Feminist literature has come a long way and I am still amazed by authors, especially female, who still keep at it. This is the kind of writing that uses language and literature to highlight social, economic, political, among other aspects, rights for women.
Literary works vary in how they explore this issue and are often categorized in theories and feminism waves/periods. In most cases, the change in advocacy methods rises at certain times in history and are often influenced by the political and social activities at their peak around that time.
Notable feminist literature authors like Kate Chopin led interesting lives that defied the patriarchal social structures in existence during her time. Below are three feminist short stories that have immaculately used the aspects of literature and language to achieve some of the goals of feminism as a social movement.
Of course, Kate Chopin tops my list. Feminist writer Susan Cahill termed The Story of an Hour short story as ” one of feminism’s sacred texts.” What amazes me about it is how Chopin manages to tell so much about a woman who feels trapped in her marriage, within events that happen within one hour only.
Louise Mallard learns about her husband’s death from Josephine and Richards, her sister and Mr. Mallard’s friend, respectively. Louise has a heart problem and the two messengers are careful to give the news in a gentle way. However, Louise does not receive this news in a way typical of a mourning widow. Instead, she weeps once in her sister’s arms and after a while, heads to her room alone. Here, she realizes that she is finally free to live her life as she wishes. At the hour’s end, Louise heads out of her room only to find out that her husband is alive.
The doctors conclude that she died ‘of the joy that kills.’ The sheer irony.
Louise actually dies because she had previously felt a sense of relief that came with the freedom brought by her husband’s death, who is now alive. The story falls in the First Wave feminism that mostly explored how men treated women. It also explores gender roles and power relations in relation to feminism. Men went to work or journeys, while women tended the home and waited on them.
A story of how a woman descends into madness because her husband (a doctor) does not believe she is ‘sick.’
An unnamed woman and her husband, John, go for a holiday to help her heal from postpartum depression, seemingly. She knows and feels an illness creeping on her, but both her husband and brother dismiss it as a ” temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency.” As expected during that time, she can do nothing about it but take her prescriptions. Her mental illness, of course, continues to develop and at the end, takes over her.
The story perfectly falls into the ‘Mad Woman Thesis,’ a theory that came to life in Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s (1979) ‘The Mad Woman in the Attic.’ The two authors argued that 19th-century works of literature by women confined female characters as either monstrous or angelic. This, they believe, was because of male authors who categorized their female characters as either pure and good or mad and unkempt women.
The book also suggests that female characters resorted into subversive and psychologically destructive behaviors because society forbade them from channeling their time into constructive activities. The female narrator in this story gets more ill because her husband forbids her from writing or working until she feels better, which does not happen.
Minnie Foster’s husband, Mr. Wright, is dead. He was found strangled on their bed when she woke up. The Sherriff and other men come to their house for an investigation, together with their wives whom they tagged along for formality. But it is the women who find real evidence of the murder. Yes, this is a short story you should definitely read.
I particularly love and chose this story because it contains several aspects of feminist literature. Sisterhood, as a way of resisting patriarchy, has been applied in many works, including this short story. The two women, Mrs. Peters and Martha Hale find substantial evidence that could prove Minnie murdered her husband, but they do not forward it to the men. Nothing justifies murder, but the two women hide potential evidence because they understand why Minnie might have killed her husband.
Glaspell perfectly illustrates power relations and authority operations of patriarchy. In more than one instance, the men show the women that an investigation is beyond them and they should sit and wait as men do their work. Consider this statement by Mr. Hale;
“But would the women know a clue if they did come upon it?”
Ironic that it is the women who find clues among the “kitchen things.” Right?
These stories definitely do not exhaust the extensive list of feminist literature, nor did I include everything feminist covered. However, they are an ideal starting point for anyone interested in this topic. What are some of your best feminist literature short stories and why do you like them?
What are your thoughts and questions on these three short stories? Let me know in the comment section.