Analysis of The Revolt of ‘Mother by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

Analysis of The Revolt of ‘Mother by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

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Analysis of The Revolt of ‘Mother by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

This work will treat about the short story "The Revolt of Mother", written by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman and it will be based on the feminist criticism. By this criticism, this short story from Freeman is a kind of innovation in literature made by women. Feminist Criticism has been developed with the rising of the feminist movement in sixties, and particularly in literature, since the publication, in the United States, of the doctoral thesis "Sexual Politics" by Kate Millet, in 1970. This slope of the literary criticism has been questioning the patriarchal academic practice.
In the short story "The Revolt of Mother" we can identify the feminist thought of its author. She wasn't perpetuating the patriarchal way of making literature. By this thought, women were/are just allegories, they were/are: erotic characters, by their physical beauty; the mad woman; the incompetent; the fragile; that one who sacrifices herself for the other, like Antigone, Oedipus daughter, in Oedipus at Colonus play, by Sophocles. Freeman shows us a protagonist who discovers her potential as citizen, someone who rebels against the Society and Church moral rules to guarantee her happiness and her children's.
The author focuses on the plight of women whose lives are bounded by poverty and the social constraints imposed on them by their strict religious beliefs and their position as women. The focus given by freeman is related with her own plight in the past, when she wasn't a recognized writer. She was a young woman, humiliated by the condition of poverty that was suffering her family. What obligated her to live in a reverend's home, where her mother was working as housekeeper. The big trouble was that she had been in love for a long time with reverend's son, who didn't love her. That situation of her life can be the responsible for the improvement of her thought about the women's position.

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"The Revolt of a Mother" is a fiction that has as plot a woman "Mother" who discovers that her husband is going to build another barn to shelter more cows, instead of building a new house to his family as he had promised her forty years ago, in the marriage with Sarah, the mother. Since the beginning of the narrative, the author make us feel some determination in "Mother" like when she saw the men working in the field. She called for her husband and said: "Look here, father, I want to Know what them men are diggin' over in the field for, an' I'm goin' to Know." As the behavior in force, the patriarchal moral, her husband didn't replay and said her to go into the house to "tend to your own affairs". But she didn't, she asked him again: "I ain't goin' into the house till you tell me what them men are doin' over in the field". After her third inquiry, the man said to her what he was going to build. This passage is enough to prove that "Mother" wasn't acting like a typical woman who accepts her submission.
After that, "father" went out and mother went into the house and started talking with her children. Her daughter, Nanny, asked the same question about the man working in the yard, so Mother said what was going to be built there and Nanny muttered. Then, she asked her brother, Sammy, if he had known about the new barn and he said yes. So mother asked him: "How long have you known it?" and he said: ‘Bout three months, I guess." He also told that the barn was for four new cows.
The next moment in the narrative has an especial subtle and refined denunciation of the position of women, differently from the men.

His mother said nothing more. She went into the pantry and there was a clatter of dishes. The boy got his cap from a nail behind the door, took an old arithmetic from the shelf, and started for school. He was lightly built but clumsy. He went out of the yard with a curious spring in the hips, that made his loose home-made jacket tilt up in the rear.
The girl went to the sink, and began to wash the dishes that were pilled up there.

We can notice that women stay home doing the housework, when the men went working and study. That was the patriarchal and religious moral: The women just have to get married and take care of the house while the man is who studies and works, so that who can decide things. Freeman shows that situation with an emphasis at the boy who is going very happy to school, while the women stay cleaning the house. She wants to say how unfair the position of the women is.
The narrative continues with Mother and Nanny talking about the new barn. Nanny says she would like to have a parlor in her house, she says she would like to have a decent house to live in. She is worried about the construction of the barn instead of the house, because she is going to get married and she says she will fell "ashamed" to have the folks of her future husband in that room.
Sarah Penn started thinking about these things that she didn't agree with her husband, so she decided to reclaim for him. She obligated him to come into the house and said a lot of things about their strict life in that little house, but he said nothing to her.
A long time later, when the barn was already finished, Adoniram, Mother's husband, was invited by his brother to pay him a visit and see some horses. He accepted the invitation and traveled. All of Sara's feelings were free at that moment, so she decided to use the new barn as their home. She ordered Nanny and Sammy to help her to move.
When they finished, all the city was talking about what Sarah had done. The Minister of the city went for a talk to her because what she was doing was an insult to her husband. But Mother was sure, nothing was more important to her, instead of her own happiness, of her daughter and of her son. And that was the "Revolt of a Mother". A woman who thinks about her life in an indecent house during forty years and who decided change it, as by the time, she got an opportunity at the absence of her husband.
There are two conflicts in the narrative: An external one, between Mother will and action against rules and judgment of a patriarchal society; and an internal one, between what mother thinks she has to be, a submissive woman, against her will and the will of her daughter to have a decent home to live, what isn't the father's preoccupation. The conflict was solved when ‘Mother' moved to the new barn and when Father arrived; he realized that it would be better to his family. He said: "I'll put up the partitions, an' – everything you – want, mother."
The narrative has the neutral omniscience point of view, according to Friedman. The narrator is a third person out of the narrative who tells the story from any angle he wants to. The narrator is free to change the position of the narrative. By his perception we can know the time of the narrative, the feelings and thoughts of characters, the places where are happening the narrative, etc.
I have enjoyed this short story by the subject it treats about. The position of woman in society and the identification of the short story with the Author's biography were very interesting for me. I like that kind of literature, when the author puts its literature explicitly in favor of some cause. In "The Revolt of a Mother" we can notice the posture that Freeman would like the women have. She sad:

In the first place all fiction ought to be true and the "The Revolt of ‘Mother' " is not true… There never was in New England a woman like mother. If there had been she certainly would have lacked the nerve. She would also have lacked the imagination. New England woman of that period coincided with their husbands in thinking that the sources of wealth should be better housed than the consumers.

Although she says that "there never was in New England a woman like mother." She was a woman like that, the difference is that she used her literature to denial the society culture based on patriarchal system. She used a different instrument to denial, ‘Mother' used the absence of her husband to move, Freeman used her literature. And we know the power that literature has, that power of making people think about their situation and the situation of the world. Because of that "Platão" wanted not to have poets in his "Republic", once they can change the way people think to a "subversive" one.


BONNICI, Thomas. Short Stories: An Antology for Undergraduates. Universidade Estadual de Maringá. Departamento de Letras: Maringá, 2004.
BONNICI, Thomas & ZOLIN, Lucia Osana (org.). Teoria Literária: abordagens históricas e tendências contemporâneas. EDUEM: Maringá, 2003.
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