Comparing Femininity in The Woman Warrior and King Lear
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Femininity in The Woman Warrior and King Lear
What is femininity? What role should women play in society? These are questions that humanity has faced ever since the first hunter-gatherer tribes developed. Gender roles, at least in the popular imagination, were clear; the men hunted for big game, the women picked nuts and berries. There were clear reasons for this - hunting required the brute muscular strength of the male, while gathering did not. But as humanity invented labor-saving devices, physical strength became less and less important to survival, while "mental strength" - strength of character - played an ever-increasing role. This is a phenomenon that we see played out in Shakespeare's play King Lear and Maxine Hong Kingston's memoir The Woman Warrior.
Any work of literature can be said to make a claim about the nature of femininity; even a work with all male characters would be notable in this respect for the absence of females. But these two works are notable because rather than showing females in their "traditional" passive roles, they are made into active figures. Though the two works are vastly separated in space and time, they both make the same essential claim about the nature of woman. They make the claim that women can, and should, be empowered, and that the idea of the "woman warrior" is not a dream, but a viable reality. In order to show this, the character in each work that best exemplifies this "modern spirit must be considered. In King Lear, this is Cordelia, although the choice is superficially unobvious. In The Woman Warrior, the narrator - Maxine, for the sake of brevity - is the only female character well enough known to the reader for any empowerment to be perceived.
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...o begin the essay with the quote below:
The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be
the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and
excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like
the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (68)
Feldman, Erica. Personal communication. 28 Sept 2000.
Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. New York: Vintage International, 1975.
O'Brien, Tim. "How To Tell A True War Story." The Things They Carried. New York: Penguin, 1990. 73-91.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.
Rolfe, Alex. "Fa Mu Lan: an autobiography." The Woman Warrior reaction papers. 2000.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. 1608. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993.