A Sorrowful Woman

by Gail Godwin
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How do the seasons of spring and winter play out in the narrative of the story "A Sorrowful Woman"?

The woman has a breakdown in the winter, retreats into her room and clothes herself in white. She returns to a premarital state. After spring comes, she resumes her life as wife and mother, but this time it is too much for her. Spring brings her death.

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The story opens in the winter: "One winter evening she looked at them: the husband durable, receptive, gentle; the child a tender golden three," the first line states. During this winter season, the woman retreats into a room of her own, unable any longer to cope with the demands of...

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The story opens in the winter: "One winter evening she looked at them: the husband durable, receptive, gentle; the child a tender golden three," the first line states. During this winter season, the woman retreats into a room of her own, unable any longer to cope with the demands of being a wife and mother. This room becomes a safe haven for her. She has "a fire in the hearth" and wears a familiar old sweater from her high school (ie, premarried) days. She watches the snow-covered branches from a room that is white like the season. She reads novels about "other people moving through other winters." She takes care of herself, and returns to a virginal premarital state, symbolized by both the white room and the white snow. 

However, as "the snow was melting from the branches," life slowly begins to change for the woman. She doesn't read as much. When spring comes, she even leaves her room, entering her kitchen in order to see it "in daylight." She notes that "Things were changed." Coming out of her winter white bedroom, out of her retreat, she bakes a loaf of bread and leaves it on the counter. 

The full return of spring leads the woman out of the bedroom and into a frenzy of domestic activity. Suddenly "the days were too short. She was always busy." She has no time to take care of herself: "no time for hair brushing." Once again, her life revolves around taking care of others.

Spring is associated in this narrative with her final burst of domestic activity. She bakes bread, turkeys, glazed ham and pies, does piles of laundry, leaves love sonnets for husband and creates "watercolor beasts" stories for her son. At the end of this activity, "the house smelled redolently of renewal and spring."

But this "spring," this outpouring of her energies and creativity for the sake of her husband and child, does not renew the woman. Instead she dies.

In a reversal of our usual associations of spring with life and fertility--"renewal"--as the story calls it, spring doesn't bring new life to this woman. Her "rebirth" into domesticity instead brings her death. The virginal "winter" state of girlhood she lived in her bedroom may not have solved her problems, but at least it allowed her to survive.

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