Essay about Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic

Essay about Gilbert and Gubar's The Madwoman in the Attic

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Women, as stated by Gilbert and Gubar in The Madwoman in the Attic, are often portrayed in literature as one of two binary opposites, ‘monstrous’ or ‘angelic’. Arguing throughout their theory that women are either represented as the ‘sweet dumb Snow White’ character or the ‘fierce mad Queen’2, Gilbert and Gubar expose how the female protagonist can never be understood as anything in between these two states. This dichotomy is clearly demonstrated in Felecia Hemans’s ‘The Indian City’, throughout which, the female protagonist is seen abandoning a life of angelic domesticity for one of monstrous masculinity. Consequential of this transition is the woman’s taking of her own life, which is presented by Hemans as the only way she can resolve the issue of now being monstrous.

Throughout the first section of Hemans’s ‘The Indian City’, the female protagonist ‘Maimuna’ is depicted as a feminine ideal, embodying eloquence and maternal instinct. Introduced to the reader as a doting mother, watching over her son ‘[…] O’er heaven and earth with a quiet smile…’3, (66) the character immediately appears to possess angelic qualities of transcendence and benevolence. As the relationship between mother and son is further explored throughout the poem, it becomes lucid that there is a deep-rooted connection that binds the two together. Described as having ‘[…] stood, when she had sorrow’d, beside her knee’ (111) and ‘[…] smil’d o’er her path like a bright spring-day’ (115), the child appears to give the woman’s life purpose, which arguably lowers the reader’s expectations of her, since she merely has one role to fulfil. This idea of representing women as a solitary thing is explored throughout Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic theory. ...


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...ust o’er her soul again’ (216) and eventually, having completely lost any purpose in life, dies. Similar themes can be found in Hemans’s later poem ‘The Indian Woman’s Death Song’, within which the female heroine drowns both herself and her child to escape ‘woman’s weary lot’5.

In conclusion, Felecia Hemans’s ‘The Indian City’ perfectly reflects the argument made by Gilbert and Gubar in The Madwoman in the Attic. While the female protagonist is portrayed as a motherly ‘angel’, she is viewed as virtuous and flawlessly feminine. However, once she has broken free from this domestic role and has transitioned into a masculine, revenge seeking ‘monster’, she is no longer a depiction of femininity. With no in-between status available for the woman and no other womanly duties for her to fulfil, the only choice she has is to end her life and relieve herself of her pain.

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