The short story, "A Woman on a Roof," by Doris Lessing may seem to be about a few men who become annoyed with a woman because she suns herself out on her roof. The men feel that she is a distraction and are obviously bothered by her presence. They are not happy that this sunbather is out there on display and illustrate these feelings of discontent by constantly whistling and yelling at her. The men also make several rude and sexist comments to her throughout the story. In a time period such as the one this story takes place in, males were considered far superior to women, and comments such as the ones the men make would not be considered out of the ordinary. What is extremely surprising, and quite out of the ordinary, however, is the fact that this woman did not even seem bothered by their actions. When this is taken into consideration, it is revealed that the real source of the men’s anger toward the woman is not simply because she was sunning herself, but rather, was due to the fact that she showed indigence toward them in a time when women were expected to submit to men’s demands.
The men in this story obviously have strong feelings of superiority and power over the opposite sex, and expect that women will naturally give in to their demands. These feelings are illustrated as early as in the opening paragraph, when they see the woman for the first time. While working, "They made jokes about getting an egg from some woman in the flats under them, to poach it for dinner" (Lessing 856). Such a comment demonstrates the men’s beliefs about gender roles: that women will be home, not working, and eager to serve men. The comments continue; later on, when referring to the woman as ...
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...woman And, while she may not have earned women the right to vote or gained women admission into institutes of higher education, she stood up for herself in a normal everyday situation, and that’s a start. She is a woman who was one of the exceptions in her era; she was not just a woman on a roof, but rather a hero of her generation.
Allen, Orphia Jane. "Doris Lessing." Short Story Criticism, vol. 6. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.
Atack, Margaret. "Doris Lessing." Short Story Criticism, vol. 6. Ed. Thomas Votteler. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990.
Lessing, Doris. "A Woman on a Roof." The Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. 856-862.
Baron, Mary. "Doris Lessing." Critical Survey of Short Fiction, vol. 4. Ed. Frank N. Magill. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1993.
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