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Mary Wilkins Freeman's, "The Revolt of Mother" first appeared in Harper's Bazaar in 1890, as a short story. The story is laden with conflict throughout. Sarah Penn's (Mother's) conflict is driven by her strong conviction for fair treatment by her husband. She is in conflict with her husband, the community and the gender role defined by the social conventions of that era.
Sarah's conflict with her husband begins immediately upon the opening sentences of the story. Mother is asking a question that Father doesn't want to answer. Mother confronts her husband by saying, "Look here, father, I want to know what them men are diggin' over in the field for, an' I'm goin' to know." Father tries to ignore Mother by not acknowledging her question. When he figures that she will not accept his silence as an answer, Father replies, "I wish you'd go into the house, mother, an' 'tend to your own affairs." Father's actions sets a clear tone for the reader that men are supposed to be in charge of making the decisions and the woman's role is to go along with whatever decision he thinks is best for the family. Sarah continues to daunt her husband until he tells her about the barn. Sarah replies, "A barn? You ain't goin' to build a barn over there where we was goin' to have a house, father?"
Conflict arises again between Sarah and her husband when she demands that her husband come over and talks with her. Sarah starts by saying, "I want to know what you're buildin' that new barn for, father?" Father's quick response is, "I 'ain't got nothin' to say about it." Sarah continues her dialogue by saying, "I'm goin' to talk real plain to you: I never have sense
I married you, but I'm goin' to now. I 'ain't never complained, an' I ain't goin' to complain now, but I'm goin' to talk plain. Sarah begins to complain about how Farther is putting barns and cows in front of taking care of his family obligations. Her husband responds by saying, "I 'ain't got nothin' to say." Adoniram went back to work. Sarah was mad as ever. She goes into her room and proceeds to cry.
Adoniram goes to Vermont to buy a new horse he had always wanted. Again he makes decisions for the family without consulting Sarah.
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On the day of Adoniram's arrival home, the townspeople are milling about trying to see what will happen when Adoniram finds that his wife has revolted against him. There is anticipated conflict from the townspeople as well as Adoniram's own children. Father asks, "What on airth you all down here for?" said he. "What's the matter over to the house?" Sammy answers his father by saying, "We've come here to live, father." Adoniram responds, "What on airth does this mean, mother?" Sarah begins by telling her husband, "You needn't be scared. I ain't crazy. There ain't nothin' to be upset over. But we've come here to live, an' we're goin' to live here. We've got jest as good a right here as new horses an' cows. The house wa'n't fit for us to live in any longer, an' I made up my mind I wa'n't goin' to stay there." Father again replies, "Why, mother!" After dinner, Father goes outside to sit on the steps. Sarah finds him weeping. Adoniram tells Sarah, "I hadn't no idee you was so set on't as all this comes to."
Sarah's conflict with the community begins when Sarah makes the decision to move into the barn. She had the hay that was delivered sent to the old barn. News of Sarah's decision had spread over town. Some of the townspeople thought she was crazy, while others thought she was rebellious. The town minister came to pay her visit to see if she had lost her mind. She had definitely gone against her husband's wishes, and revolted against him by moving into the barn. This blatant display of will was simply unheard of during this period of time. Sara doesn't invite the minister into her new home, but says, "There ain't no use talkin', Mr. Hersey," said she. "I've thought it all over an' over, an' I believe I'm doin' what's right. I've made it the subject of prayer, an' it's betwixt me an' the Lord an' Adoniram. There ain't no call for nobody else to worry about it." Sarah continues on to say, "I don't doubt you mean well, Mr. Hersey," said she, "but there are things people hadn't ought to interfere with." Sarah's actions are in direct conflict with the community at this point. The minister tried to change her mind, but failed in his attempt.
Throughout the entire story, Sarah continually deals with an internal conflict with gender role. While Sarah is supposed to be a meek and subservient wife who never questions her husband's authority, she is constantly at conflict with this issue by questioning her husband and at times demanding an answer. When Sarah's daughter Nanny complains about their need for a better house, Sarah defends her husband by saying, "You hadn't ought to judge father, though. He can't help it, 'cause he don't look at things jest the way we do. An' we've been pretty comfortable here, after all. The roof don't leak -- 'ain't never but once -- that's one thing. Father kept it shingled right up." Even when she is angry with her husband, Sarah continues to try to meet her husband's needs by baking his favorite pies and making him new shirts. After Adoniram knew what his wife had done, Sarah continued to provide assistance to her husband in helping him take off his coat and helping him get cleaned up for dinner. Sarah even showed compassion toward her husband when she found him weeping. She tells him, "Why, don't do so, father." Sarah wins her revolt and hopefully establishes a new way to communicate with her husband. Actions do speak louder than words.
Mary Wilkins Freeman. "The Revolt of Mother". Harper's Bazaar 1890: