(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

With remarkable insight, Charlotte Perkins Gilman uses social Darwinism as a basis for her discussion of the reform that she views as necessary. Women, she argues, must change their cultural identities. Initially, she points out that humans are the only species that has the female dependent on the male for survival. The economics involved demands that women pay back their debt to men by doing domestic services. In fact, she observes that female activities in general are under the direction of the male. This focus on sexual distinction has in turn led to a strange distribution of power. Women have been left behind while men have claimed credit for all human progress. According to Gilman, women have traditionally fulfilled the role of mother and martyr and as such are expected to make sacrifices. In turn, the mother passes this role on to her children, so that there is a continuation of the image of female as unpaid worker and nurturer. Gilman maintains that women have been stunted in their personal and creative growth. In other words, the social order is unnatural.

Gilman goes on to reflect about the strange social ratio that results in more children for those who can least afford them and few children for women who have an abundance of wealth and household help. In the agricultural age, more children meant more workers to assist with the crops. In the industrial age, more children mean more need for the mother to work harder to care for them and provide...

(The entire section is 413 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Lee, Vernon. “The Economic Dependence of Women.” In Critical Essays on American Literature, edited by Joanne Karpinski. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Mager, Lois N. “Darwinism and the Woman Question: The Evolving Views of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” In Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman, edited by J. B. Karpinski. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.