In the short story "The Revolt of Mother" by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, what meaning do you derive from the conflict between "mother" and "father"?
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The relationship between Sarah and Adoniram reflects the strict gender roles that have existed during their forty-year marriage. Adoniram promised Sarah he would build her a new house soon after they were married. It has never been built, but Adoniram has decided to build a new, bigger barn. Sarah eloquently expresses how she feels about never getting a new house to Adoniram, but he doesn't listen to her and finally tells her he won't talk about it any further. Adoniram doesn't listen to his wife because he doesn't feel she has anything worthy to say, especially if it conflicts with his needs and wants. Adoniram makes all of the decisions for the family and doesn't talk with Sarah about it, even though it affects her life.
The barn represents Adoniram's success as a farmer and his ability to make money, not to make his family more comfortable, but to make him look more "manly".
Sarah's reaction to Adoniram's decision is not to get angry or hostile. She still continues to do her wifely duties, such as sewing, cooking, and cleaning. Sarah expresses to her daughter, who is about to get married, that men do things very differently than women and are "beyond understanding". She does, however, take up for her husband when her daughter says something about him, fulfilling her role as a good wife to show and have her children show respect for the head of the family.
The bold change in Sarah occurs when Adoniram has to go away for a while. She sees this as God's gift to her in order for her and the children to move into the new barn, making it her home that was promised to her forty years ago. When Adoniram returns, he is shocked, and Sarah tell him in a calm voice that the family is going to live in the new barn and he needs to put in windows and partitions and buy new furniture. She helps him take off his jacket and tells him to wash up for dinner. After dinner, Sarah sees Adoniram crying, promising to do whatever Sarah asks. He tells her he had no idea that this was something that Sarah wanted so much.
In moving to the barn, Sarah reverses the traditional gender roles that have existed for forty years. Even the people in the town feel Sarah has either gone insane or must be breaking the law. In going against her husband's wishes, she has forced him to listen to her in the only way she can get through to him. He seems to feel bad at the end since he cries because he really didn't realize how much a new house meant to her. The fact that she continued to do as she was supposed to as Adoniram's wife told him that it was no big deal.
The conflict between 'mother' and 'father' represents the patriarchal, male dominated women had been subjected to. Initially 'mother' represents the submissive, subservient role women played at that time. Later, 'mother' represents the newfound strength of a woman who eliminates the subservience and upholds submissiveness.
'Mother' as she presents herself after 'father' goes for a new horse, represents the evolving lierated woman whose role is no longer to just serve her husband and family, but to have a voice for the family. The beauty in how 'mother' handles the conflict is that she continues to show 'father' respect. She does not move into the barn in defiance; she does so out of necessity but she maikes it clear that she still honors and respects 'father'.
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