the wife becomes disgusted with her husband’s hand, it begins to take on animal-like qualities, as if it were offended and now takes a defensive stance. Not only does the hand impose symbolism, but this type of behavior is a metaphor for the two roles in many relationships. During this century, the male is often the controlling one in a dominant-submissive marriage. If the wife does not comply and follow specific orders and requests, the husband may lash out and strike, whether through physical or verbal, or even emotional matters. In most cases, upon the hurt emotions of the wife, the male, (due to such dominating and proud qualities) denies any sort of behavior on his part. There is support in this notion, found in paragraph 19, where Colette writes that the hand “appeared to respond to this startling discovery, this disgust. It regrouped its forces…” Through the use of diction, Colette symbolizes the hand as a male who becomes defensive upon knowing that he is guilty of an act he may have preformed, but by “regrouping its forces” the male does not accept any form of responsibility. So, in a sense, the hand is both a symbol and a metaphor for the couple’s dominating and submissive marriage.
By the time the short story begins to come to a conclusion, the young wife has realized the power her husband holds over her. Ironically, as it seems that society would not deem this plausible, Colette signifies that the young wife has the ability to free herself from this unfulfilling destiny in which she will always be displeased and feel as though her husband’s hand is choking her. After all, the young woman is extremely feeble and hopeless when it comes to the grueling effects of a male, especially in such a marriage. Through diction, Colette demonstrates that the hand is encompassing everything that has to do with the young wife’s life, including her fear of men and intimacy. Colette shows that the wife fears intimacy by stating in paragraph 15 that the hand “spatulated,” which refers to a sexual symbol that worries the young woman. Regardless of what society may allow, the young woman chooses to succumb in this relationship. The final line in paragraph 25, “Then she concealed her fear, bravely subdued herself, and, beginning her life of duplicity, of resignation, and of a lowly, delicate diplomacy, she leaned over and humbly kissed the monstrous hand” expresses to the readers that not only did the young woman decide not to change her situation (though it seemed a feeble matter to try for society had instilled a set of rules to following, the ability to conform being one of them) but she also accepted her role as a submissive partner in her marriage.
To readers, one may believe that the young woman chose security in the dominate role, as opposed to her independence, because it was easier for her. In these sorts of relationships, women are comfortable knowing that they do not have to make any decisions on their own, and are assured that it is normal to uphold such a submissive and passive role in the marriage. As it is probably the case with this newlywed bride, most women are too naïve to even make their own decisions, as they have never done so before, being controlled by a dominate male in their adolescent life (often their father or uncle) or their husband. Being an adolescent, the young wife did not know of any other love and was experiencing a new life, something that to her, was scandalous and exciting, similar to a “kidnapping,” as she states in paragraph 3. In the young bride’s perspective, the submissive role is much easier to attend to as it is more familiar than an independent role, similar to a man’s.
Sidonie Colette depicts many of the reasons for the reasons of the roles of dominance and submission. Beginning quite a long time ago with the domineering male role, the female was naturally obliged to take up the assumed passive role in the relationship. Forced to obey the rules, physically and emotionally, the women complied with the expected behavior and were only given the opportunity to escape from these roles during the advancements in women’s rights of the early 1920s. In “The Hand,” the young wife draws in her mind a symbol of her marriage to the handsome young man, and through her fears of reality, readers learn that her marriage to the young man is, in reality, a misguided justification for love. The newlywed bride is strangled by the marriage, and is choked by her husband’s power; she is forced to be happy, when she certainly is not. Through the disgust the young bride has for the hand and the abhorrence of her marriage, Colette creates a theme of a love that is forced and what the roles of the sexes entail. Women continue to accept the roles imposed upon them as they have for thousands of years before. Neither man nor woman want to set out to change these roles, and society plays a great degree in ensuring that these roles are taught to the younger generation at an early age, ensuring that a woman knows her place in the future- behind a man, and never completely equal to him.
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