Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is it wisdom or rebellion against a society which leads women to success?

For the sake of having to contradict my thoughts, I have decided to write against Virginia Woolf’s portrayal of women - make writing this essay challenging for me - using her short story, From A Room of One’s Own, and her novel, To the Lighthouse. In her short story, From A Room of One’s Own, Woolf attempts to depict how women used to live during the Elizabethan age. She creates an imaginative character- Shakespeare’s sister, and uses her to enslave her to history, tradition and society, which she entirely blames men for saying, “Wife-beating was a recognized right of man, and was practiced without shame by high as well as low…” Instead of blaming society itself, which not only consisted of men of low and middle classes but also of women who were stuck between the “old” and the “new” world yet could have enlightened the younger generation of women, instead, they chose to be silent - as we clearly see in her novel – To the Lighthouse - Mrs. Ramasay has the opportunity to speak to her daughters about their life opportunities yet she chooses to remain silent, and Woolf only blames men for the enslavement of women. She even goes on to say, a woman is considered “Insignificant… slave of any boy… she could hardly read, could scarcely spell. And was the property of her husband.” I believe Woolf is saying women are treated like rag dolls - they have no word to say, no room to express their feelings and no capability of leading their own selves. I personally disagree with blaming woman’s entire enslavement on the father, the brother or the husband for what traditions and mentalities have pushed a particular society to a particular point - limiting the knowledge and mentality of humans. Woolf goes on to add, “One knows nothing detailed nothing perfectly true and substantial about her. History scarcely mentions her… occasionally an individual woman is mentioned, an Elizabeth, or a Mary… middle class women with nothing but brains and character at their command have taken part in any one of the great movements… ” What is it women have done and their names have not been mentioned? Have they concurred a land? Changed the governing of a church or a country? Have women written philosophical essays that were pilled and burned? Are we talking about novels? Allow me to say, those women who have written novels and short stories because of personal break downs or emotional moments or even depressions are best to be kept hidden, since it brings nothing other than shame to the rest of the women. I think, at least for women, writing a novel is a means of expressing feelings and emotions of some sort and since, in the old days, women had no way of communicating themselves to their husbands, fathers or brothers their novels seem to be too extreme to be published. I need to explain I am not against women with emotions and needing to express them - I do the same, but I disagree making the depression or any other need public. Yes, women needed help back then, but let us not forget Woolf is talking about women from the Elizabethan age – mentalities back then were defiantly not like our new age. To us their living may sound depressing and harsh, yet to them it could have been either a normal life or at least not as harsh as we think. Not only women, any person will not know his/her level of situation until introduced to anything “new”.
Moreover, in To the Lighthouse, Lily- one of Woolf’s female characters, proves to break the boundary of social pressure, yet she was admiring Mrs. Ramsay for her beauty, her happy marriage, her simplicity, and her ways of attracting men. I do not believe any woman would want to be in the position of admiring another woman for some criteria, which is missing in her which she longs to have - if she was so content and determined to be this woman who did not want to attract men nor get married nor be in the position of simplicity and innocence, why was she admiring Mrs. Ramsay for choosing to follow the “rules” of the society. Choosing to be the artist of the novel, Lily chooses to fight the society pressure to get to her goal of independency. “With her little Chinese eyes” she lives to change her life with her own talents - she lives to live the art of life. “With her Chinese eyes” is the best description I like about Lily. I believe Woolf uses this description to make her readers start feeling some sympathy towards “Lily the outcast” and maybe start relating to her in the sense of an outsider towards her society. Woolf tries to tell her female audience there are those, like you, who are afraid to speak but fight to get their rights – a little light at the end of a tunnel, which I believe she fails to extent because in the heart of the novel she kills her main character – Mrs. Ramsay, who has been living according to the society and seems to be happy. Mrs. Ramsay is portrayed as an intellectual female character, a loving wife, and a caring mother - a woman who likes to feel power even around her dominant husband who “wanted something- wanted the thing she always found it so difficult to give him; wanted her to tell him that she loved him. And that, no, she could not do… a heartless woman he called her; she never told him that she loved him…” Mrs. Ramsay is viewed as the perfect woman following the “rules” of her husband and the society, at the same time happy, knowing how to handle her house, and holding her husband from the neck – she knew he needed her to tell him she loved him, also she very well knew how much he depended on her. Because of dominating passages in the beginning of the novel, it is very easy for the reader to be persuaded to take her side. “When she looked in the glass and saw her hair grey, her cheek sunk, at fifty, she thought, possibly she might have managed things better – her husband; money; his books. But for her own part she would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties, or slur over duties.” Throughout the entire novel, there is no mention of Mrs. Ramsay being educated or with brains, yes she was beautiful, which I believe made her life easier, yet her key point at knowing how to deal with her dominant husband and pressure of the society was her wisdom. What I am trying to argue here may sound absurd, but I really believe being simple and having wisdom will help women cope into a dominant society, which they are part of, rather than try changing something they, their mothers, and their grand-mothers have agreed to live with. Mrs. Ramsay is the perfect woman figure – lights to everyone and retreats from time to time. The lighthouse is her guide to the “new” world, no one seemed to stop her from extending her “vision” to the people around her, yet she chooses to make good out of what different generations have build and move on with life happy and content. Some may see this as an enslavement and feel sympathetic towards Mrs. Remasay, but I believe choosing to live like her is much more worth than living like an “outcast”. Lily, who tries to push hard on herself to change the mentality of the people, does not seem as happy as Mrs. Ramsay does. I am not against trying to change something that has strong foundations, I believe women can change a specific attitude or a specific mentality, just not the way Lily was doing it. I believe Mrs. Ramsay’s reactions with her husband and her children had more positive effect of them than Lily pressuring herself and pushing to obviously the boundaries set by her and the society. As we clearly see – at the end of the novel – Mr. Ramsay chooses to finish the journey his wife has been working on. We also read, his children learn he is not as bad and dominant of a father they thought he was. The final stage of the journey to the lighthouse, the Ramsays’ portray Mrs. Ramsay’s treatment to them. She uses her wisdom, to follow her husband and the society, to build a family that has respect and perseverance for each other.


Marina Mansour said...

welcome to the group of blogging of the literature society :D
i liked the essay a lot if it could be called an essay
hoping to read more on critical theories rather than gebran hehe (i do not like him that much)

jamal hanna said...

i agree with marina, nice post...