Lee Smith's novel On Agate Hill

Lee Smith's novel On Agate Hill

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Lee Smiths novel On Agate Hill
Mariah Snow wrote, “We lose our names as we lose our youth, our beauty and our lives” (163). This quote from Lee Smiths novel On Agate Hill says a lot about Mariah and her own life. She had always been treated like a ‘second citizen’, as most women were in that time period, being that men held the power of most relationships, as well as in society in general, Mariah felt as though she had been pushed around a lot but could not even speak up. When women get married, they give up their last name, almost symbolizing that their individuality is completely gone. In Mariah’s case, once she got married to Dr. Snow, she lost her name; once she had babies she lost her youth; and she did not feel beautiful anymore because life’s stresses were taking toll, and she really did not love herself much at all.
Mariah gave up her ability to make decisions on her own. Mariah did not wish for Molly to attend Gatewood Academy but Dr. Snow made the choice for her. “But now – NOW, how dare he call me the Headmistress yet refuse to allow me the right of participation in even such a basic decision as this one? Truly I am his Servant, NOT his Partner, whether he owns it or not. Basically Dr. Snow does nothing but read, while I work my fingers to the bone, yet have Nothing to say on any topic, him determining all according to his whim though he understands nothing, I repeat NOTHING about the administration of this Academy or anything else” (147). She also gave up the right to name her own child and let her husband name her after someone she did not even remotely like. “…I will name her Susannah in hopes she will have a happier Spirit and a Lighter Heart than her mother … At last Dr. Snow has come to see the child, he has named her Frances Theodosia, for his Mother, whom I Hated with all my being”(163). She expressed remorse at having a girl saying “I confess my sorrow at having a girl, for I know how she will struggle in this world. The burdens of our sex are heavy” (163).
She also gave up the right she has to her own body, unable to control when, where, or how often sex acts are to be preformed.

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“… pulling me toward him and into the house where to my surprise he exercised his Conjugal Rights upon the hall bench in broad daylight” (152). She even wrote in her journal about how she did not like having sexual relations with her husband, and afterwards punished herself and felt sick. “Tonight I have suffered the attentions of Dr. Snow, followed by a delightful and shockingly cold Bath, then awake all night long with the Palpitations of the Heart. I am not well” (173). Upon a visit to the doctor she was told to practice abstinence. She then admitted only to herself in her journal, “Abstinence Mariah, he counseled. Which is not possible, as all depends on the whim of Dr. Snow” (163).
She did not allow herself to exercise her desires with Simon Black. It is clear to the reader that she had a secret yearning for him but did not allow herself to do what her husband so obviously did. In fact she wondered if she should punish herself for her sin. “…I wonder how much one should punish ones self for a sin committed only in the Mind, as opposed to Actuality? In other words, what part intentionality and what part actuality go to make up a Sin? For I feel as guilty as if I had committed the Act. I must Atone” (204).
Mariah also never referred to her husband by name. It is as though they were not even on a first name basis. Usually when someone calls another person by their last name it is because they do not know each other very well or the person is of a higher rank (i.e. Ms. Whitford for a professor or Dr. Hill for your physician). One might think that Mariah had no feelings for him and could easily see that she held herself in a lower position than that of her husband. To think that Mariah felt of herself in this way is most likely a shock to the people of today but at that day and age it was nothing out of the ordinary.
This was no different than how most women of this time period probably felt. Women were concerted beneath men and viewed as second class citizens. Women were not even given the basic citizenship right of voting until 1920; so one could imagine how the women in the reconstruction era must have felt being ruled over by their husbands. My Grandmother was born in 1918 and she was taught to believe that women were second class. When I talk about my excitement on the upcoming elections she tells me to put that nonsense out of my head. She tells me that I have no right voting for that is a job for men and then proceeds to ask me when I am going to get married. She truly believes women should not vote. These ideals are similar to the ones that Mariah snow had to deal with. My grandmother also knew her husband was unfaithful and refused to let herself to do the same, just as Mariah did, but the rules of the day also prevented her form doing anything about it or even acknowledging it in any way.
Women should peruse work outside of the home and feel no need for a husband. If Mariah been alive in today’s society she would have felt much more at ease with her self and would have had no need to punish her self. She would probably have gotten a divorce from Dr. Snow and ran away to have wild and crazy demon porno sex with Simon Black like she always wanted. Mariah seems weird or strange to us today but had the limitations of the time not been there to hold her back she would have flourished. She would not have been sent to a mental asylum because she would not have gone insane from the pressure. If Mariah Snow is crazy then we all are, at least she has the brains to think for herself, unlike Molly. She did the best she could with the limitations she was given and she should have been looked at as a genus and a free thinker.
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