Describe the role of women in "The Death of Ivan Ilych," "Yellow Woman," and "Death and the King's Horseman."
In all three works, the authors portray women as supporting characters on the stage of life.
In Yellow Woman, the Pueblo Indian woman follows her mysterious lover's lead. She is drawn to his sexual and physical potency, and it is clear that she enjoys fulfilling his needs. In Death and the Kings Horseman, Iyaloja (the Mother of the Market) is both Elesin's greatest supporter and critic. She plays a supportive role in Elesin's life.
In The Death of Ivan Ilych, however, the author reinforces the idea of a woman's supportive role by portraying the main female character, Praskovya Fedorovna, in a negative light. In the story, Tolstoy delineates the suffering of a husband who enjoys little emotional support from his wife. We get the idea that Praskovya Federovna is Tolstoy's idea of a bad wife, one who withholds her support from her husband. It is important to note that Tolstoy himself spent many unhappy years with his wife, Sofia. Although she was initially a supportive wife (just like Praskovya Fedorovna), Sofia eventually came to despise Tolstoy's slavish commitment to his rigid social and religious convictions. To Sofia, Tolstoy showed little regard for her own suffering, despite his devotion to social justice.
So, in all three works (in varied ways), women play the role of comforters, confidants, and supporters. In Yellow Woman, the Pueblo Indian woman moves in with Silva, her supposed ka'tsina lover. She takes care of all the domestic chores; invariably, she cooks, cleans, and takes care of Silva's sexual needs. She does whatever Silva says because she believes that he has the power to "destroy" her. Also, she is excited by the fact that he has little fear of the white man. In this story, the woman is subordinate to a powerful man; her role is strictly supportive in nature.
In Death and the King's Horseman, Iyaloja leads the female adulation of Elesin in the marketplace. Elesin is slated to die with his master, and all the women are awed by his courageous sacrifice. When Elesin asks for a night of pleasure with Iyaloja's own future daughter-in-law, Iyaloja complies with his outrageous request. However, when a series of missteps by Elesin lead to his arrest, Iyaloja becomes critical of what she views as Elesin's cowardice. Iyaloja's change in attitude and temperament demonstrate that women in Soyinka's world are not one-dimensional in nature; they may play largely supportive roles, but that support comes with conditions. The women will not hesitate to withdraw their support if the men do not uphold their end of the bargain.
Now, in The Death of Ivan Ilych, Tolstoy focuses on an unhappy marriage from the perspective of the husband, Ivan. Ivan is moderately content with Praskovya Fedorovna at the beginning of their marriage. After all, she is "well connected" and is a "sweet, pretty, and thoroughly correct young woman." The two enjoy a "pleasant" marriage until the birth of their child. With each successive child, Praskovya Fedorovna becomes more embittered, caustic, and ill-tempered. It never occurs to Ivan that his wife is in need of his emotional support and that she has valid concerns of her own. Instead, he reasons that his wife's behavior is inexplicable and devoid of any rationale.
His wife, without any reason—de gaiete de coeur as Ivan Ilyich expressed it to himself—began to disturb the pleasure and propriety of their life. She began to be jealous without any cause, expected him to devote his whole attention to her, found fault with everything, and made coarse and ill-mannered scenes.
In Tolstoy's story, Praskovya Fedorovna has failed to play the role of the supportive wife. Tolstoy highlights the fact that her lack of support leads to Ivan feeling marginalized and impotent. Praskovya may have her counterpart in Tolstoy's real wife, Sofia, whom he felt was deficient in her duty to him. So, in this third work, the author indirectly stresses the necessity of women fulfilling their marital role as supporters. Whether we agree or disagree with his interpretation of marital duty, it is clear that Tolstoy had strong views about a woman's role in a marriage.