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The feminist nature of the novel is established earlier in the novel, wherein the novel begins with the following passage:
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others, they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all the things they don't want to remember, and remember all the things they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.
This passage from the novel sets the mood and primary thesis of Hurston's novel. Through the imagery of ships, the author elucidates her own meaning of what it is like to dream when you are a man, and when you are a woman, a member of the oppressed class. This passage conveys the hard truth that the women sector experiences everyday in her own society: she, evidently, does not have any choice in controlling her own life, while men are free to do what they want, aspire things that women equally deserve. By stating that life for women is a process wherein they "forget things they don't want to remember and remember all the things they don't want to forget," Hurston further emphasizes the lack of choice and decision of the women sector in the society, perpetuating her dependency on men, which also dominate and control the structures and institutions of society.
A similar depiction of women oppression is apparent in Achebe's "Things fall apart," wherein it is already explicit to the reader that the social environment in which the novel was set is a highly patriarchal society and culture, where men dominate and lead over women and children. Women suppression in the novel can be divided into two categories, depending on the character or event in which such suppression happens. In the novel, women suppression is evident through: (a) practices and beliefs of Umuofia and (b) Okonkwo's attitude and behavior (treatment) of women.
Many social customs and traditions held important in Umuofia explicitly shows the low regard given to women in the said village. One evidence is the use of agbala as a derogatory term to illustrate a man's effeminate nature, especially if he had acquired no titles to his name. Discrimination against women also pervades even the laws of African communities. Inadvertent killing was considered a "female" crime, as opposed to premeditated killing, which is identified as a "male" crime. Categorizing crimes as either male or female shows how laws, considered to be regulations and rules followed by people in order to have a just society, are 'gendered' in the village of Umuofia. Women suppression becomes more evident in Okonkwo's character. Portrayed as a man "who never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger." As a warrior and father, he illustrates his prejudice and oppression of women becomes angry when his sons, especially Nwoye, display characteristics akin to women's gentleness or his father's love for music.
Oppression among women between black and white American communities does not differ significantly, as evidence from Ibsen and Austen's works show. In Austen's novel, gender oppression is evident with the Benett family's preoccupation of their daughters' marriages as the only way to escape poverty and at the same time, improve the social class they belong to in their society. Some members of the community's hostile response to the Benett daughters' matchmaking activities illustrate the contempt that people have against poor people, for the wealthy class will not tolerate the fact that the poor aspires to and can be members of the elite class through marriage.
Contempt for women's characteristics and behavior is also evident in the character of Nora in Ibsen's "A doll's house." Her character has initially been portrayed as flawed, motivated mostly because of her preoccupation with material things that she wants to have. Torvald's low regard of his wife illustrates how other people also contribute to Nora's low regard of herself; by confessing that, indeed, she is a spendthrift, she becomes a voluntary 'victim' to the development of an irresolute, weak woman in her psyche. Nora's family and friends began perceiving her as a spendthrift and irresolute woman, incapable of making decisions on her own because of her flawed character. However, just like the women characters of Hurston, Achebe, and Austen, Ibsen's Nora achieves self-empowerment and regains her Self and individuality once again as she decided to leave her husband, leave the life that had repressed her inside 'the doll's house' for a long time: "I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would in future treat with doubly gentle care... It was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man... I set you free from all your obligations. You are not to feel yourself bound in the slightest way, any more than I shall. There must be perfect freedom on both sides..."
Achebe, C. (1959). Things fall apart. NY: Anchor Books.
Austen, J. E-text of Pride and Prejudice. Available at http://www.austen.com/pride/vol1ch06.htm.
Dostoevsky, F. E-text of Notes from the Underground. Available at http://eserver.org/books/dostoevsky-underground/.
Ibsen, H. E-text of a doll's house. Available at http://gutenberg.net.
Kafka, F. (1996). The Metamorphosis and other stories. (Dover Thrift edition). NY: Dover Thrift Publications, Inc.
Voltaire. E-text of Candide. Available at http://www.literature.org/authors/voltaire/candide/chapter-03.html.[continue]
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