In Gail Godwin's short story "A Sorrowful Woman", does the husband's response to his wife's behavior help her, or does it hurt her? Explain. 

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gail Godwin's short story "A Sorrowful Woman" is a strongly polemical feminist story, which is making an argument concerning the nature of patriarchy. The couple in the story are not given names in order to emphasize that they function more as "everyman" and "everywoman" than as individuated characters. 

In order to show that the situation is caused by the operation of patriarchy as a system, Godwin makes the husband a kind and good person within the constraints of the social system in which the couple is embedded. Unfortunately, from Godwin's point of view, men are also victims of patriarchy because of the way it binds them within limited gender roles.

Far from making the wife's situation better, the husband's kindness hurts her, and may even be responsible for her death. Her illness is a function of being trapped in the constricted role of a wife and mother in patriarchal society. Although she feels trapped in that role, and revulsion towards it, the very kindness of her husband ties her even more tightly to the very role she is trying to escape; it would be much easier to leave a bad husband or nasty child than to step out of the role of wife and mother in a loving, decent family, and yet the role itself is what is destroying the woman.