Study Guide

A Sorrowful Woman

by Gail Godwin

A Sorrowful Woman Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One winter evening a young wife and mother is sickened by the sight of her husband and child. The next day she looks at them and starts crying and retching. Her husband puts her to bed and gives her some sleeping medicine, letting her sleep through the following day. The next day she tries to resume her duties, but her young son, playing like a tiger, scratches her. At the sight of her blood, she locks herself in her room and calls her husband, who brings in a baby-sitter. Several nights later, she hits the child and throws herself on the floor, saying she is sorry. Realizing that his wife is sick, the husband hires a live-in baby-sitter.

The hired girl is highly energetic. She takes care of the child and household, jokes and dances, plays chess with the husband, and does the woman’s hair. Meanwhile, the woman withdraws from family life, sitting in the big room in her old school sweater, reading novels. The husband renews their courtship and asks her out to dinner. Things seem to get better, until one afternoon when the girl brings the child to see his mother, and the child hands the mother a grasshopper that spits brown juice on her. The mother is distressed and tells the husband that the girl upsets her, so the girl is fired.

The husband rearranges his schedule so that he can fix the meals, take care of the household, and take the child to nursery school. The mother stocks her room with food and cigarettes and withdraws further from the family. Finally, she decides that she cannot even see them anymore and communicates with them through notes left under her door. Her husband continues to be understanding as she spends her time sitting in her room, brushing her hair.

One day she comes down from her room and bakes her family a loaf of bread. When she reads their notes of gratitude, she feels pressed into a corner. She suddenly starts working busily, cooking a sumptuous meal, doing laundry, creating paintings and stories, and writing love sonnets. Overjoyed, the husband flings back her door only to find her dead. The story ends with the child asking to eat the turkey dinner his mother has cooked.