Historical Context

Women’s Rights and Women’s Literature
The first part of the twentieth century was a heady time for many women in the United States. For some thirty-five years, since the end of the Civil War, debate throughout the nation about what the new political role for African Americans would be had spilled over into debate about new roles for women. Active women’s rights groups began to emerge in the late 1860s, demanding new rights for women: the right to vote, the right to attend colleges and universities alongside men, the right to work in the professions, the right to respectful and appropriate medical care, including information about birth control and abortion, the right to control property. Along with these political and economic demands, women also developed a heightened interest in literature that dealt with their lives and concerns. The bestselling novelists of the late nineteenth century in the United States were women, writing stories about women. Although most of these writers were not recognized by the literary establishment as serious or important, they served an important need in giving voice to women’s experience.

In 1899, novelist Kate Chopin published her novel The Awakening, about a young woman who comes to understand that the life of a wife and mother is not satisfying to her. For Chopin’s heroine Edna, there are almost no acceptable alternatives to domesticity. She would like to express herself through painting,...

(The entire section is 525 words.)