Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 488

It's significant that "A Sorrowful Woman" was published in 1976. To us, forty-plus years later, the story can seem dated because women are no longer routinely confined to household and childcare duties. Most women in our culture now work outside the home, and their income is a significant and necessary contribution to the family finances. More women today are also single and functioning as single parents, without the aid of a nurturing spouse. To some, this sorrowful woman's lot could look either enviable because of her affluence or incomprehensible because women now expect to have many options in the wider world.

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Yet, it is in part because of groundbreaking stories like Godwin's, who picked up and carried forward into a "second wave" the feminism of earlier writers such as Virginia Woolf and Kate Chopin, that women have greater autonomy and more options for fulfillment.

The story, like much of Godwin's other work of the period, can thus stand as a period piece, capturing a snapshot of how the world looked at a particular time and place, in a particular social context, to a particular kind of woman.

This leads to a more significant critique of the story. Godwin's protagonist, the sorrowful woman, is clearly a privileged white woman. She has a husband who is capable of supporting the family in comfort on his sole income. There is ample food in the house, the wife has a "room of her own" she can retreat to, and the husband can afford to hire a caretaker to assume his wife's duties in the home. Women of color, working class women, and third-world women might look aghast at this woman's "problems" as not so much problems but the by-product of too much privilege leading to self absorption. Many women, then and now, can't afford the luxury of being depressed and sitting in a room reading books. Many have critiqued the feminism of Godwin's period for this focus on women of affluent means looking for self-actualization. It has been amply noted that other women of the period had to deal with rape, abusive husbands, exploitative work conditions, unsafe neighborhoods, and a myriad of other social problems.

It might be more helpful, however, to focus on what the story is than what it is not. We can look at it through a psychological lens as an accurate portrait of the way clinical depression can shut a person down into a world of anger and withdrawal that might lead to suicide. We can discuss if there were more effective interventions the husband might have tried. We can talk about the importance of communication.

And while not dismissing the economic pain and violence less privileged men and women have suffered and suffer due to class, race, and ethnic discrimination, most of us aspire to lead the most fulfilled lives possible. Godwin's story can show us that there is more to the good life than mere material abundance.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

The story is told in the form of an ironic fable. It begins with the simple fairy-tale opening: “Once upon a time there was a wife and mother one too many times.” This opening introduces both the tone and the theme of the story. The fablelike tone is maintained in the author’s terse style. The sentences are short and simple, and the overall tone is matter-of-fact and objective, adding to the irony of the situation. The nameless characters take on a universal or fablelike quality, and the immediate time and locale of the...

(The entire section contains 912 words.)

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