Women's Tenuous Position Society Susanna Rowson's Book Essay

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Gender discrimination in Susanna Rowson's "Charlotte Temple"

Susanna Rowson's 1791 novel "Charlotte Temple" provides an intriguing perspective regarding society's understanding of women in the eighteenth century. Although it appears that Rowson wanted her readers to be left with the impression that it is wrong to discriminate women, it is difficult to determine whether she wants to emphasize that women are stronger than one might be inclined to think or whether she simply acknowledges women's vulnerability and wants the masses to express a more sympathetic attitude toward them. One of the writer's main intentions in writing the novel is obviously that of improving the image of women in society.

Gender roles presented throughout "Charlotte Temple" make it possible for readers to gain a better understanding of stereotypes regarding women in the eighteenth century. While someone in the contemporary society is likely to be disturbed as a result of observing how women were treated in that period, Rowson actually designed the novel in an attempt to provide readers with a realistic story, considering that women were openly discriminated then. Men in the eighteenth century believed that women were inferior to them in a series of ways and that it was perfectly normal for them to assume an authoritarian attitude when in the presence of women.

"Charlotte Temple" reinforces the belief that eighteenth century women were believed to be inferior by displaying John Montraville as a scrupulous individual who were determined to do everything in his power in order to seduce a fifteen-year-old girl with no regard to her feelings. Montraville practically embodies all of the stereotypes that one can possibly think of when taking into account men in the eighteenth century. He expresses no interest in Charlotte's well-being and simply wants to take advantage of her naivety. Charlotte's age and gender makes it difficult for her to act in disagreement with his advances and she eventually ends up behaving in accordance with his thinking.

Montraville and Belcour see nothing wrong with seducing a fifteen-year-old girl, even with the fact that she is leaving church at the time when they see her. This makes it possible for readers to understand that the two soldiers actually fail to associate Charlotte with the idea of an educated girl that needs to be provided with respect. They actually perceive her as being little more than flesh: they want to abuse her and they are interested in finding the best possible way for them to do so. While contemporary readers might be inclined to disagree with these men's behavior, things are probable to change as Charlotte puts across her thinking and fails to observe that Montraville has hidden interests. It actually appears that Rowson wants her readers to be left with the feeling that Charlotte deserves her fate because she is naive and, primarily, because she is a woman.

It is difficult and almost impossible to understand a beautiful adolescent's choice to continue to want to see a man who is much older than her. It seems that her nature and her gender play important roles in determining the choices she makes. Mademoiselle La Rue's reluctance to stop the man further contributes to making it appear that women can be blinded as a consequence of following personal interests. Charlotte is curious and thus sympathizes Montraville while Mademoiselle La Rue wants to upgrade her social status and thus feels that it would be pointless for her to persuade the young girl that she needs to be friends with the man.

The moment when it becomes obvious that Belcour is glad to get rid of La Rue as she becomes friends with Crayton is essential when considering the overall plot. It makes it possible for people to acknowledge that men are largely in charge of their own lives while women are simply selected and enjoyed when men feel like it. Charlotte further reinforces this idea by starting to think about the prospect of Montraville leaving her at any given moment. The nightmare becomes reality as Crayton introduces Charlotte as being Montraville's mistress. It is then when Charlotte realizes the low point that she reached in her life and the fact that feeling a stranger's pity can be especially humiliating. Even with this, Mrs. Beauchamp is actually a character that puts across attitudes uncharacteristic to women in the eighteenth century.

It is likely that Rowson introduced this person with the purpose of influencing her readers in realizing that things were very different in the U.S. And that the old continent had a limited understanding of the importance of women. It is almost as if Mrs. Beauchamp is La Rue's opposite when taking into account that she actually considers that it is perfectly normal for her to protect other women. "But surely her mind is not depraved. The goodness of her heart is depicted in her ingenous countenance" (Rowson 95).

Although it is impressive that Mrs. Beauchamp feels empathy Charlotte, it is important for readers to understand that she associates her with the idea of a depraved woman. This means that she does not consider Montraville to be guilty for seducing a vulnerable young girl and is simply inclined to consider that most of the responsibility lies with Charlotte for making a bad choice. La Rue virtually accepts the position of women in society and even goes as far as to promote it by influencing Charlotte to believe that there is nothing wrong with her becoming the mistress of an older man.

To a certain degree, one can consider that La Rue was a realistic person and simply wanted to take advantage of everyone because she knew that it would be impossible for society to provide her with any kind of recognition otherwise. The moment when she "became in due form Mrs. Crayton, exulted in her own good fortune, and dared to look with an eye of contempt on the unfortunate but far less guilty Charlotte" (Rowson 95) is actually meant to emphasize that the woman practically considered Charlotte to be stupid because she failed to understand the way that society works and had to pay the price as a result.

Sex and gender are not only tools that one can use with the purpose of discriminating women, as these concepts are also used in economic transactions in the eighteenth century's society. It is obvious that La Rue is more interested in Crayton because he has money and that Belcour is no longer appealing to her as she interacts with Crayton. Similarly, Montraville actually thinks about marrying Charlotte, but gradually decides that it would be absurd for him to do so when considering her background and the fact that she has no finances. It is not necessarily that he does not want to marry her, but he is well-acquainted with his father's thinking and believes that he would never approve of their marriage. Gender discrimination was a common concept in that time period and this is reflected by how most individuals in the novel think. La Rue and Montraville are practical people and know that society would be cruel to them if they were to act in agreement with their thinking. As a result, they are unhesitant about performing acts that they do not actually enjoy, but that they are aware would generate large profits in the future.

Rowson intervenes throughout the novel and emphasizes that many eighteenth century ideas concerning women are flawed. While Montraville believes that a wealthy woman would make a better wife, the character of Lucy Eldridge stands as a perfect example concerning how a poor woman can make a perfect wife. In contrast, Miss Weatherby was a wealthy…

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