‘The Revolt of ‘Mother’ by Freeman is a short documentary centered on Penn’s family. The realistic elements start with the fact that the characters of the story are completely ordinary people with no special powers or talents (Glasser, 2005). This is the most distinct difference of Realism from Romanticism-where protagonists are given incredible abilities to solve whatever problems may be coming at them. In this story, Mother is no different than any other woman in the country at that time period. She has to take care of the house and the family, doing all the work that comes with the “typical” marriage life. The readers could tell, from the story, that Sarah is a responsible woman and is prompt in her daily service: even when she is displeased, she maintains a good wife to Father by preparing his clothing and daily meals. This is probably what was expected from women at the time. They are supposed to put up with all the dissatisfaction, suppress all their wants and desires, and finish the chores given. In the late 19th century, a wife standing up to her husband is unacceptable and very unlikely to happen, which makes Sarah Penn’s revolt a topic much discussed by her neighbors, and is deemed as “insane,” “lawless,” and “rebellious.” overall, this story is an excellent case of the realism theme conveyed throughout Freeman’s writing.
The realist movement in literature and film has always had a tendency to include or incorporate previously underrepresented characters. George Becker explains that the politics of realism is distinguished by this very inclusion: “an assertion of the existence of a variety of human experience which cried out for recognition-an echo on the ethnic level of what was simultaneously taking place on the lower levels of class structure” (15). Suggesting the necessity for the revival of the realist tradition, Raymond Williams explains that, in addition to social inclusion (or a conscious movement towards the extension of art to those characters and areas of life which have previously been excluded from it) realism strives for the organic connection between the society and the individual as it seeks to describe the individual in social terms and vice versa (1977). The literary theorist states that in the face of the contemporary individual’s “deep crisis in experience” (1977: 280) realism can provide a necessary narrative outlet in which “society is seen in fundamentally personal terms, and persons, through relationships, in fundamentally social terms” (1977: 287).
The Revolt of ‘Mother'” is a realistic story with a bold twist to it. Although Mother is just a regular woman, she finds her own ways to convince her man to construct the residence he had guaranteed her by settling in the latest shelter i.e. barn. Upon completing the house into the barn, the minister pays a trip, expecting to talk reasons to her. However, as it turns out, Mother was the primary speaker of the conversation, rationalizing that what she does is between God, her husband, and herself. At this point, the minister gives up to Sarah (The Rise of Realism, 2006). This confrontation of Mother with the minister symbolizes the conflict between the woman and the social forces, namely the church. Religion is a major part in the people’s lives in this time era, and is an extremely powerful means to manipulate the human’s thinking and actions. Churches took the lead in making up social rules and standards, and supervise that people follow them. The society’s fundamentals are laid down by the church and are seen as the morally truthful guidelines of life. In the 19th century, the church taught that women had to submit to men, and therefore, strengthen the structure of the patriarchal society. As Sarah explains herself to the minister, she also reveals her standpoint to the society that as long as what she does doesn’t go against God’s will, other people has no right preventing her. When Mother decides to stand up to her husband, she is aware of the social force that stands behind him, ready to undermine her will and get the whole lot of things back to its routine (Glasser, 2005)
By moving the house to the barn, Sarah goes against every social rule at the time, when women still had little importance. Even her children, especially Nanny, who would directly benefits if the revolt turns out effective, is reluctant to follow Mother’s lead. Because it is so unexpected, Mother’s action heightens the plot of the story instantly, and seems almost more dramatic than what reality may be. As a matter of fact, in the Saturday Evening Post, published in December 1917, Freeman commented on “The Revolt of ‘Mother'” and its lack of realism. She stated that “there never [had been] a New England woman like Mother”, and that even if there was, she would have lacked “the nerve” and “the imagination” to do such a thing (“Mary E. Wilkins Freeman”). It is interesting to know that in real life, Freeman’s mother, Eleanor, also never had the house she had hoped for. She “was deprived of the very things which made a woman proud, her own kitchen, furniture, family china; and she had lost the one place in which it was acceptable for her to be powerful: her home” (“Mary E. Wilkins Freeman”). The hardship of Freeman’s mother was possibly not uncommon. There may have been many other women who never got what they had hoped for out of their marriages, and most of them were probably too intimidated to stand up for themselves and therefore never achieved that which they wanted/needed (Glasser, 2005).
However, even if the story was not true, its realist qualities are not lowered. Freeman could have allowed Sarah to do something even more extraordinary, such as leaving Father and family in order to pursuit a more satisfactory life. The happiness of the woman is bound by the traditional values of the patriarchal society. This situation is also an aspect of Freeman’s own life. She wrote in the New York Times in April 1926 that writing made her “felt wings spring from [her] shoulder, capable of flight, and [she] flew home” (“Mary E. Wilkins Freeman”). This statement illustrates the dilemma Freeman had to face, the paradox that is expressed in many of her works. Being “capable of flight” because of her writing capacity; she, nonetheless, has nowhere to fly to except home.
“The Revolt of ‘Mother'” has a positive ending: Father breaks down emotionally and gives in to Mother, promising her to improve the house. Mother’s triumph is a statement Freeman made to the society, especially to women, that when pushed to their limits, ‘mothers’ also have the ability to change things using her own resources. At the end of this story, there is no telling indicating whether life in the Penn’s will go back to its usual path, or if Mother, finding herself capable, will demand more from her husband. This is the question Freeman has left for the audience to ponder. The readers are not acknowledged of any other dissatisfaction in Sarah’s life, and thus can never know for sure if she will revolt again. It is also important to consider the other factors in her life as well. How much will it take before Adoniram’s tolerance runs out? If Sarah keeps revolting, her actions might break apart the family, which is unwanted. However, as she already has her first opinion valued when she revolts, this opens the door of possibilities for her. At least now she knows that she has the capacity to persuade Father to look her way.
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