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Role of Women in the Epic of Beowulf

Role of Women in Beowulf

As an epic tale of heroes and monsters, Beowulf gives its readers much excitement and adventure, but Beowulf’s importance is more than just literary. It offers many insights into the beliefs and customs of seventh-century Anglo-Saxon culture. Among these insights is the Anglo-Saxon view of women and their role in society. Good Anglo-Saxon women are peaceful and unassertive, greeting guests and serving drinks to the warriors and other men in the meadhall. Wealhtheow, the queen of the Danes, represents a typical subservient Anglo-Saxon woman. As a foil to Wealhtheow, Grendel’s mother is a strong and combative monster whom Beowulf must kill. By analyzing these two characters in Beowulf, we can understand the treatment and mistreatment of women in Anglo-Saxon society. The author of Beowulf generally supports the traditional Anglo-Saxon views of women by praising Wealhtheow, condemning Grendel’s mother, and showing the need to suppress feminine forces like Wyrd; however, he does offer some criticism of these views by creating sympathy for Grendel’s mother, allowing Wealhtheow to assert herself in the interest of her husband and children, and revealing masculine fear of feminine power.

The author creates Wealhtheow to embody the role of a traditional Anglo-Saxon woman, and he presents this role as the only appropriate one for Wealhtheow to fulfill. She serves as a peacekeeper in the ever-tumultuous Heorot meadhall. When the author first introduces Wealhtheow to his audience, she immediately falls into her role as peaceful greeter and cocktail waitress. The author writes, “Then Wealhtheow came forth / folk-queen of the Danes daughter of Helmingas / and Hrothgar’s bedmate. She hailed all of them / spo…

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…st darkness” (l. 73) to restore peace and order. Wyrd works to bring disorder and doom to Beowulf and the warriors of Heorot, just as Grendel’s mother wages her war of destruction and death on Hrothgar and his kingdom. Beowulf subdues Grendel’s mother permanently by killing her, but Wyrd can only be avoided temporarily, not destroyed once and for all. This suggests that the struggle against female authority and uprising is timeless, and the only way to deal with this problem is on an individual basis.

The author’s views on women may never be fully revealed, but it is clear that he believes in male superiority and that insurgent females ought to be suppressed. Like Wealhtheow, females should only exert minimal power and influence, but they should always keep the drinks coming.

Work Cited

Beowulf. Trans. Frederick Rebsamen. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.

Gothic and Feminist Elements of The Yellow Wallpaper

Gothic and Feminist Elements of The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” has been interpreted in many ways over the years. Modernist critics have applied depth psychology to the story and written about the symbolism of sexual repression in the nursery bars, the chained-down bed, and the wallpaper. Genre critics have discussed the story as an example of supernatural gothic fiction, in which a ghost actually haunts the narrator. But most importantly, feminist critics (re)discovered the story in the 1970s and interpreted it as a critique of a society that subjugated women into the role of wife and mother and repressed them so much that all they could ever hope to be was an “angel in the house.”

Keeping in mind that “The Yellow Wallpaper” can be – and most often is – interpreted as a feminist text in this way, we must also recognize that it holds its own in the Gothic genre. In fact, Eugenia Delamotte claims that “women who just can’t seem to get out of the house [are] the most basic subject of Gothic plots” (207). The Gothic has always been and still is a genre that picks up on the concerns of its day. In the same way that postmodern Gothic (Don DeLillo and John Crowley, for example) concerns itself with late twentieth century technological issues, Gilman’s Gothic of a century ago was very concerned with the plight of women in American society. When we recognize “The Yellow Wallpaper” as both a feminist treatise and a Gothic text, we can begin drawing conclusions that might not be obvious had we overlooked this dual nature of the story.

Gilman’s narrator – who appears to be suffering from postpartum depression – has been diagnosed by several male physicians, including her husband, and…

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… Gothic and feminist. It is both classically Gothic and an expression of the position Gilman would like to see women achieve in society. This duality is quite powerful. The Gothic trope of concealed objects is what enabled Gilman to best express her feminist views on the status of women in her suffocating society. Her nameless narrator is representative of all American women who have lost their identity to oppressive and unfulfilling domestic roles.

Works Cited

Delamotte, Eugenia C. “Male and Female Mysteries in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.'” Legacy. 5.1 (1988): 3-14. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Paula Kepos. 37. Detroit: Gale, 1991.

Golden, Catherine. “The Writing of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: A Double Palimpest.” Studies in American Fiction. 17.2 (1989): 193-201. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. David Segal. 13. Detroit: Gale, 1993

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