A Sorrowful Woman

by Gail Godwin
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What is a good thesis on "A Sorrowful Woman"?

One thesis could be that the woman takes on the role typically linked to men. A second thesis could contend that the short story is a fairytale pastiche. A third thesis might argue that it’s a subversion of fairytales. A fourth thesis might claim that the husband is sexist. A fifth thesis could make a case for the short story being a precursor to contemporary gender roles.

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There are a number of good theses you could apply to Gail Godwin’s short story “A Sorrowful Woman.” I can give you some ideas and then you can expand and develop them.

Possible thesis one: The wife and the mother embodies typical male gender norms. You could contend that it’s the wife who acts the way a typical man might. It’s the wife who detaches herself from raising the child. It’s the wife who receives all of the personal space she needs. It’s the wife who tells the husband what to do. It’s the wife who gets to be whatever she wants: a poet, a young queen, a virgin in the tower. Meanwhile, the husband is at her beck and call. It’s like she’s her master and he’s her slave. Typically, that power dynamic is reversed.

Possible thesis two: “A Sorrowful Woman” is a fairytale pastiche. For this thesis, you could argue that the short story is a spin-off or pastiche of fairytales. Think about how the short story begins—“Once upon a time.” You could then argue that the woman is like a fairytale princess. Similar to a fairytale princess, the woman has a prince (her husband) and an antagonist (the girl). The nightly “sleeping draught” makes me think of Sleeping Beauty.

Possible thesis three: “A Sorrowful Woman” is a subversion of fairytales. For this thesis, you could argue that the short story undermines or rebels against the typical fairytale story. Though it has the traits of a fairytale, it’s nothing like a fairytale. The woman is not a princess: she’s a wife and a mother. The man is not her prince charming: he’s an overindulgent husband. More so, the girl is not an evil queen: the woman was the one who brought about the need for help in the first place.

Possible thesis four: The husband in “A Sorrowful Woman” is sexist. For this argument, you could claim that the understanding and accommodating husband is sexist. The reason why he gives into his wife’s demands is because he doesn’t think of his wife as an equal. He thinks of her as a delicate, vulnerable object instead of as a strong person who, with some encouragement, could probably work through her malaise.

Possible thesis five: “A Sorrowful Woman” was a precursor for modern gender roles. My last thesis idea involves arguing that this short story, which was first published in 1971, was a precursor for contemporary gender roles in which the woman works and the husband takes care of the child. Yes, the woman doesn’t technically have a job. Although, you could argue that coming up with all of her demands and projects is a full-time job

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