"Gender equality is more than a goal in itself" (Kofi Annan). Clearly, the issue of gender inequality and the submissive role of the female in a marriage still persist in today's modern society. Men historically are raised to fight and take charge, while women are expected to obey and support their family. Such submissive role of women is deeply rooted in our society that many women accept the condition of being unequal. In "The Hand," Colette provides the readers with a profound insight into the gender roles in the twentieth century, revealing the possibility of gender inequality at the time of its writing. "The Hand" relates to a story of a young, newly married bride and her sleeping husband. By studying her husband's hand, she eventually comes to the realization that the institution of marriage is just merely another step towards inequality.
Colette's descriptions of the characters illustrate the dominant role of husband in a marriage and the imbalance of power between them. At the beginning of the story, Colette describes the marriage as being "kidnapped" because of the wife's "adolescent" age (Colette). While the husband sleeps comfortably, the wife is awake, "[bearing] the weight of the man's head" and ensuring his continuous sleep. In fear of waking her sleeping husband, she further sacrifices her own comfort and luxury in an exchange for her husband's need: "The arm twisted again, feebly, and she arched her back to make herself lighter" (Colette). Even when sleeping, her husband's dominant role in the family exercises the power over her authority and at the same time controls her reactions and body movements. As the wife shifts her attention and looks adoringly on her husband's hand, she suddenly discovers the underlying reality of her weak and powerless body: "It's so big! It really is bigger than my whole head" (Colette). Such astounding realization provokes her initial fear on her husband's supreme power and authority. Knowing the fact that her whole body, by comparison, is so small and tiny, she feels vulnerable as if the hand itself symbolizes dominance and control over her entire body.
In addition to the unequal distribution of power in the relationship, the husband is physically dominant as well. Men are typically larger than women in both size and physical appearance. In contrast to the young wife's "slim, adolescent back," the husband is described as having physically big and powerful arm: "The light, . . . spilled up against the hand, and made every contour of the skin apparent, exaggerating the powerful knuckles and the veins engorged by the pressure on the arm" (Colette). By characterizing the husband as such powerful being, Colette further exaggerates his powerfulness and compares him to a monstrous creature: "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" (Colette). As evident above, the husband's physical supremacy represents the potential abuse of power and authority, which leads to gender inequality.
Beside the amount of physical supremacy the husband has over the entire relationship, the wife finally realizes her husband has the potential to do harm. As the wife bravely holds off her fear and continues to examine her husband's beastly hand, "the sound of passing car" disturbs his sleep (Colette). She watches his hand "offended, reared back and tensed up in the shape of a crab and waited, ready for battle" (Colette). These monstrous, terrifying movements startle her as she watches "the hand, disturbed by a bad dream, . . . grabbed a fistful of the sheet, dug into it with its curved fingers, and squeezed, squeezed with the methodical pleasure of a strangler" (Colette). The husband reacts to the bad dream with violence and defensive behavior. This type of reaction represents the dominant role in the relationship. Clearly, the husband has the absolute power over anything; if she ever challenges his authority, he could easily destroy her.
Ultimately, the hand symbolizes the ugly truth. The truth of realizing the husband's absolute domination over the relationship forces the wife to live in the shadow of her husband. In the twentieth century, gender inequality was very common within the society. Majority of women were often expected to play the subordinate role in a marriage. Knowing that such social norm at that time was impossible to escape, very often, the only defense these women had is to live on and bravely accept the role of submission. In fact, Colette's description the wife's acceptance and her beginning life of "duplicity, of resignation, and of a slowly dedicated diplomacy" indicate her wakeup call and her expelling realization of the actual marriage (Colette). The hand is there and the gender inequality will still persist in the society; therefore, she will have to overcome the fear and move forward by not turning back.