A Feminist in the Medieval Era: Margery Kempe Essay

A Feminist in the Medieval Era: Margery Kempe Essay

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Margery Kempe did something that many people (especially women) would not dare to do- she broke away from the identity that her society had molded for her. The Book of Margery Kempe is one of the most astonishing documents found of the late medieval era and is the first autobiography to have been discovered. Margery Kempe does not shy away from telling the story of the personal and intricate details about her adventurous life. It is hard to say what influenced Kempe to go through such lengths to have her book written. Many think she wanted others to understand and witness how difficult it was to live through the social norms and expectations as a typical wife and mother of the 14th century. Little did she know, her life story would travel through history and show how molding of society influences social norms and self-identification, which are prominent, combating issues today.
Kempe’s story has a typical beginning. She is married, soon thereafter conceives her first child, and goes on to give birth to fourteen more children. She assumes the responsibilities of a wife and mother whose position in the late medieval society is assured by the solid reputation of her father, John Burnham, and her husband, John Kempe. However, Kempe’s conventional story changes early in her life by an elusive interaction with Jesus that she experiences shortly after her first excruciating child birth. Women were expected to carry out the societal norm of a good wife and mother which meant staying home to tend to the family. As we’ve seen, this is the opposite of how Kempe wanted to live her life — she hastily became distinguished and recognized. Her autobiography explains her own efforts to dissociate herself from the covetous and restric...


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...imes she made an impression on people. The fact that others had such a hard time understanding why Kempe did the things she did and acted the way she did made her that much more interesting and arcane.
So why is it that for hundreds of years Margery Kempe’s life story has remained so intriguing to many? It may be the fact that there are still “Margery Kempes” in today’s societies or possibly because The Book of Margery Kempe birthed the beginning of feminism and women’s rights. Her attempt to gain personal, financial, and spiritual autonomy is a tale of radical reversal that touches us on many different levels. Although we may not completely or at all agree with the messages, beliefs, and actions of these people or Kempe, the “female hysteric”, there is a reason why we stop and listen to hear what they have to say when we could easily walk by, uninterested.

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