Victimisation Of Women In Woman Warrior And Tess Of The D’urbervilles

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Insofar as it mirrors the world, literature reflects the prevalent social attitude towards women. Through the comparative study of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and Kingston’s “Woman Warrior”, it is evident that although various stereotypes, values and notions have transgressed the barriers of time and culture, thus continuing to be manifested in postmodern texts, other ideas have changed in order to adapt to the constantly developing world of literature. Critically analysing these texts in the light of structure, purpose and morals conveyed, therefore, contributes to the understanding of the dynamic relationship between text, audience and context, across a wide range of modes, perspectives and language.

The victimisation of women has been an omnipresent notion across a plethora of texts and mediums over the years and is particularly propagated in the novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” as well as “The Woman Warrior”. Hardy’s characterisation of Tess, has aroused acrimonious discussions among literary critics over the centuries, as it has enabled responders to form a mental construct of the protagonist. Hardy begins his novel with colour imagery, through the symbolism of the red ribbon in the quote “red mouth”. This foreshadows the spilling of blood and illuminates Tess’ vulnerable position as a victim of fate and economic situations. This creates tension and suspense in the audience as it appeals to their sense of sympathy and pathos by illustrating the connection between philosophical thought and the conceptualisation of the feminine. Near the end of Phase One, the metaphor in “Tess went down the hill to Trantridge Cross… returning from Chaseborough to Shaston” denoting the inner transition of Tess from childhood into womanhood, as well as the trope of nature and entrapment seen through the use of symbolism in “Dead leaves…everything was black alive”, reveals Tess’ liability as a subject to Alec’s immorality and cruelness and creates a foreboding and repulsive ambience. In this part of the novel, Hardy provides a criticism of the prominent values of his era, by condemning capitalism, Victorian beliefs about women, church doctrine, the shortcomings of the educational and judicial systems, and the destructive forces of industrialisation. Similarly, in “Woman Warrior”, the motif of silence throughout the chapter “No Name Woman”, seen through the title, portrays Kingston’s aunt as a victim of the patriarchal stratification of China, as well as tradition, prejudice and gender roles and expectations. Additionally, the irony evident within the first line “You must not tell anyone”, sheds light on the injustices and power struggles reflected in the scheme of social disequilibrium. Therefore, Kingston and Hardy employed narrative and plot, as vehicles to challenge the social attitudes of the period in which their novels were set, as well as to capture the lack of egalitarianism in different societies through different eras.

On the contrary, Kingston and Hardy’s novels, acting as mirrors of the nineteenth and twentieth-century social attitudes towards women, reflect on the double standards of humanity. Analysing “Woman Warrior” through the spectacles of postmodernism, it is significant to note the representation of women as warriors. Kingston has very wittily incorporated alliteration and high modality in the title of her book “The Woman Warrior”, to suggest a tale revolving around the concept of woman warriors embracing both the values of liberation and of perfect subservience. Kingston’s tour de force further intermingles memory, speculation, and folklore for the purpose of giving value to women’s abilities, virtues and bravery. Through the characterisation of Fa Mu Lan as a heroic female warrior, representing the Chinese female ideal, in “Fa Mu Lan, the girl who took her father’s place in battle….I would have to grow up a warrior woman.” and the allusion to Joan of Arc, Kingston’s aspiration to become like Fa Mu Lan is emphasised, thus enhancing the suspense and tension in the responders, as Kingston attempts to defy cultural stereotypes and expectations. Likewise, Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, is impeccable in representing feminism and martyrdom in the 19th century. The Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, utilises Tess’ destitute situation through the archetype in “Tess became humanely beneficent…outward” to propagate her ethos and warrior qualities as she decides to renounce her dignity in order to provide for her family. This allows the audience to share in the personal experience of Tess as it connects individuals across a platform of universally accepted virtues and values. The symbolism of the black flag in “Against…it was a black flag” portrays Tess’ execution as an indication of martyrdom as she sacrificed her life for the happiness of her sister and Angel Clare. Throughout the centuries, the pattern developed between gender, social discourses and martyrdom have influenced the depiction of women as warriors in literature.

In the texts studied, “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and “The Woman Warrior”, it is significant to note that the characterisation of women is distorted to meet the masculine needs. Thus, the feminine submissive stereotype is established for the purpose of justifying the morally bereft behaviour of males. Hardy explores the Romantic ideals of the late 1800s through the use of simile and hyperbole in “I will obey you like your wretched slave, even if it is to lie down and die.”This reflects on the plight of women and the submissive and obedient stereotype they were obliged to imitate. Contrastingly, failure to conform to such standards would be considered scandalous and immoral. Through the authorial intrusion and biblical allusion in “The mixed singular…made him think of the Resurrection hour”, Hardy constructs a criticism of his era’s values and ideas by introducing the notion of verisimilitude thus juxtaposing Clare’s archetypal view of Tess as the Virgin Mary to that of Mary Magdalene. Similar perspectives are also demonstrated in “The Woman Warrior”, through the characterisation of Moon Orchid and the notion of superstition. The metaphor in “Her husband…had become ghosts”, shows how powerless and paranoid she is due to her submissive nature and respect towards her husband. This arouses pity in the responders as Moon Orchid is bound to the gender roles outlined by her culture and thus is condemned to inferiority and passivity. On the other hand, the idea of superstition, exemplified through the imperative case in “Don’t humiliate us…the villagers are watchful”, acts as an indirect threat to Kingston and relates to Tess’ fear of being maltreated as non-conformity and disobedience of customs was considered to be immoral and scandalous in both the Chinese and Victorian culture. Hence, the value of submissiveness and obedience has been appropriated into a variety of texts, due to the lack of diversification within the male-dominated system and the disparity between the two genders which remains prevalent in today’s world.

Throughout the years, women’s portrayal in texts as mothers has been very prominent. Feminism, however in recent years, has demonstrated that the ideologies of motherhood firmly tied women to their homes, restricted them to private life and influenced gendered division of labour. As Chodorow claims, “Women’s maternal role has a profound effect on women’s lives…Women find their primary social location within the sphere of social reproduction.” This notion is explored in both “The Woman Warrior” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, through the challenging of the traditional role of women and the contextual values of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Through the symbolism of Tess’ baby as the embodiment of her sin “The baby’s offence against society in coming into the world…girl-mother”, Hardy illustrates an equivocal attitude towards the institutions of marriage and family and delivers a fundamental challenge to traditional Whig narratives. This puts into question the values and perceptions of the audience that had previously followed the process of growing enlightenment and humanitarian reform. On the antithesis, in “Woman Warrior”, the portrayal of motherhood appeals more to its traditional definition. Through the stream of consciousness and the novel’s self-reflective nature “Whenever she had to warn us about life, my mother told stories that ran like this one…to establish realities”, the relationship between Brave Orchid and Kingston, gives insight to the value attributed to the institution of family and motherhood within the Chinese society. Thus “The Woman Warrior” places a great deal of emphasis on the preservation of folklore as a paradigm of gender roles, expectations and responsibilities. The representation of women as mothers, therefore, endeavours to reaffirm or challenge the cultural values reflected in the texts.

Conclusively, the various representations of women throughout texts and particularly “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” and “The Woman Warrior”, reflect on the manifestation of values and concerns into more recent culture. This comparison, assists in the understanding of the reaffirmation or challenging of cultural values based on context-social, personal and historical-and perspectives.


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