Sample Reflection Paper: Wives in Literature Then and Now

Reflection PaperLiterature
Mar 10, 2022

reflection paper is a type of written coursework that showcases a writer’s thoughts about a topic. Because deep thought is part of the writing process for this project, it allows a writer to explore their ideas and emotions in relation to the subject. This sample reflection paper features the writer’s thoughts on how the portrayal of wives has changed from 19 th century literature to 21st century literature.

While the nature of marriage is a theme that has been explored in literature throughout history, it was only in the last two or three centuries that the role of women as wives received particular interest from writers, many of whom were or are women themselves. The emergence of this keen interest in the experiences of married women, in turn, has resulted in compelling fiction that depicts, questions, and challenges gender norms and traditions. But given that married women led vastly different lives in the past, it comes as a question how the portrayal of wives in literature has also changed. Answering this question, of course, necessitates looking at both past and present literature. My reading of works from the 19 th century and the 21st century has shown me that the subjects related to marriage and womanhood that literature explores have changed in the past 200 years. However, I also noted that writers in the past and writers today are essentially the same in that they continue to challenge prevailing gender norms and traditions.

One of the crucial changes in the portrayal of wives in literature is in the reasons for marriage. Literature from the 19th century shows that women often marry for practical reasons rather than romantic ones. This can be seen in a number of important literary works from the time. For instance, Jane Austen’s celebrated 1813 novel  Pride and Prejudice highlights how marriage helps secure a comfortable future for women. As a distinct social class who had limited access to education or employment, women had no choice but to marry based on men’s capacity to provide for their needs rather than on love. Apart from marrying for security rather than love, 19 th century literature also shows how marriage causes a power imbalance between men and women. Two important works from the 19th century drive home this point. The first is  Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House . Nora Helmer as the main character in the play illustrates how women at the time held limited power in a marriage, exemplified by the fact that she is the “doll” considered as property by her husband. The other is Kate Chopin’s short story “ The Story of an Hour ,” which serves as the pioneering feminist writer’s commentary on the inherent lack of freedom women endure in a marriage. As these three important literary works from the 19th century show, marriage imposed limitations upon women. Apart from the need to marry for financial security and not love, women had to contend with being under their husbands’ power.

While 19 th century literature focused on the reasons women marry and the power imbalance between men and women in marriages, 21st century literature has shifted the focus to women as wives who live in the shadow of their husbands in a patriarchal world. Two works that typify this issue are Siri Hustvedt’s novel  The Blazing World and Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife . In both novels, the female protagonists no longer marry for convenience. Rather, they have at this point earned the ability to marry for love. But even so, they must contend with the sorrow of not receiving the recognition they deserve simply because the world as dominated by men lacks the confidence and the imagination to acknowledge that women can be just as good as men. Joan Castleman, for instance, pens novels worthy of the most prestigious literary awards yet her talents would not be recognized if she published them under her name. In the same way, Harriet Burden cannot transcend her status as a minor artist as she is constantly overlooked by a patriarchal art world. At this point, it is clear that 21 st century literature now deals with a new set of challenges women face as wives and as individuals compared to literature from two centuries ago.

Although the two sets of literary works discussed in this paper explore different subjects related to womanhood and wifehood, what binds them is the fact that they both seek to challenge norms and traditions.  The modern Elizabeth Bennet , for instance, can be regarded as an early feminist prototype for her spurning of convention. As one critic states, “Elizabeth will not bend to the expectations of women in society to forfeit her autonomy for a profitable marriage, affirming her will over social dictates” (Chang 82). In the same way, Harriet Burden in The Blazing World is an indictment of the proverbial  glass ceiling that exists in virtually every setting: “That cruel and condescending world is not, of course, set to rights by the revelation that three of the most explosive and innovative shows to have swept the New York art scene in recent years were in fact the work of this privileged and disgruntled middle-aged mother” (Cusk). Ultimately, the common thread in these works is the privilege enjoyed by men and the never-ending struggle of women which does not end even when women have made great strides in determining and defining their own decisions related to marriage.

Works from the 19th century and the 21st century that deal with the experience of women as wives certainly have their differences when it comes to the issues they tackle. Whereas 19th century works deal more with the fact that women at the time had to marry if they were to have a comfortable and secure future, 21st century literature now focuses on wives’ careers within the context of a society that favors the advancement of husbands. Despite these differences, however, it is clear that both sets of fiction are  feminist in their own ways. The difference is that the norms and traditions they challenge are specific to their time and space. In other words, wives in the past and wives today face different challenges. But their challenges are nevertheless rooted in the same underlying issue of gender inequality. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

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Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York, Penguin Publishing Group, 2009.

Chang, Hui-Chun. “The Impact of the Feminist Heroine: Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics & English Literature, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 76-82.

Chopin, Kate. “The Story of an Hour.” Virginia Commonwealth University, https://archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/webtexts/hour/. Accessed 9 March 2022.

Cusk, Rachel. “The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt—Review.” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/15/blazing-world-siri-hustvedt-review. Accessed 9 March 2022.

Hustvedt, Siri. The Blazing World. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2014.

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House . https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2542/2542-h/2542-h.htm. Accessed 9 March 2022.

Wolitzer, Meg. The Wife. New York, Scribner, 2005.

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