Provide an analysis of the personality traits of Rosminah in "Birthday." Use evidence to support your answer.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The world around Rosminah influences her personality traits.  She is a product of the social and material conditions that surround her.  These realities reflect how women envision hope and promise in marriage and domesticated life, yet end up becoming extensions of their husbands.This challenging paradox helps to define Rosminah's personality traits.  Rosminah reflects this when she recognizes her own condition as one that "settles into position by her husband's side."  Such a contrast helps to bring out Rosminah's personality traits. On one hand, she does believe that her actions will result in something better. She makes her husband's sandwiches and performs the duties of a wife with purpose.  She gives him the fifty dollar bill, rather than try to conceal it for herself.  At the same time, she sacrifices for her children's happiness, again reflecting the challenging dynamic between personal voice and external expectation.  

In these instances, Rosminah is an embodiment of what marriage is supposed to be for women in her context. The result of this collision between expectation and aspiration is a melancholic personality trait regarding the life she leads.  There is a sense of disappointment that the dreams and hopes that were to accompany her when she originally envisioned marriage are nowhere near mirrored in reality.  At the same time, she does not escape the pain of her sacrifices.  Rosminah's work, toil, and feelings of pain for such sacrifice do not blight her pain.  This is reflected in her characterization and such a dynamic helps to drive the story's plot.  

The fact that Rosminah throws out the sandwich maker is the culmination of this pardoxical dynamic.  She loves the sandwich maker and recognizes its value in terms of what Kala gave and how it is a reflection of what Rosminah, as a wife, should value.  Yet, Rosminah also acknowledges that there is sacrifice in having to save enough money to give Kala a gift of similar value.  Rosminah understands that she will never really be able to reciprocate the gift, or generate enough money to do so with the demands placed upon her by both marriage and motherhood.  The collision of both internal desire and external reality help to form much of Rosminah's character traits.

The weight of this collision contributes to Rosminah's personality traits throughout the narrative.  When she remarks that "I am not well" and even when her husband suggests that Rosminah does not sleep peacefully, bin Sa'at suggests that this paradoxically challenge is taking a toll on Rosminah and women like her.  The personality traits she exhibits as the narrative progresses is one in which the challenges navigating what it means to be a woman in a challenging social dynamic takes a toll on Rosminah.