A Feminist Look at The Descent of Odin
It is obvious that there are many differences between men and women. Throughout history women have been taught to dress, act, and speak differently than men. These differences are so common that they can sometimes be overlooked in everyday life and in reading. By taking a closer look at poems and stories one can begin to see how frequently gender differences occur. Thomas Gray’s “The Decent of Odin,” read from a Feminist point of view can reveal many examples of these differences through the use of dialogue.
The Marxist Feminist view looks at the relationship between class and gender (HCAL 202). This poem was written in 1761, a time when women were considered second to men. Men spoke down to women and controlled them, especially women of a lower class. In this poem Odin is the chief of the Norse gods and the Prophetess is but a lowly god of the underworld (Grey 61). This gives Odin control over her. The poem shows a good example of this control that men Odin has. When he is asking to find out who killed his son he commands the Prophetess to, “Once again my call obey” (51). Three times he orders the Prophetess to obey. This continual order to obey is also a clue to the reader that Odin is of a higher class than the Prophetess. He not only commands the Prophetess, but also insults her. After she discovers who Odin is, he lashes back at her by saying, “No boding maid of skill divine art thou, nor prophetess of good; but mother of the giant brood!” (84-86) At the time that this poem was written chivalry was very important. Although a woman was not considered equal to a man, she was treated with some respect if she was of an upper class. The Prophetess, however, was of a class of gods below Odin and, therefore, she was spoken to like a servant.
Gender differences are further woven into the tone of each of the characters.
Odin speaks forcefully as men do more often than women. He is also more direct in what he is saying, where as the Prophetess takes four lines to ask who wakes her from her sleep. Odin interrupts the Prophetess at one point in the poem, which is an action associated with men more than it is with women.