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Women and the Patriarchal Society in Michael Cunningham's The Hours

Women Pressured by the Demands of a Patriarchal Society in Michael Cunningham's The Hours

In Michael Cunningham's The Hours, Laura Brown, one of the novel's protagonists, is trapped by the responsibility of being a housewife and mother. Cunningham's story uses one of Virginia Woolf's works, Mrs. Dalloway, as a template to weave the lives of three women together in a narrative delicately split into three branching tales that echo each other. One branch of the story leads to a fictional account of Virginia Woolf creating the first draft of her famous novel. A second narrative in Cunningham's tale is that of Clarissa Vaughn - a woman whose life mirrors that of Woolf's fictional character Mrs. Dalloway. The final woman in the trio of Cunningham's leading protagonists is Laura Brown, a depressed housewife slowly being pushed to a breaking point by conforming to a life that a patriarchal society demands.

Laura Brown's story begins in June of 1949 on the birthday of her husband Dan, a returned war hero. Dan is a good hearted man, a friend of the family, and the first man to adore her and shower her with affection, so when he asked Laura to marry him, she thought "what could she say but yes" (40). The protagonist is initially wrapped up in the romanticism of her relationship with Dan. Their marriage begins as the role of housewife is slowly diminishing after the Second World War (Sullerot 80). Technological advancements and the returning of men to the workplace makes the lives of women more subjugated as they are confined to the more socially acceptable role of housewife. Laura does what a male dominated culture says is the right thing and marries a good man that is every woman's ideal, but she slowly realizes that she is not read...

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...n prisoner by mankind and thrown in the jail cell of her home. Laura is a chained by the world of male dominance and the inferiority that it bestows on women. She is guilty of crimes against her family and against herself. Laura cannot choose to live a life for her children and her husband because she would smother her spirit. The protagonist also cannot choose to live her life the way that she desires because it is a crime against the patriarchy. Accepting neither life, Laura leaves her husband and children, forgoing a room of her own to live not as a mother, a wife, or an artist, but as herself.

Works Cited

* Janeway, Elizabeth. Man's World, Woman's Place: A Study in Social Mythology. New York: Maple, 1971.

* Sullerot, Evelyne. Woman, Society, and Change. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971.

* Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. New York: Harbinger, 1929.
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