A Sorrowful Woman

by Gail Godwin
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How might Gail Godwin's "A Sorrowful Woman" be read as a kind of sequel to "The Hand"?

"A Sorrowful Woman" is a short story that was written by Gail Godwin. It is published in the anthology Dream Children: Short Stories by Outstanding Women Writers of the Past and Present. The story is about a woman who feels trapped in her marriage and her life as a wife and mother. However, she feels like she has no other options for herself, which leads to a psychological breakdown on her part. She begins to sink deeper into despair, which ultimately results in her death.

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A Sorrowful Woman” is a short story by Gail Godwin that appears in an anthology called Dream Children . It is an anthology of feminist stories, and this one focuses on a woman’s struggle to meet societal expectations of the role of wife and mother. It is told...

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A Sorrowful Woman” is a short story by Gail Godwin that appears in an anthology called Dream Children. It is an anthology of feminist stories, and this one focuses on a woman’s struggle to meet societal expectations of the role of wife and mother. It is told in the style of a fairy tale, but the theme explodes the typical fairy tale life. Godwin’s heroine is unfulfilled in her role and trapped in her marriage. She begins to deteriorate psychologically and emotionally because of it, as her existence solely as wife and mother makes her feel like a prisoner in her life. To sustain the fairy tale, however, Godwin likens her to a queen isolated from the world and confined in a tower.

“The Hand,” by Colette, revolves around a similar theme. It explores the feminine/masculine dynamic, but more significantly, it explores the effect of that dynamic on a woman’s psychological state. Like in "A Sorrowful Woman," the woman in Colette's story feels isolated from her marriage and husband, despite the security they provide her. Thus, the hand—her husband’s hand—is a symbol of both comfort and authority. It is characterized as an ever-present force, both large and strong, and symbolic of more than just the male authority in her life, but patriarchal society in general.

Clearly, in “A Sorrowful Woman,” the dominating male is ever-present. It rules the woman’s life and it molds her psychological state. Curiously, however, the males in the story are not domineering—both the husband and son appear to be sensitive to the woman’s emotions and needs. Therefore, the feeling of domination and subjugation lives within the woman herself.

In both stories, the women feel trapped by their lack of options in life, which leads them to withdraw from the men in their lives, sinking into a state of despair that results from the conflicting feelings of security and oppression. The hand is a powerful symbol in Colette’s story, and it manifests itself in “A Sorrowful Woman” as the powerful patriarch, the hand that soothes, protects, and shelters but at the same time dominates and oppresses. In other words, it materializes further in Godwin's story.

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