How do each of the women (Laura, Virginia & Clarissa) in The Hours conform to the norms of society?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the primary women in Cunningham's work do display a sense of conformity to the standards that society sets upon them.  Certainly, this is the case of Virginia and Laura.  Both women try, to different extents, to fit the mold of what society demands of them.  Yet, they both recognize that they are unable to carry this out as it is a denial of their own voice and sense of self.  Both women suffer for having to repel this conformist tendency.  Virginia ends up plunging herself into the water because of it and Laura abandons her child, creating a hole in his own sense of self that is never fully replaced as a result.  Interestingly enough, while Clarissa has the most amount of freedom with which to repel what is present in society in terms of conformity, she has to capitulate to such roles in order to please those around her.  She conforms to Richard's whims, to being the perfect hostess for the perfect night, to feeling that she is not an adequate mother for her daughter.  Clarissa conforms. Yet, where her narrative differs, and perhaps where the entire notion of conformity is challenged, is in how she is constructed in receiving it.  Clarissa might conform, but she also understands quite well how the little things in being such as the affections of another, loving someone, and being loved by someone are worthy enough to endure conformity.  As society seems to pressure individuals into being something that might deny their own inner essence, some level of redemption can be gained in being able to love another and feel love.  This might make up for the pain of having to conform to the norms of an unfeeling society.  It is here where Clarissa's narrative differs.  Virginia leaves a husband who is supportive and loving.  Laura leaves a son who worships her.  Both women might escape conformity because of their actions, but they failed to recognize the shelter and intrinsic hope that is present in the loving arms of another.  It is here where Clarissa differs, understanding that her love shared with Sally and Julia might just compensate more than the pain of having to conform to socially dictated norms.  In this redemption, Cunningham pivots a bit to suggesting that the issue of conformity is not one that requires or necessitates vast attention when it is cast against the unconditional love of being loved and to love another.

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