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At first sight, nothing in these three works of literature seems to be in common. But when we read them and plunge deep into the understanding of the texts, we eventually find one common feature. The point is that all three works represent an image of a woman as a protagonist. But their characters are of various kinds. The cultural and temporal differences in forming a stereotype of a woman character in literature are of great importance and interest to the modern literary sciences. Thus, we shall compare the characters of women depicted in these texts and single out their similarities and differences.
The first part of the essay would describe the character ofÂ Joy-Hulga in "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor. In the second part we shall discuss the character of Miss Emily in "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner. The third part would tell about the image of a Lost Sister in Cathy Song's poem "Lost Sister" in comparison to traditional character and role of a woman in Chinese society. And, finally, part four of our essay will compare the three different images to single out differences, and maybe, some common features. The concluding part will restate the topic of this essay and highlight its achieved results.
The first literary work, which we will discuss here, is "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor. The setting here is a small village far from the nearest city, where Mrs.Â Hopewell, together with her daughter Joy and a housemaid Mrs. Freeman is trying to make ends meet. It is Joy, who is of interest to us. She is thirty-two years old, heavily built with blonde hair and blue eyes. Though she was not very attractive, her mother, Mrs. Hopewell had a thought that "â€¦there was nothing wrong with her [Joy's] face that a pleasant expression wouldn't help" (O'Connor, 1955). Joy had her leg shot off in a hunting accident when she was ten, since then she became rude and grave and detached: "It seemed to Mrs.Â Hopewell that every year she grew less like other people and more like herself - bloated, rude, and squint-eyed" (O'Connor, 1955). As soon as she became twenty one, Joy had her name changed to Hulga, because "â€¦she had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness had struck her. She had a vision of the name working like the ugly sweating Vulcan who stayed in the furnace and to whom, presumably, the goddess had to come when called" (O'Connor, 1955). It was a typical mental reaction on her childhood's trauma, to accumulate in her person everything ugly, rude and unpleasant. The same reason was to her detachment from other people. Besides, Joy-Hulga had a weak heart, and "â€¦the doctors had told Mrs. Hopewell that with the best of care, Joy might see forty-five" (O'Connor, 1955). And the Ph. D. degree in philosophy did not do her any good, on the contrary, it made her think, that she is too smart for "regular people" and made her to look with contempt upon others. Concerning this, Mrs. Hopewell thought "â€¦she [Joy] is brilliant but she didn't have a grain of sense" (O'Connor, 1955). Furthermore, all Joy's actions and words make us think that this so called "wisdom" of her are no more than a façade, a pretentious mask, under which there is just a scared child hiding.
But everything changes when Mrs. Hopewell has a visitor - a young man from the country, "the salt of the earth", Manley Pointer. He is of the type that is most hated by Joy - a country fool, who does not deem himself a fool, though. Surprisingly, they have something in common with Joy. Manley has a week heart also. Moreover, he told Joy that he loves her and was infatuated with her at first sight. Though Joy thinks it to be funny, she decides to seduce that innocent boy to play a sort of joke on him. She is sure of the power of her mind and that no feelings could be so strong to overwhelm it, especially if she thinks the matter is not serious. So, they agree to meet on the road at the gate and then set off on a picnic in the woods.
Manley Pointer appears to be a picture of innocence and simplicity. But Joy doesn't know that people can just pretend what they are not, because all her communication with human beings was limited to quarrels with her mother and Mrs. Freeman. A pleasant young man turns out to be some sort of a maniac. Manley loves to see his victims helpless. So, when he gets hold on Joy's artificial leg, he leaves her in the wilderness to die. The end of the story doesn't shed light on what had happened to Joy after Manley left her. But there is a hope for the better.
In the end, Joy is fooled by a man, who seems to be much less intelligent than she is, but he is the one, who has mastered the art of deception to the highest degree. After all her schooling and a number of degrees in science, Joy is still but a week woman, who falls a victim to her feelings of shame and love. With all her mental complexes she is not the one to stand freely in the world of real people and real hardship.
"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner is a great story about Jefferson City, in the South of America by the end of 19th - beginning of 20th century, just after The Civil War. This post-war era was filled with remorse, depression and feeling of perpetual decay, as for the Southern States, which were Confederate during the period of Civil War. It is reflected in the story in a form of description of personal life of Miss Emily Grierson, a protagonist of the story, and in the image of her ever-crumbling, once magnificent house.
Miss Emily Grierson was a sort of a typical 19th century woman. After her father's death and after she had been deserted by her sweetheart, she could be rarely seen in the streets. She fell ill of grief and despair, which fell upon her so suddenly and heavily, for a long time: "â€¦she was sick for a long time. When we saw her again, her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows - sort of tragic and serene" (Faulkner, 1930). Both these events and a sickness had triggered something in her mind and since then she became mad in a way. To her townsman and neighbors it was not surprising, because they knew she had insanity in the family. The last drop, maybe, was Homer Barron, a Northerner, whom she met while he was paving the streets of Jefferson City. He was a "big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face" (Faulkner, 1930). Miss Emily soon fell in love with him. But Homer was not that perfect. In Jefferson there were known that "Homer himself had remarked - he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks' Club - that he was not a marrying man" (Faulkner, 1930).
She killed him eventually, poisoned him with arsenic. But the crime was not uncovered until Miss Emily had died of a sickness and age. The decayed body of Homer Barron was lying on her bed and beside it the city authorities found a thread of gray hair, similar to that of Miss Emily.
As it was stated earlier, Miss Emily Grierson appears to be a typical specimen of women of her time. She did not interfere in "the matters of men" to which she, presumably, included the matters of money and taxes. In her father she had the only defense against the harshness of the outer world. Miss Emily was like a house plant, just growing and taking no care about herself, dependent on someone who would do it for her. She did not go out much and had no friends in the city. After his death and the betrayal of her sweetheart, she felt herself helpless and had little desire to live. A typical melancholic temperament was furthermore undermined by an inherent unstable mind. Her once beautiful house had crumbled in dust without care, reflecting her mental and physical state. It turned to be her crypt in the end.
And, finally, the poem "Lost Sister" by a Chinese American poetess Cathy Song. The poem itself represents a kind of story about the immigration of Chinese women to the USA. It tells us but just a little about the position of a woman in Chinese society.
And the daughters were grateful:Â
They never left home.
To move freely was a luxury
stolen from them at birth.
Instead, they gathered patience;
learning to walk in shoesÂ
the size of teacups,
without breaking -
the arc of their movements
as dormant as the rooted willow,
as redundant as the farmyard hens. (Song, 1982)
Truly enough, in traditional Chinese society women were oppressed and disrespected.
They were subordinated to their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. Arranged marriages left no place for woman's wishes. Even the parents of Cathy Song were not an exception. Her mother, Ella Song, was of Chinese American and her father, Andrew Song, was a second-generation of Korean American. Their marriage was arranged by means of exchanging photos, so Ella was a so called "picture bride". The tragic fate of a Chinese woman, "learning to walk in shoes the size of teacups", made a young Chinese woman, a fictional "lost sister" of a poetess, to go for a new life to America.
There is a sister
across the ocean,
who relinquished her name,
dilutingÂ jade green
with the blue of the Pacific.Â
Rising with a tide of locusts,
she swarmed with others
to inundate another shore. (Song, 1982)
Once in America, she hopes to find new life and new possibilities for herself and her future children.
there are many roadsÂ
and women can stride along with men. (Song, 1982)
What she did not know was that she would be lonely and at a loss in a foreign country, where there is nobody to talk to and nobody to help in a state of distress. And in that state she thinks of her motherland, of her mother and this Chinese girl is not certain anymore, if she made a correct decision to move in to America. Maybe it was better to stay still oppressed and underestimated, but with her culture and heritage close by? Was that really Jade Green, her name, which gave her mother and her mother's mother power to withstand their oppressors? If she had relinquished her ancestral name did she by the same act relinquished her culture and relations?
You find you need China:
your one fragile identification,
a jade linkÂ
handcuffed to your wrist.
You remember your mother
who walked for centuries,
and like her,Â
you have left no footprints,
but only because
there is an ocean in between,
the unremitting space of your rebellion. (Song, 1982)
That feeling of uncertainty is yet to be overcome by her, but we may hope that she will do it, because we know what she does not - that your motherland is not a place, it is in your heart that you must search for it. This "lost sister" is not lost at all. Finally, she will find herself in this foreign land.
In our final essay we had to compare the characters of women-protagonists in three literary works: short stories "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor, "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner and a poem "Lost Sister" by Cathy Song.
We may conclude that in all these cases we have a character of a weak woman depicted. In case of Joy, her attitude of intellectual superiority over other people turns into a weakness. Like Robert Heinlein once wrote: "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity". On the contrary, Miss Emily Grierson has a weak character from her birth. In her life she always laid faith and turned for support to other people and when her fate left her without such support she succumbed to grief and despair. Sadly, if she would be a little stouter she might live a good life. Only in the case of "Lost Sister" by Cathy Song we can see a different type of a woman character. A Chinese woman immigrating to the USA must have undergone great stress: she appears in an alien surrounding without sufficient knowledge of English. She can barely survive. But there is still hope for her, if she will turn to her heritage and learn to be patient and withstand hardship like her mother did back in China, and her mother's mothers ages before her birth had done.
In this way we have achieved the goal of our final essay.