A Sorrowful Woman Summary

In "A Sorrowful Woman," a young wife and mother suffers from depression. She can't stand taking care of the household and feels ill whenever she sees her husband and son. She withdraws into her room, where she eventually dies.

  • Author Gail Godwin employs the language of fairy tales to cast 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.

  • Eventually, the woman retreats into her bedroom and begins communicating with notes she slides under the door. One day, she comes downstairs and prepares a big meal, like before, only to die in her room that evening.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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.