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He was attuned to her; he understood such things. He said he understood." Her helplessness and general withdrawal from the family are emphasized when she realizes that she cannot find a role that suits her: "she tried these personalities on like costumes, then discarded them." Again, as in the case of Chopin's story, the conflict is internal as the character is revolting against itself. At first, the woman thinks she cannot handle the roles of mother and wife, but gradually she realizes that she cannot find any role she feels comfortable with. The emotional lack of attachment to her husband and son are soon extended; she no longer feels comfortable with anything in her life.
The main theme, that of dissatisfaction with one's life, is greatly emphasized by the mood of the story. The mood is created especially by the choice of setting; the plot takes place only inside the family house. The woman never leaves the house, she moves from one room to another just like a caged animal trying to escape but not knowing how. In fact, there is deep symbolism related to this aspect; wherever she goes, the woman is still inside thus still caged. Also, the omniscient narrator creates a heavy atmosphere by using little dialogue, and extensive descriptive passages that are meant to allow the reader into the intimacy of the main character i.e. The woman. In this sense, her final decision to take her own life could be interpreted as an attempt to escape and be free.
Depression is a serious problem which cannot be avoided. Also, isolation and a total lack of communication cannot fix it; on the contrary, they only make it worse. The woman in Godwin's story neither understands nor accepts her own anxieties, and this makes her an unfit parent and a terrible wife. Through the use of foreshadowing, Godwin suggests a possible ending for her story. The woman's isolation is deepened day by day thus the ending is not surprising. She does not only reject the world, she rejects herself. By abandoning her husband and son, she loses her self-confidence and loses touch with reality. The final thing she does before she commits suicide is cook dinner for her family, do the dishes and laundry; there is interesting symbolism in these apparently irrelevant details. The woman seems to realize how much she has hurt her family, and makes a final effort to make it up to them. Her gesture reflects her complete disenchantment with the world since she can no longer relate to anything or anyone; moreover, her final act is a symbol of her inner struggle between what she feels she should be doing, and what she actually can do.
Faye is the protagonist of "A Secret Sorrow." Her relationship with boyfriend Kai is very strong and overall happy. They are the point in their lives when they feel they can plan their lives together; however, to Faye, happiness is directly and inextricably linked to having children. When Faye finds out she cannot procreate, Kai is supportive and loving: "Faye, we're in this together-you and I. Don't you see that? it's not just your problem, it's ours." This is the secret sorrow that Karen van der Zee points at in the title of the story. Despite the fact that Kai openly expresses his desire to be by her side, Faye thinks she has disappointed him: "Kai, I...I can't live all my life with your regret and your disappointment. Every time we see some pregnant woman, every time we're with somebody else's children I'll feel I've failed you! I..." Faye receives reassuring, but cannot understand why Kai wants to be with her since she cannot give him any children: "You have a choice, don't you see that? You don't have to marry me. You could marry someone else and have children of your own."
Faye has to accept that cannot have children, and this thought makes her grieve because she has always wanted to be a mother, and has always associated happiness and fulfillment with the experience of motherhood. Coming to terms with the fact that what you want the most can never happen is anything but an easy task. However Faye is not egotistical; she also considers the feelings of her boyfriend, Kai, and comes to the conclusion that she cannot marry him because she knows he wants a child of his own, and she cannot give him that: "I can't be what you want me to be. We can't have the kind of life you want...I'm so afraid...you'll be disappointed." Nonetheless, in the end Kai manages to convince Faye of his love for her, and the two get married: "Why do you think I want you for my wife...because you're some kind of baby factory? What kind of man do you think I am? I love you, not your procreating ability. So we have a problem. Well, we'll learn to deal with it, one way or another." They also adopt three children who desperately need love and warmth: "In their faces Faye could read the tragedies of war and death and poverty. They were hungry for love, hungry for nourishment and care. At night they woke in terror, screaming, their memories alive in sleep."
In the case of Van der Zee's story, the protagonist is faced with herself. At first, Faye seems unable to understand why Kai still wants to be with her as she is unable to procreate. In fact, her lack of understanding is a direct consequence of her own vision of life; Faye thinks that her fiance should find himself a woman who can have children because the desire to be a mother had been central to her existence. This way, she projects her own feelings of loss and emptiness onto Kai. Unlike the husband in "A Sorrowful Woman," who is also supportive and kind, Kai actually manages to help his loved one not only by standing by her, but by convincing her of his love and acceptance of her despite her problem. Kai does not allow Faye to isolate herself in her own universe of pain and grief, but reaches out to her and shows her that they can be happy even if they cannot have children of their own. Faye is able to overcome her crisis because she does not isolate herself from the man she loves; instead, she trusts him and learns to deal with her tragedy of not being able to procreate. Moreover, the couple find a way to have children, and at the same time, save three lives. The tragedies of these children are something that they can relate to, and this only brings them closer together as a family with Faye treating the adopted children as her own. Although she cannot have children of her own, the protagonist in Karen van der Zee's story learns to pick up the pieces and still have the life she has always wanted for herself: "Time passed, and in the low white ranch house under the blue skies of Texas they flourished like the crops in the fields. They grew tall and straight and healthy and the fear in their dark eyes faded."
The three stories are different takes on the emotional reactions generated by the anxieties and problems of life. The protagonists have very different ways of reacting, and more precisely of interacting with their surroundings. One conclusion that could be drawn is that isolation is not the key because sometimes the burden is too heavy to carry alone. Also, despite love, marriage can become a sort of prison when the spouses no longer communicate, and feel trapped and alone. Last but not least, there is an important question to consider, one that is raised by the stories of these women who find themselves at a crossroads when they realize they can no longer fulfill the role attributed to them by society: are happiness and personal fulfillment possible in the presence of strict social demands? In other words, can these women meet the standards of society, and still be happy individuals? Communication seems to be the antidote to despair as Faye is the only one who manages to achieve happiness thanks to her ability not to isolate herself from the rest of the world in an attempt to escape from her own life.
Chopin, Kate. "Kate Chopin: The Story of an Hour." 1998. http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/chopin.html
Goodwin, Gail. "A Sorrowful Woman." <rainstorm-services.com/wcu-2004/sorrowful-woman.pdf>
Van Der Zee, Karen. A Secret Sorrow. Canada: Harlequin Books, 1981[continue]
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