Posts Tagged ‘gender-roles’

Gender Roles in “Circumstance”

In Harriet Prescott Spofford’s “Circumstance” there is essentially only one character. The female protagonist is attacked in the wilderness by a savage beast and is eventually saved by her husband. At first glance “Circumstance” perpetuates the damsel in distress stereotype but in actuality it is the woman’s own actions that keep her alive and inadvertently her family as well. The protagonist and her husband both experience nature in an entirely different way, while they both conquer nature they do it in entirely different ways. The protagonist first falls victim to the perils of the wilderness at the hands of a vicious beast; however, rather than succumb to the hopelessness of her situation she acts in the only way she knows how, she sings. Through song the protagonist pacifies the beast, “while the beast listened he would not gnaw” (86) and buys saves herself from death. While the protagonist’s actions cast doubt upon her as a damsel in distress they exemplify the idea of a woman as nurturing and gentle. On the other end of the spectrum is the strong, cold man who brutishly subdues nature. The protagonist’s husband searches for her and upon finding her, kills the beast to save his wife. The husband experiences nature as a conqueror, one that gives little heed to his actions and their consequences. The ramifications of an outlook like this are seen in the end of the story upon the discovery of their ravaged home and murdered neighbors. While this devastates both the protagonist and her husband, there is some clarity and opportunity in their circumstance, “For the rest, —the world was all before them, where to choose” (96). Ultimately it is the method in which men and women view and react to nature that defines the characters of this story. The man represents society as a whole and its blatant disregard for wilderness. The woman symbolizes the unity that humans can have with nature. Though she was unable to definitively save herself there was the ability to exist for a short time with wilderness. Ultimately Spofford comments on the ways in which gender roles affect the society’s reaction to nature. There are many ways to react and there is no argument for which is right, simply a story that demonstrates the differences.


Spofford, Harriet Prescott. The Amber Gods and Other Stories. Ch./Art: Circumstance p. 84-96. pub. Rutgers University Press 1989


“Woman’s Role in Western Frontier Life (Article I Found)



Lawrence’s view on women of the West

The American West has always been a myth of masculine power in westward expansion. Women have played the role of damsels in distress and the text by Lawrence shows how women played an important role in the settlement of the west, contrary to popular myths. Another myth about the west was the ease of living that the west provided. The writings by women that Lawrence analyzes show how difficult it was to settle the west and the hardships of everyday life. Lawrence argues that it is important to read the journals and letters that the women who pioneered the west wrote. In her introduction, Lawrence introduces the idea that women of the west were able to shed the gender roles of civilization and become more dependent and self-reliant on the western frontier.
Lawrence has a good argument because Farnham’s text shows exactly how women were able to break normal gender roles in the west by living independently of men and performing all the chores normally associated with men as well as the “women’s work” (Lawrence, 83). Farhman wrote that “life in California is altogether anomalous and that it is no more extraordinary for a woman to plow, dig, and hoe with her own hands if she have will and strength to do so”. (Farnham, 28). This quote shows how women of the west built new self-identities and realized they were able to do much more than what men thought they could. This broke the myth that the western frontier was a place where women needed men to protect them from the dangers of life. Farnham was able to build her own house and raise her children on a farm without the help of men. As Lawrence argued in her introduction, reading the texts by women’s authors about the west is important because it gives a new perspective on western life. The texts also serve to expel common myths about the west and the roles that women played in daily life.