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Power and Privilege Displayed in A Woman on a Roof

Power and Privilege Displayed in A Woman on a Roof

In Doris Lessing’s “A Woman on a Roof,” three workmen react differently towards a woman sunbathing on a roof. The men are Harry, who is in his mid-40s, Stanley, who is newly married, and Tom, who is 17. They are engaged in a jovial banter when they spot a woman about fifty yards from where they are standing. She’s on her back, face down on a brown blanket. Stanley is first to comment, “She’s stark naked.” Harry agrees, “Looks like it,” while Tom cranes his neck so he can see more and replies, “She thinks no one can see.” Stanley whistles, but the woman does not look up. She sits, smoking a cigarette (856).

This seems to be one of Lessing’s most critically neglected stories. In fact, there are only a few written criticisms about it, and most of these focus on the different reactions of the three workmen. However, the woman, who is not named in the story, is also a very intriguing and interesting character. While many readers see her as an innocent – the sunbather who only wants to be left alone – there is evidence to show that she uses her sexuality through nonverbal communication to show power and privilege.

Sociological perspectives suggest that nonverbal communication is of particular importance to women because their socialization to docility and passivity makes them likely targets for social control. Sexuality (masculinity or femininity) is not biologically determined but is part of social learning. In “Womanspeak and Manspeak,” Nancy Henley, Mykol Hamilton, and Barrie Thorne have argued that while women’s general bodily demeanor must be restrained and restricted, and that their femininity is gauged by how little (personal) space they take up. In contra…

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Henslin, James. ” On Becoming Male.” Down to Earth Sociology. Ed. James Henslin. New York: The Free Press, 1991. 126-148.

Lessing, Doris. “A Woman on a Roof.” The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. 856-862.

Works Consulted

Allen, Orphia Jane. ” Structure and Motif in Doris Lessing’s A Man and Two Women.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler.NY: Gale Research Inc., 1986. 199.

Fitzgerald, Edward. ” Retreat From Home.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. New York: Gale Research Inc., 1986. 186.

Hardin, Nancy. “Doris Lessing and the Sufi Way.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. New York: Gale Research Inc., 1976. 123.

Zak, Michele. “The Grass Is Singing: A Little Novel about the Emotions.” Short Story Criticism. Ed. Thomas Votteler. New York: Gale Research Inc., 1986. 206.

Women as Objects in A Woman on a Roof

Women as Objects in A Woman on a Roof

Doris Lessing’s “A Woman on a Roof” allows us to understand how some men view woman: as mere objects for display and possession. Lessing shows how each of the male characters reacts and deals with rejection from a woman sunbathing on a nearby rooftop. We discover how three men’s preoccupation with sex keeps them unaware of how their advances may be unwanted and ignorant of their action’s possible consequences.

All three men share the desire to get this woman’s attention. Working on a rooftop of a block of flats in the hot, hot, sun, these men seek a diversion from the relentless heat. They whistle, yell, and wave at a near naked woman on a rooftop nearby, but the woman pays no mind to them. Their isolation on the rooftop and the woman’s relentless indignation fuels the men’s decent into a world of lewd behavior, thereby creating an atmosphere of harassment and rejection. They become “taunted” by this woman’s indifference towards them.

All three men have distinctly different attitudes towards the situation they have created. Each has experienced rejection from women. In fact, each displays a level of hardness that affects his attitude. They each react differently to the woman’s indifference and each take his efforts to different levels.

Tom, the youngest, represents a primary level, a man untouched by rejection. Stanley, the instigator, clearly at a secondary level to Tom, shows a man slightly touched by rejection. Stanley hates the blows of rejection to his manhood. Harry, on the other hand, represents a final level where he considers the woman’s presence trivial. He is long since married and possibly has suffered many indignities with regards to the scowls of women….

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…displayed “lessons learned” in their attitudes. They knew when to quit. Tom took his unbridled actions all the way because he knew no better.

The men return to work the next day with a new distraction on their minds. The weather has changed suddenly and is no longer attractive to sun bathers. Without the presence of the woman on the roof there are no sexual thoughts to preoccupy them. For Tom and Stanley, the consequences of their actions are forgotten and only evident in their new levels of understanding.

Works Cited

Allen, Orphia J., Short Story Criticism. Vol 16. Ed. Thomas Vottler. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Co., 1990.

Atack, Margaret., Short Story Criticism. Vol 6. Ed. Thomas Vottler.Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Co., 1990.

Leasing, Doris. “A Woman on a Roof.” The Harper Anthology Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1981.

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