May and Daniel, in Jean Stafford's "A Country Love Story," epitomize the essential differences between men and women. Once apparently a happily married couple, May and Daniel exhibit their engendered differences after Daniel falls ill. While Daniel becomes more reclusive, May longs to reestablish the intimacy that they once had. Daniel's self-consumed and overbearing attitudes will not allow for such a relationship, though. The growing tension between them reflects the traditional sexual politics in their culture. As a result, May struggles to free herself from not only her husband, but also from the patriarchal code that entraps her.
This patriarchal code in which May is caught is portrayed throughout the story. First, May is cast into a stereotypical and generalized female role. While Daniel begins his own work as he recuperates from his illness, May does "nothing more than cook three meals and walk a little [. . .] and pet the cats and wait for Daniel to come down [. . .] to talk to her" (415-16). When she is not going about her daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, and shopping, May sleeps for hours at a time like a cat. Furthermore, her occasional conversations with other women over tea are quite the stereotypical female chats: gossip concerning other women.
May also fulfills the stereotypical role of a dutiful, submissive, and even weak woman. Her engendered name seems evidence of this, acting as a constant reminder to her that she is an inferior being. Like a child who must ask "may I?" to obtain permission, May also seeks to gain permission from her husband to live a happy life. Also like a child, May tends to yield to her "superiors'" desires. When the doctor ...
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...els "her lover's presence protecting her" (422). In her attempt to get away from Daniel, May uses the "safety" of another man.
In the end, however, May finally comes to the realization that she has failed in her pursuit of happiness and self-reliance. Notably, she feels like a trapped bird, like the ones she and Daniel have talked about earlier in the story. Although May wants to be set free, she is tragically aware of the patriarchal privileging of her culture a privileging that will not let her go. So, as the story closes, May sits in an abandoned sleigh (an image suggesting the uselessness that she feels) and wonders how she is going to "live the rest of her life" (425).
Stafford, Jean. "A Country Love Story." 1953. Short Story Masterpieces. Ed. Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine. New York: Dell, 1958. 411-25.
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