The Role of Female Characters in American Literature: The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath

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For readers who observe literature through a feminist lens, they will notice the depiction of female characters, and this makes a large statement on the author’s perception of feminism. Through portraying these women as specific female archetypes, the author creates sense of what roles women play in both their families and in society. In books such as The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the roles that the main female characters play are, in different instances, both comparable and dissimilar. In typical families of the early to mid 1900s, and even now in many cases, the man held the position of the leader, and the expected role of women was to cook, clean, and follow the orders of their husbands. This can be seen in the very first chapter of The Grapes of Wrath when Steinbeck writes, “And the women came out of the housed to stand beside their men-to feel whether this time the men would break…women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole”. (Steinbeck, 2006) It is clear from this that the women look to their husbands to decide how they must respond to any situation. Despite this typical portrayal of a submissive wife, Ma Joad in Grapes steps up as the leader and backbone of her family. Steinbeck makes this clear when he says, “She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she has practiced denying them in herself”. (Steinbeck, 2006) Clearly, the members of the Joad family look to Ma for leadership, not Pa. Unlike Ma, F. Scott Fitzgerald portrays Daisy... ... middle of paper ... ...hetypes of these primary characters, both of these novels make a parallel statement on feminism. The expectations of both themselves and society greatly determine the way that these women function in their families and in other relationships. Looking at the time periods in which these novels were written and take place, it is clear that these gender roles greatly influence whether a female character displays independence or dependence. From a contemporary viewpoint, readers can see how these women either fit or push the boundaries of these expected gender roles. Works Cited Becarry. (2008). The Art of the Great Gatsby. Retrieved from http://bigread08.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/the-art-of-the-great-gatsby/ Fitzgerald, F. S. (2004). The Great Gatsby. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons Steinbeck, J. (2006). The Grapes of Wrath. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

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