Posts Tagged ‘gender’

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


Question 1: Emerson and Nature

Upon reading Emerson’s “Nature” it does not take the reader long to notice that Emerson’s idea of nature is a little complex. The duality of man and nature exists on many levels: man can be in awe of nature; nature serves man; nature is above man; man is above nature. The duality changes in accordance with man’s need. A way to explain this complex duality is by assigning nature the gender of woman. The duality of man and woman mimics the same changes as that of man and nature. When man is a child, his mom is his God and he is in awe of her; when man is married his wife serves him, and man is above her; when man is older and in need he returns to his mother—as Emerson returns to nature when his life is in disorder.

There are many instances in chapter one of “Nature” that support the idea of nature as a woman. Emerson himself refers to nature as “her” when he states, “neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection” (Emerson 6). The same can be said about a woman. Man will never extort her secret or satisfy his curiosity because he will never understand her; he will never know her thoughts or understand her strength. Man has always wondered about the woman that is why he constrains her as he does with nature. Emerson also states that nature sees man as her “creature” and despite all his “griefs, he shall be glad with me” (Emerson 7). Man is born of a woman and he will always return to her whether she be a mother, wife, or servant.

On page eight Emerson describes the woods as a place that man can return to and always be a child without troubles—“there I feel that nothing can befall me… which nature cannot repair.” This is the exact relationship between a man and his mother. A mother will always try to remove the troubles of her son’s life and will always protect him. He will always find comfort in her. By nature being a woman, it will satisfy Emerson’s complexity with nature; it will comfort man, supply him, serve him, and inspire him.


Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Ch./Art: Full book p. ix-76 pub. American Renaissance 2009