Daughters in literature requires a thorough analysis of gender roles and norms. The concept of daughter is directly linked to gender roles, as being a daughter entails specific social and familial responsibilities. Daughters' rights, roles, and responsibilities vis-a-vis their male siblings can therefore become a gendered lens, which is used to read literature. This is true even when the daughters in question are not protagonists. For example, Sonya in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is not a protagonist but her supportive role has a tremendous impact on main character Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. Likewise, no one of King Lear's three daughters is the play's protagonist but they nevertheless propel the plot of the play and are central to its outcome. Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse barely features any of the Ramsay daughters, and yet there are ample textual references to the role of daughters in families and correspondingly, the role of women in society. There are female protagonists in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, though, highlighting the primacy of gender roles and norms. Literature provides the contextual variables that expose and clarify prevailing gender roles. An exploration of the symbolic interactions that take place within social structures highlights the prevalence of the double standard in gender roles. Moreover, the examination of daughters in Crime and Punishment, King Lear, Pride and Prejudice, and To the Lighthouse shows that women are defined and viewed in terms of their relationships with men more than on their own merits.
In Crime and Punishment, it is mainly Sonya who highlights the conflicted gender roles being explored in the novel. Sonya embodies the double standard of women's virginal morality vs. their fearsome whore nature. Sonya is a devout Christian, and a morally upright woman, and she ironically channels her lofty ethics towards prostitution. She sacrifices her body, mind, and soul for the sake of her family -- even when her father does not seem to fully grasp his own role in allowing his daughter to degrade herself. Moreover, Dostoyevsky shows how few options are available for women to pursue paths of financial independence. If Sonya were able to support her family by other means, she most likely would. The projection upon Sonya of a paradoxical responsibility shows that she fulfills a classical male role (breadwinner) within the confines of constricting gender roles.
Furthermore, Raskolnikov's sister Avdotya Romanovna (sometimes called Dounia) also reveals the paradoxical double standards placed on women. Avdotya is paradoxical in that she dismisses the advances of Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov, due to not trusting his motives, while still being a poor judge of character based on her relationship with Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin. Moreover, she turns down the opportunity for financial security and wealth when she distances herself not just once but twice from Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov, only to seek financial support from Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin. Avdotya remains ambivalent towards all men, in fact, as if she knows on a subconscious level that she would prefer a more fulfilling relationship based on mutual respect and egalitarian roles. Yet like Sonya, it seems Avdotya has taken it upon herself as daughter to feel responsible for the well being of her mother. As daughters, women become labeled as caregivers. They are expected to bear the burdens of their family's financial situations, even when their access to economic, social, and political power are limited. Daughters are viewed as disposable: they are useless from a social standpoint because they cannot generate real sources of income and are only valuable insofar as they marry well. In Crime and Punishment, the author presents two conflicting views of the reality of women's suffering through the daughters Sonya and Avodtya. Of Sonya, Andrei Semyonovich Lebezyatnikov comments coldly, "Even as it is, she was quite right: she was suffering and that was her asset, so to speak, her capital which she had a perfect right to dispose of," (Part 5, Chapter 1, Paragraph 26). Raskolnikov's take on Sonya's situation is different, and arguably more feminist in tone. He views her suffering as an unfortunate commentary on humanity: "I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity," he states (Part 4, Chapter 4, Paragraph 99).
Austen's Pride and Prejudice sends similar messages about the double standards placed on daughters. These double standards create paradoxical roles for women, as they navigate the treacherous and liminal territories between their relationships with fathers, mothers, sisters, and lovers. As in Crime and Punishment, the opportunities for daughters to achieve financial independence and support their families is a key theme -- but that responsibility of the daughter depends on her being able to find men who pay her for sex. In Crime and Punishment, sexual slavery is spelled out overtly in Sonya's job as a prostitute. In Pride and Prejudice, it is old-fashioned domestic servitude that surfaces and resurfaces as one of the main means by which women acquire money. The relationship is not as overtly mercenary between a husband and wife, but it is one that is rooted in the notion that the wife honors and obeys the husband, who thereby agrees to support the wife. Austen provides a somewhat tongue-in-cheek twist to the standard view, that daughters shift from being the property of their parents to being the property of another man-her husband. In Pride and Prejudice, the narrator states, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters," (Chapter 1, Paragraph 1).
The role of daughters in a patriarchal household is to find a suitable male mate, one who is not necessarily compatible with or respectful of, the woman, but also financially stable. This is because no daughter should be a strain on the family budget, and should be able to support the aging parents in case there are no male heirs, as it is in the case with the Bingleys. Virginia Woolf presents yet a more nuanced version of patriarchy. Matriarch Mrs. Ramsay pierces through the veil of patriarchy to expose its weaknesses. She wants more for her daughters: "Heaven it was none of her daughters! -- who did not feel the worth of it, and all that it implied, to the marrow of her bones! (Part 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 7). Mrs. Ramsay understands fully the implications of patriarchy on social institutions, political situations, and economic realities. She seeks for the empowerment of women beginning with her daughters, even as she hopes for their finding husbands and happiness in a traditional format. "Prue, Nancy, Rose -- could sport with infidel ideas which they had brewed for themselves of a life different from hers," (Section 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 9). The notion of daughters growing up to be independent in all ways is expressed fully in the character of Lily, who wishes to remain single. Also, it is suggested that the Ramsay daughters may seek "a wilder life; not always taking care of some man or other; for there was in all their minds a mute questioning of deference and chivalry," (Section 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 9). To the Lighthouse therefore explores the possibilities of alternative social structures and gender norms. Woolf's novel therefore provides a promising means of deconstructing patriarchy: beginning with familial relations.
Shakespeare's King Lear offers poignant insight into the means of royal succession. Using the example of King Lear's three daughters, Shakespeare shows that daughters can be expected to rule empires as monarchs, but that their role remains subordinate to men. The King, for example, refuses to believe that Regan and Goneril are conniving, scheming daughters who care more of their father's power and wealth than his love and his character. When Cordelia tells her father honestly that, she cannot lie and that she will not marry, she is scourged. Cordelia states to her father, her "lord," "You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I / return those duties back as are right fit, / Obey you, love you, and most honor you," (I, ii). Cordelia's words are the only one of the three daughters to come true; it is Cordelia who ultimately proves what real familial love is, and what genuine honor and duty are. The formal responsibility of ruling and the territorial claims are given to Regan and to Goneril, but their poor character causes Cordelia to have to come to her father's rescue. Her death has a correspondingly huge impact on the King: who finally sees what the difference is between his three daughters. Cordelia's character reveals the complex relationships that may develop between fathers and their daughters, especially when there is question of inheritance of wealth and political power.
The final scene of King Lear even hints at an Oedipal complex that manifests in the relationship between Lear and his daughter Cordelia. Now that he realizes her love for him,…