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Women's Role in Society in the 1800's

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ianferg95
Words 1198
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Paper #02
English Composition II, Section 09
10/16/14
Women’s Role in Society in the 1800’s Women in the 1800’s were often not taken as seriously as their male counterparts were. Women were limited by pre-existing societal boundaries that had been put in place many years before they were born. This is prevalent in both “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen and in “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell. In these works, the women are expected to act and behave in certain ways based on how society thinks they should and the men openly express their opinions on what the women are worried with and what they should be doing. Women in this time period were expected to do things in a certain way or speak and act a certain way just because of their gender. Because of this women had certain roles in their homes. Nora for instance, was pretty limited to what she could do because she was a woman. She would have to follow everything that her husband Torvald told her to do. When Torvald would suspect Nora of not listening she would exclaim, “I should not think of going against your wishes,” (Ibsen 231).This proves just how compliant Nora, and most women, were to their husbands. She wasn’t even allowed to borrow money from anyone unless her husband gave permission. “No, a wife cannot borrow without her husband’s consent,” (Ibsen 236). Men controlled everything the women did and to go behind their back and do something on their own was considered betrayal. Women also didn’t work a lot in this time period. Most wives would just take care of their homes or cook for their families not making any real money of their own. Their husband’s would provide for them anything they needed “…but all the same it was a tremendous pleasure to sit there working and earning money. It was like being a man,” (Ibsen 237). Nora is expressing how she liked the feeling of making money on her own and compares it to living like a man. Ibsen may have thrown this piece of dialogue in to show how women, even in the 1800’s, longed to be more independent and not have to rely on a man for everything. Just as Nora had to play her role as mother and wife in her home, the women in “A Jury of Her Peers” played their own roles in the investigation. The men who went to Mrs. Wright’s home to gather evidence of her husband’s murder brought the two women with them simply to gather Mrs. Wright’s belongings. “She was to take in some clothes for her, you know--- and a few little things,” (Glaspell 164). They didn’t think that their wives would be much of help in the investigation because of the fact that they are women. These women, like Nora also had to listen to what their husbands would say to them. Mrs. Peter’s and Mrs. Hale both complied with everything the men had instructed. “Martha! Don’t keep folks out here waiting in the cold,” (Glaspell 157). Mrs. Hale’s husband demanded that she dropped what she was doing and left immediately and she listened because what a man said went in those days. Both stories also show how the men didn’t think their wive’s opinions on important matters held much weight. The men also seemed to believe themselves to be smarter or better than their counterparts and it is shown throughout both works. Torvald would often refer to Nora as his “little squirrel” or a “little featherhead”. Mr. Helmer always seemed to look down on his wife in matters and always referred to her as a little person. This indicates that he thought of himself as larger or more important just because he is a man and she is a woman. Nora mentions in her and Torvald’s final conversation before she left that he never talked to her about any important matters in his life. Rather, he would just ask her to look pretty and do what he told her to do mostly. “We have been married now eight years. Does it not occur to you that his is the first time we two, you and I, husband and wife, have had a serious conversation? (Ibsen 278). Nora goes on to say also, “In all these eight years~~ longer than that~~ from the very beginning of our acquaintance, we have never exchanged a word on any serious subject,” (Ibsen 278). This shows that even though they have been together for so long, Torvald never cared to speak with his wife about anything serious because he didn’t believe her to be equipped to discuss such matters. He shows this by saying, “Was it likely that I would be continually and for ever telling you about worries that you could not help me to bear?” (Ibsen 278). Torvald doesn’t think his wife would be of any help because she is not a man. The husband’s in Glaspell’s story also show how little they think their wive’s dealings are. While the men are looking around for clues as to why Mrs. Wright may have murdered her husband, Mrs. Hale noticed the woman’s broken jars of fruit that she was worried about. When she brought this up Mr. Peters, “broke into a laugh” (Glaspell 163). He thought that it was funny that in the midst of a murder investigation that she was worried about something as small as some fruit. Mr. Hale also commented on it by saying, “women are used to worrying over trifles,” (Glaspell 163). He too believed that their wives were getting worked up over nothing which just shows how these men thought of what the women do since their wives also would have been upset had this happened in their own kitchens. The men also judged Mrs. Wright’s character on her housekeeping abilities, one of the only things women did back then. Mrs. Hale exclaims how she doesn’t like the home because, “It never seemed like a cheerful place,” (Glaspell 164). To this, Mr. Henderson said, “No, I don’t think anyone would call it cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the home-making instinct,” (Glaspell 164). What Mrs. Hale meant was that Mrs. Wright’s husband wasn’t a very nice or cheerful man but Mr. Henderson thinks that the place isn’t cheerful because it doesn’t look very good. In the 1800’s, men pretty much held the most power in any social setting, whether it be in one’s home or at work. This is prevalent in the sort of roles society urged women to take such as being a housewife and mother. Also, men back then didn’t take the opinions of women seriously either. They would brush off their problems as “trifles” and only worry about themselves. The men and women in these stories exemplify how society treated women in this time period well.

Works Cited
Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House.” Literature The Human Experience. 11th ed. 228-283. Print.
Glaspell, Susan. “A Jury of Her Peers.” Crime Classics: The Mystery Story From Poe to the
Present. Ed. Rex Burns and Mary Rose Sullivan. New York. Viking. Print.

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