Find Justice In A Male Dominated World English Literature Essay

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All three writers I will be exploring have written about women struggling to find justice in a male dominated world; however each writer has different ideas on the portrayal of this. The first text I will be looking at is "Tess of the d'Urbervilles", written by Thomas Hardy. Hardy writes about women in Victorian times being victims of male dominance, and presents his female character Tess in a tragic light. The second text I will be analysing is a collection of poems called "The World's Wife", written by 20th century writer, Carol Ann Duffy. Duffy writes about women in a positive light, ensuring the reader perceives the women as strong and intelligent. This is the complete opposite to Hardy's portrayal of female characters. The third text I will be analysing is "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", written by Tennessee Williams. It is set in 1950's Southern America, where male dominance is widespread, and Williams presents to us several different female characters each having to deal with dominant men. All three texts are focussed on how women are subjected to male dominance but I will be looking at how each writer tells of their struggles differently.

Hardy's "Tess of the d'Urbervilles tells the story of a young woman who is constantly subjected to male dominance by all the males in her life. We are first introduced to Tess at a May Day dance, where she is described as wearing a white dress and having "large, innocent eyes." This immediately gave me the impression she was angelic and innocent, as white represents purity and innocence. Hardy also cleverly tells the reader Tess is wearing a red ribbon in her hair. This immediately gives the reader a clue that bad things are to come as red is commonly associated with danger, but it is also associated with sexual desires and passion so this is an indicator of things to come for Tess. We later see that the themes of sexual desire are crucial in the downfall of Tess. Hardy lets the reader know Tess's personality flaw is that she is naive and vulnerable. Tess is vulnerable because of her low position in society, even though she holds high morals and standards. The male dominance in Victorian times would have made it impossible for Tess to improve upon her social status independently; she would have had to marry someone in a higher social class in order to become less vulnerable. There are three main men in her life whom each take advantage of her personality flaw and cause her downfall. The first male to cause Tess injustice is her father, John Durbeyfield. An incident occurs when Tess is forced to take the family's horse to market after her father comes home drunk and doesn't fulfil his gender role of going to work, and the horse dies after a collision. As a result, Tess feels heavily responsible for the death of the horse, "Nobody blamed Tess as she blamed herself." Tess's mother, Joan asks Tess to go and "Claim kin" off their nearest relatives, the d'Urbervilles. Tess is persuaded on the matter and simply say's "Well, as I killed the horse, mother... I suppose I ought to do something." Tess shortly arrives at "The Slopes", believed to be the home to their relatives, only to be intimidated by a character called Alec. Alec d'Urbervilles description makes the reader uncomfortable and the audience knows Tess must be feeling vulnerable. He is described as having "Full lips" and a "Well-groomed black moustache with curled points." The reader can sense Alec's body language also makes Tess a little scared and more vulnerable, which was often the intention of men in positions of power. Alec made Tess feel "uncomfortable" around him. Alec first exercises his male dominance over Tess when he forces her to eat a strawberry from his hand. Not only is he abusing his power over her by intimidating her into eating the strawberry; "Nonsense! He insisted", he is also being sexually dominant over Tess, as strawberry's are widely considered to be symbolic of passion and sexual desires as they are an aphrodisiac. The atmosphere set is full of sexual tension on Alec's part, with Hardy using descriptive language with sexual connotations underneath such as "in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in". The word "distress" shows us that she didn't want to eat the strawberry but because he insisted and he is a male in a position of power, she had to obey his orders, which was what was expected of her in a Victorian society. There is further evidence of Tess being submissive to Alec's demands when he is giving her flowers to place in her bosom and on her hat. Hardy writes that Tess simply "Obeyed like one in a dream." Further on in the novel, Alec's dominance is seen when he is driving recklessly with Tess and demands a kiss from Tess before he will slow down. Alec demands "Let me put one little kiss on those holmberry lips Tess or even on that warmed cheek, and I'll stop." This further supports my argument that Alec needs sexual dominance over Tess because once again, by putting her in an impossible situation, Tess will have no choice but to give in to his demands.

The final example of the power and control Alec holds over Tess is when he rapes her on the way home from a dance. Tess finds herself in a struggle with her co-workers and Alec ironically rides in on a white horse, which Tess could interpret as Alec coming to protect her. However, the reader knows by this point how manipulative Alec really is and we know he has no intention of protecting her so we are suspicious of his actions. The rape is the ultimate way to show Tess who holds the power in their relationship. The reader is given clues as to what is going to happen to Tess when Hardy writes "He touched her with his fingers" and "He plunged into the webs of vapour." These create erotic images in the readers mind and we sense he is about to rape her, but we are left with an air or uncertainty. The reader is finally led to believe Alec rapes Tess when Hardy writes "He knelt and bent lower, until her breath warmed his face, and in a moment, his cheek was in contact with hers." Phrases such as "Upon her eyelashes there lingered tears" and "Where was Tess's guardian angel?" I think all these phrases show that he is raping her and the tears show she is objecting to it but she cannot physically stop him, she can only show him her emotions. This is complete injustice for Tess as she didn't want for the rape to occur, however she understands that because of male dominance and power, nobody would believe she objected; everyone would have believed she gave her full consent to Alec. This makes the modern reader further sympathise with Tess as, being modern women we understand that it is illegal to rape anyone, so we could fight for justice unlike Tess.

However, the critic Raymond Chapman disagrees with the opinion this was a rape scene, as he says the scene does not show us any formal details of what is happening, the reader is left in suspense and has to infer a rape has occurred from various clues Hardy has written, such as the red of the strawberry in chapter 5, demonstrating danger is coming. I disagree with this opinion however and I think the sexual language such as "touched" and "plunged" are enough evidence to tell the reader a rape scene is happening.

As a direct result of the rape, Tess falls pregnant and her baby, Sorrow, dies. Tess is made a social outcast because of this pregnancy, and this once again displays the Victorian attitude towards having children out of wedlock. According to the critic James Walvin, Hardy wasn't accurate enough in his portrayal of Tess's suffering as single women who had children suffered the worst of society's punishments, and they were not accepted and they were shunned by society. I disagree with this view as Tess has to deal with some of the harshest of circumstances, such as when she has to go and work on a potato farm where disease is rife and the pay is poor, after being left with no financial security. The main reason Tess is outcast by society is because she sticks to her morals, even after Alec takes her virginity, she still refuses to marry him as it is not what her heart wants. This would have shocked a Victorian audience as Victorian women weren't supposed to have their own free will and minds. Hardy received harsh criticism for this and according to Ann Mickleson, "Tess is part of a class-conscious society, which regards the peasant as an inferior member of society and woman as inferior to man." This fact meant Hardy received lots of criticism for not portraying the female as conserved and weak in her convictions, the way she would have been in the Victorian period. Hardy does not portray the rape as unjust as "raping" women was common among lower class women in the Victorian period. Another man who lets her down is the priest, as after her baby dies, she begs him to give her baby a Christian burial even though Tess is fully aware that her baby was born out of wedlock. The priest refuses, and this further supports my argument that females struggled to find justice under the rulings of male dominance, as Tess believed she could depend on the priest but he disappointed her.

After the death of Tess's baby, we meet Angel Clare for the second time after a brief meeting at the May Day dance, at a dairy farm, where Tess has now moved to gain employment. Tess moved away to gain some independence, even though Hardy displays to us that the wanting of independence and strong will weren't enviable qualities in a woman in the Victorian period, as some characters such as Mr Crick seem shocked and surprised by her character, "to the surprise - indeed, slight contempt - of Dairyman Crick," meaning he disliked Tess's odd character upon their first meeting.

We later discover that Angel likes to live by pastoral traditions, which was a movement that idealised rural life, but it was giving a false impression because nobody realised all the hard work that has to be put into working in the countryside. This means Angel likes to think everything in the countryside is perfect, and as a result of this he idealises Tess, by calling her names like "Tessy and "My Tess" as well as "Demeter". Hardy uses pastoralist ideas throughout the novel, always referring to the countryside and making it seem like the ideal place to live, however he also tries to subvert the idea and show both sides to pastoralism. Hardy tries to abolish the idea of rural life by showing the harsh living conditions at Flintcombe Ash, which also depicts Hardy's naturalism. Hardy shows through Angel's character that pastoralism can be dangerous because the night before the wedding he idealises himself and Tess by allowing himself to think nothing bad could have ever happened to Tess. Angel calls her "Artemis", a goddess that is linked with fertility, hills, forests, virginity and is often seen with a bow and arrow, and is depicted as a hunter. This displays to us Angels only view of Tess, as a goddess, whereas she is no hunter, she in the "hunted". This idealistic view is destructive to their relationship as Tess continuously asks Angel to see her for who she is but he refuses to listen. After Tess and Angel marry, Angel confides in Tess about a forty eight hour affair he had with an older woman whilst in London, so Tess feels it would be fair that she told him about Alec and the death of their baby. Tess feels relieved to be able to tell Angel, only to find that he holds double standards, which were also common in Victorian times. He exclaims to Tess that their sins aren't similar in nature, and that he cannot forgive her. He says "Forgiveness does now apply to the case. You were one person; now you are another." The audience cannot believe how ignorant he is being to Tess's situation, as we can see that the situations are extremely similar, and Angel's case may even be considered to be worse than Tess's because he gave consent to the affair whereas Tess had no choice in the matter. Angel further shows his domineering role when he says "Different societies, Different manners" as well as adding further insult to Tess by saying she is "Childish", "Unformed" and "Crude". This is complete unjust towards Tess as Angel is the one person in her life that she can supposedly depend on to love her unconditionally, but Victorian double standards are largely visible here. Angel decided that he will leave Tess and go to Brazil to run a farm, leaving her with no financial security. Tess falls in a downwards spiral of despair from this point and we are lead to believe she has given up on finding any form of justice after letting Angel simply walk away from the situation. Tess's circumstances become so dire after trying to survive in the harsh conditions at Flintcombe Ash, throughout the winter, that she has no choice but to return to Alec after his persistent persuasion and almost blackmail, after he promises her he will look after both her and her family. The reader sympathises with this decision as we realise this is her only choice, but we are shocked when she murders Alec shortly after Angels return. As a result of her committing murder, she is hunted down my males, further showing the power they held over women, and she is hung. Some critics think the death of Alec was unnecessary because Tess was promoted as a pure woman, and a true pure woman wouldn't have committed such a crime. However I think Tess was right to murder Alec after everything he put her through, as this showed the audience the little bit of justice she gained, until the justice was taken from her after her death as she was punished for her only wrong in her life. I think Hardy purposely takes away Tess's life to show that women really did have no chance of finding justice in a male dominated world.

The second text I have analysed is "The World's Wife", written by 20th century writer Carol Ann Duffy. The collection of poems is written from the point of the view of the wives of famous men, including Shakespeare and Charles Darwin. Duffy has written it from a woman's point of view as these women have previously been written about by men in a negative light, and Duffy wants to find these women some justice by overturning the previous views held of them, using various techniques such as humour to win us over. Duffy's technique is the opposite of Hardy's, as she believes all women are strong, powerful and independent, whereas Hardy portrayed Tess as naive and vulnerable. Duffy shows women trying to overturn male dominance, whereas Hardy disallows Tess to overcome male dominance and condemns her to a cruel life.

I will start with a poem called "Little Red Cap", which is the first in the collection as this poem represents Duffy finding her creativity and becoming independent of male guidance and domination in her life. Duffy takes on the role of "Little Red Riding Hood" in this non rhyming poem. The poem deals with themes of childhood, sex and loss of innocence. The poem is about her first relationship with poet Adrian Henri. Henri is played out as the wolf, and is described as having a "wolfy drawl" and a "bearded jaw" as well as "big eyes". The image created by the wolf is intimidating, letting us know that Duffy felt vulnerable, just as Tess felt around Alec on their first meeting. Duffy shows us her struggle against dominance through lines like "The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods, away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place. The phrase "I knew, would lead" shows us male dominance is present as she knew Henri would take the lead and take her away, as if he was "In charge" of their relationship, almost abusing his power as he was much older than Duffy. It is easy to imagine the wolfs "Lair" as being a scary place for a young girl as it is a new experience which left Duffy feeling scared and vulnerable. The reader sees Duffy's loss of innocence when she writes, "Lesson one that night, breath of the wolf in my ear, was the love poem." This demonstrates how she discovered sex for the first time with the wolf. The reader, on first impression, sees that Duffy has no control in their relationship and that all the power lies with the male. Henri steals the limelight from her poetry, but we later discover Duffy finds justice in the form of discovering her passion for poetry and she escapes the relationship with her own creativity. The last line of the poem shows us that she has found freedom and justice; "Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone."

Duffy writes about women in mainly biblical and Shakespearean periods, as opposed to Hardy's Victorian context, for example the poems Anne Hathaway and Mrs Lazarus. Duffy creates a strong sense of context in order for the reader to understand that male dominance ruled in these periods. This also lets the reader know what struggles and problems the women would have had to overcome in order to become independent.

The second poem I will be looking at is "Anne Hathaway", which is written from the point of view of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway. It is written to try and give Anne some justice against all the criticism her marriage received, as when Shakespeare left his will, he left Anne the "second best bed" which some people said was due to an unhappy marriage. So in Duffy's poem, she subverts this view and makes readers see that perhaps their second best bed was the one the couple shared the most memories in. The poem is written as a sonnet and is 14 lines long, which is highly ironic as a sonnet is a love poem, and as the couple were said to have an unhappy marriage, this is unexpected.

In my opinion, it is also written in the form of a sonnet to suggest that Anne could write poetry just as well as Shakespeare, showing her audience that women are just as good as men. The poem contains phrases such as "Living, laughing love" which demonstrates the use of alliteration to make the reader sense a loving tone in their relationship, with the use of such pleasant words. The word "Living" also suggests that his memory is still alive in her memory and that their relationship was passionate and full of life. There is also a highly erotic mood throughout the poem, with phrases such as "Dive for pearls" and "Kisses on these lips". This erotic mood is set to give Anne some justice over male's opinions that their marriage was unhappy, as it suggests their love life was fantastic and they had no problems. Overall, the poem stands up to the original train of thought which was that Shakespeare never really loved Anne, and it demonstrates to the audience that they can find justice over male dominance by speaking their mind and overturning people's ideas. Duffy shows that women succeed and Hardy shows that women fail in overcoming the struggles involved in male dominance.

A third poem from the collection is "Mrs Darwin". The poems written from the point of view of Charles Darwin's wife, and suggests that women are the backbone to all good men, and gives us the impression that it was in fact Charles's wife that came up with the theory of evolution. So the poem uses humour to make it seem as if women came up with the concepts. This train of thought is the complete opposite to Hardy's, and in Victorian times, this idea that women thought of good concepts would have been deemed ridiculous, as they received no formal education. Duffy uses humour in this poem in particular to make men feel victimized and for women to portray men as ridiculous for once, and so they can be laughed at. Some critics feel Duffy's need to embarrass men is not needed and unfair, however I think it is totally acceptable after all the years of male dominance. A critic, Deryn Rees Jones, says Duffy "goes beyond straightforwardly feminist poetry and shows us the difficulties that patriarchy presents to both men and women." However, another critic, Martin Edwards, disagrees with this view and say's "Duffy's poetry displays nothing but contempt for males", showing that he believes Duffy is simply criticizing men throughout her poetry, which I believe to be untrue.

The final text I will be looking at is a play written by Tennessee Williams, called "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". It is set in 1950's Southern America, where male dominance was prevalent. The play presents us with several female personalities, all of which are different but can relate to characters found in the previous two texts. There are 4 main females I will be studying, Maggie, Mae, Big Mama and Aunt Sal. Maggie is a strong, fierce character who knows what she wants, much like the females displayed to us in Duffy's poetry like "Penelope", who gains independence after her husband leaves her. Maggie is also similar to Tess in the way that she also has a vulnerable side, which we don't often see.