A Sorrowful Woman

by Gail Godwin
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A Sorrowful Woman Summary

"A Sorrowful Woman" is a short story by Gail Godwin in which a young wife and mother suffers from depression.

  • Godwin depicts the young mother as a kind of "cloistered queen" and the husband as a noble prince.

  • One day, the young mother becomes physically ill at the sight of her son and husband. She's overwhelmed by the thought of caring for the house, so her husband hires a nanny.

  • The woman retreats into her bedroom and begins communicating solely by passing notes under her door.

  • One day, she comes downstairs and prepares a big meal, only to die in her room that evening.

Summary

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 288

This short story ends on a tragic note.

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We are introduced to the unnamed main characters at the beginning of the story: a husband, wife, and a child of three.

The wife and mother appears to be in the grip of a major depressive disorder. She finds herself persistently sickened by the sight of her husband and child.

Meanwhile, the husband and father has taken over the household chores and childcare. He also assists his wife in maintaining personal hygiene. The husband brings meals to his wife's bed, where she sleeps much of the time. When she does interact with her child, the interaction usually turns sour.

Eventually, the wife and mother becomes physically abusive to her child. In response, her husband hires a nanny. Despite her husband's efforts, the wife finds herself despising the nanny; so, she fires the girl.

Later, the wife and mother moves into the nanny's old room. She spends most of her time reading novels, writing poems, and staring out the window. Her husband and child visit her at the end of the day. Eventually, the woman tells her husband that she can no longer tolerate seeing him and the child.

So, the husband and boy must resort to leaving the woman notes under the door. The child usually leaves drawings or paintings, since he cannot write. Meanwhile, the woman only comes out of her room after her husband and child have fallen asleep.

The story ends with the death of the wife and mother. Before shutting herself into her room one last time, she prepares a delicious meal, finishes a two-week supply of laundry, makes the child's favorite custard, knits two sweaters, and writes a tablet full of sonnets to her husband.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 379

One winter evening a young wife and mother is sickened by the sight of her husband and child. The next day she looks at them and starts crying and retching. Her husband puts her to bed and gives her some sleeping medicine, letting her sleep through the following day. The next day she tries to resume her duties, but her young son, playing like a tiger, scratches her. At the sight of her blood, she locks herself in her room and calls her husband, who brings in a baby-sitter. Several nights later, she hits the child and throws herself on the floor, saying she is sorry. Realizing that his wife is sick, the husband hires a live-in baby-sitter.

The hired girl is highly energetic. She takes care of the child and household, jokes and dances, plays chess with the husband, and does the woman’s hair. Meanwhile, the woman withdraws from family life, sitting in the big room in her old school sweater, reading novels. The husband renews their courtship and asks her out to dinner. Things seem to get better, until one afternoon when the girl brings the child to see his mother, and the child hands the mother a grasshopper that spits brown juice on her. The mother is distressed and tells the husband that the girl upsets her, so the girl is fired.

The husband rearranges his schedule so that he can fix the meals, take care of the household, and take the child to nursery school. The mother stocks her room with food and cigarettes and withdraws further from the family. Finally, she decides that she cannot even see them anymore and communicates with them through notes left under her door. Her husband continues to be understanding as she spends her time sitting in her room, brushing her hair.

One day she comes down from her room and bakes her family a loaf of bread. When she reads their notes of gratitude, she feels pressed into a corner. She suddenly starts working busily, cooking a sumptuous meal, doing laundry, creating paintings and stories, and writing love sonnets. Overjoyed, the husband flings back her door only to find her dead. The story ends with the child asking to eat the turkey dinner his mother has cooked.

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