Women’s Lit Midterm Exam

ENG – 118 Mid-Term Exam

1) The major feature of “The Cult of Domesticity”, as detailed in A.J. Graves’ ‘Woman in America’ and Nancy Cott’s introduction to ‘The Root of Bitterness’, is that a woman’s place is in the home. This “cult of true womanhood” began to rise in the early nineteenth century. It appeared in the print media, fiction writing, sermons, child rearing manuals and magazines. It started in the northeastern part of the United States but spread throughout the rest of the country through advances in printmaking and the westward population drift. What began as an upper middle class and upper class concept invaded the rural homes of the frontier.

The idea that a woman’s place is in the home has its beginnings in any force that could be said controls human thought. The forces of nature, reason and religion combine to convince man and woman that in the home is where a woman’s efforts can be most beneficial. Mrs. Graves calls it a “divine appointment from God” to woman to care for her family. The foundation of any society are strong family units. And it is women’s job to keep these family units strong.

A women’s responsibilities could be summed as thus: keepers of the home, to promote the welfare of their families, to strengthen the minds and character of the family members, to promote the interests of humanity by supervising the household, to train good citizens, use their influence to produce well ordered families, and to counter balance the influences of society. This last point was especially important with the rise of associations that focused men’s attention away from home, and also with the growing pervasiveness of capitalism and all its ills.

The organizations take the individual out of the man and cause him to lose himself to the group. He no longer thinks for himself but instead takes on the opinions of the group members. Capitalism by nature demands quick returns. Personal growth is not allowed for, and neither is the attainment and practice of personal principle.  Home is the “cradle of the human race”, says Graves. At home is where sons and husbands are given the strength, through the nurturing of the mother, to resist the temptations of the world.

As Graves ideas took root in religion and nature and can be traced back through history, Cott’s essay discusses a phenomenon that rose out of urbanization. As people moved from the farms and into the cities, tasks once considered imperative to a family’s survival were now looked at more as time consuming and leisurely. These tasks, of course, were the things the women did to help the family. Now many of them were done outside the home taking away a woman’s economic importance. The Cult of Domesticity inserted the domestic sphere philosophy into the void. Women were to become the spiritual and moral leaders of the family, promoting good Christianity at home to protect its members from the unchristian outside world.

The short stories, The Story of Avis and Sweethearts and Wives, tell of two women who marry and are forced into the domestic sphere. Avis and Agnes are different women and respond to marriage differently. Avis is a talented and dedicated artist, she is fearful that marriage will compromise her freedom and independence. Agnes, on the other hand, seems to have no life of her own and only desires to marry. After marriage both women attempt to settle in to their new duties as homemakers. Both of them fail initially; neither has had proper training, and neither Avis nor Agnes are excited about fulfilling this role. Sweethearts and Wives was written to warn women to what will become of them if they don’t dedicate themselves to their husbands well being. The wife in Sweethearts and Wives, Agnes, continues to expect to have her own way. Her husband expects his wife to care for the house while he works to support her. Eventually Agnes realizes that for her marriage to be a happy one she must dedicate herself to the home and does so.

Avis, unlike Agnes, has interests and ambitions of her own. Her travels have made her smarter and given her more sense. She has experienced things and naturally wants to experience more. Avis tries to balance her home duties with her painting. She is successful but only because she has good servants to aid her.

These two stories have interesting outcomes for the heroines. Agnes, a woman who wants nothing but to be happy and in love with her husband, finds it by becoming the proper housewife she is supposed to be. Avis, wanting more than to be a “housekeeper”, initially is happy but becomes unhappy. To an extent she can pursue her art but is saddled with a bad husband and suffers for it. Both stories seem to support the domestic sphere philosophy. Sweethearts and Wives does so by demonstrating a woman attaining happiness by dedicating herself to her husband and home. The Story of Avis shows a woman becoming unhappy because she did not dedicate herself to her home and husband.

2) Margaret Fuller believe women need one thing: to be allowed to grow. In her essay The Great Lawsuit, Fuller argues that everyone will benefit from this growth; the woman herself, her family. In fact all of society would enjoy the rewards of the fully developed woman.

Fuller wrote this essay soon after the French Revolution and during the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement. She used both these events as examples in her argument for the betterment of women. In the French Revolution acknowledge the mistreatment of women with promises of equality. In her own country Fuller believed that is a person could see the wrongness of keeping a race of people enslaved, surely those people could see the same wrongness in keeping a gender trapped in another form of slavery.

Fuller felt the way to correct the servitude of women was through properly educating girls. At this point in time most girls were not allowed into schools but were instead home schooled. The home schooling they received was limited since they were taught by women who had no formal education or training themselves. Women should be allowed to attend the same schools as boys and receive the same instruction from the same male teachers as the boys do.

Fuller’s rationale for educating women takes both practical and philosophical tracts.

The human is not made to be kept locked up, neither physically nor mentally. It they are not allowed to expand and fully develop themselves they will die, Fuller says. Women were created by the same God as men were and therefore have the same desires and aspirations. The mind and soul of women are the same as man and should be given the freedom to grow and live freely. If they are allowed to do this them woman will be better able to serve God, which is her calling along with that of man’s.

The practical approach has Fuller explaining that a better educated woman will be a better companion and caretaker to all members of society. Some thought that an educated woman made for a better companion to men so it was good to educate women for that purpose. This attitude assumes woman’s inherent inferiority to man. Fuller, naturally, didn’t go along with this line of thinking. Educating all women makes for the betterment of all society.

During this time of “domestic spheres” and “cultural domesticity”, things women could do to become a better wife were talked about frequently. Fuller had her own idea to improve marital relationships. This idea had two equally educated and intelligent people forming a an intellectual partnership. They would be equals and would be able to approach matters equally. Their bond would be stronger, as they would be attached in another manner as were the traditional married couples. The couple would not just be husband and wife but also friends able to understand the problems each other faced. Neither the husband nor the wife would face trouble alone. Their partner is there to help them and understand what they are going through. Being able to do this makes for a stronger and longer lasting relationship.

Fuller aspires for equality but recognizes the place women have in many man’s minds. If a woman distinguishes herself it is because of her “manly” qualities. The woman is not exemplary because of her deeds but because she is like a man. Fuller is offended by this attitude. But her offense does not preclude her from seeing both masculine and feminine qualities and achievements among both sexes. Women fight in wars, men love their children as a mother would. Men sew while women scientists make new discoveries. Noone is purely male or female. Everyone, in some ways, are both male and female.

Now Fuller lived and wrote during the rise of the “Cult of Domesticity.” During that time most (but not all) of  the publications produced to influence women were written by men. It is not surprising then that Fuller disagrees with the domestic sphere philosophy touted at the time. Whereas the cult would have women being uneducated housewives dedicated to their homes and families, Fuller would have these same women becoming educated productive active members of their communities. Fuller felt, and history has shown, that women have the same capabilities as men. And if properly cultivated these capabilities would have rewards. Women could make society stronger in a new way – by realizing the potential given to them by God.

In the view of A.J. Graves a woman can do her best work by tending to the home, by being the strength that holds the family together. Fuller feels a woman can benefit society best by getting out and becoming a part of that society, instead of sitting at home and letting men do it all. Women and men, says fuller, are both blessed with the same abilities and can make equal contributions. And according to Fuller what separates women from men is no more than biology.

3a) Well, Jo and Laurie are not complex characters at all. From the first time we meet them to the end of the story Jo March and Laurie Laurence are essentially the same people. True Jo gets married, something she said she’d never do, and Laurie marries his second choice of the March girls, but little in the way of their personalities has changed.

Jo March is second oldest out of four sisters. She is in a good position. She is not the oldest child (and does not have to mature faster than is necessary), she is not the middle child (so does not suffer from the lack of parental attention usually unpaid to the middle child), and she is also not the youngest (usually the most spoiled). Jo is caught in a vortex where she is able to develop her own personality free from outside forces.

Jo is the tomboy of the group. She likes to do un-“ladylike” things such as play sports, she isn’t the type of girl to get dressed up and put on appearances, she likes to write, is shy around girls, prefers the company of boys, is loyal to her family, has an athletic figure more suited for a boy than girl, speaks bluntly, is outgoing and finally fearless. She regrets being born a girl and considers herself the man of the family now that her father is off at war.

Looking at Jo at the end of the book I see little change. Jo is married, breaking that vow to herself, and she has children, the least likely of the March sisters’ to have become a mother. But her best friend is still a boy, Laurie, and she married a much older man, a trait of women who prefer the company of men over other women. The school she starts is a school for boys only. Does Jo forget her and her sisters were once girls? Not likely, but in the books span of fifteen years Jo has not become more feminine.

It comes as no surprise that Laurie Laurence is Jo’s best friend. He is Jo’s male equivalent. Laurie is athletic, outgoing, playful. He also shares Jo’s love of playing pranks and blunt manners. He is not too serious and carries on like he hasn’t a care in the world. Laurie is an only child but one that is raised by a grandparent, and not his mother and father. This has had the effect of making him a hard-to-handle boy but also well grounded. His grandfather is stern but he does not spoil Laurie. Laurie is also lucky that he lived next door to the March’s. The five March women act as friends brothers and mothers to Laurie all at once. Laurie knows what it is like to be cared for truly. When he is behaving poorly he is told, but in a loving way. Laurie receives constructive criticism from the March’s, attached with love. This is probably some sort of religious concept but I don’t know what it is. Laurie seems to spend most of his time with girls but this doesn’t make him feminine. He plays sports with other boys and has many male friends. He prefers the company the March’s however.

Laurie is like Jo in another way. He changes very little from the beginning of the book to the end. At the end he is married and has children. This comes as no surprise as these were both goals of Laurie’s. He is still athletic; he plays cricket with the other men and boys and well as climbing trees. He is still playful and a prankster. His best friend is still Jo and in my opinion Laurie still loves her more than he does Amy. 

If either Jo or Laurie changed dramatically it would be Laurie. It is Laurie and not Jo that had several people to please. Laurie’s close relationship with the March’s meant he had women please at once. Women have the effect of causing men to be either on their worst behavior (as when Laurie writes the fake love letter from John to Meg) or on their best behavior (like when Laurie rescues the injured Meg at the Moffat’s New Years Eve party). The changes in Laurie take place in Europe and at the behest of Amy. We don’t see them but we know they take place otherwise Amy wouldn’t have married him.

Jo embody’s  both the domestic sphere philosophy and also Margaret Fuller’s idea of female emancipation. Laurie embody’s Fuller’s philosophy that people exhibit characteristics associated with both sexes. Jo sews, babysits her aunt, lives at home, dedicates herself to caring for her family. That’s part of her feminine side. Jo also plays sports, wears plain clothes, writes (up to this point considered the dominion of men) and lacks tact. Jo is the ideal of both sides. She marries and has kids. She writes professionally and operates a boarding school as an equal partner with her husband. She is not ashamed at being proud at being a mother and wife and one days she hopes again to write.

Laurie is less androgynous than Jo but it is not close to being chauvinistic. Laurie truly enjoys the company of women. He is friends with the March sisters because he likes them, not because he wants something from them. He is only mildly flirtatious and it is several years before he exposes his feelings to Jo. Laurie doesn’t tell the sisters how to act or behave, he doesn’t tell Amy not to pursue her art. 

Leave a Reply