How does late nineteenth-century fiction often dramatize the dilemmas associated with woman’s experience within a society organized around patriarchal values?
- Define the literary movements in American literature of the late nineteenth and twentieth century
- Relate works studied to relevant social, political and cultural issues
In other words, in your response take into account the intellectual and social contexts of the literary works, as well as the ways in which these contexts have structured the authors’ view of the individual, of society, of woman. Moreover, you should present a comparative view of the two texts’ treatment of the topic.
In the late 19th century, there were a number of authors who addressed women’s issues and connected them to larger societal issues. I will give you some examples of authors, and some of their important work.
Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie
Sister Carrie was published in 1900, but I would still consider it a late 19th century work because it takes place in the late 19th century. It was written by a man, but the main character is a woman. It describes how difficult life is for a young woman trying to make it on her own in the city, and the choices she makes that many consider morally repulsive including adultery. Dreiser dealt with women’s issues in his other novels too.
Nathanial Hawthorne: The Scarlett Letter
This is a perfect example of what you are talking about. Although the book is primarily about a woman’s rights, it addresses societal issues and the consequences of an oppressive society. Adultery is hardly the only issue. The book addresses how women have fewer rights and less control over their own lives than men. By using Puritan society as the backdrop of the story, Hawthorne comments on the danger still present in our own society’s treatment of women and outcasts.
Henry James: The Portrait of a Lady
James wrote about a young woman who feels destined for greater things. He had a tendency to present complex women in his novels. This novel, while contrasting English and American society, also focuses on the needs of wants of its female main character. He also describes the different opportunities open to women with or without money, and with or without husbands.