Until recently, the role of women in literature has seemed to reflect the way they were treated in society. Women were seen as secondary to men, and their sole purpose in life was to please a man’s every desire. This is not the case in three specific literary works. The Odyssey, The Wife of Bath, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight use the actions of its women characters to greatly enhance important thematic elements. The women in each of these works use feminine psyche to persuade men to do things that men of the time would not usually do. The use of women in these literary works is very contrary to the prevailing ideals of the female and her responsibilities at the time each was written. In each case, the woman possesses an almost supernatural power to influence others to do as she requests. Though it is somewhat premature to assume that the authors of these pieces started a feminist revolution, they most definitely allowed women to be seen with a respect that the female had never enjoyed.
The Odyssey contains many female characters that influence the entire climax. Athena is an obvious example, because as a goddess and fan of Odysseus, she is able to create supernatural occurrences to help Odysseus to survive. But to include her as a woman is not feasible, because she is an immortal god. The true female heroine of The Odyssey is Penelope, the loving and devoted wife of Odysseus. She fits the perfect mold of an excellent mother and faithful wife. Although Odysseus is believed to be dead, she does not marry again and does everything in her power to prevent this from happening. She is able to use trickery and deceit to avoid the suitors without allowing them to find out what she is doing. She has informed her men-in-waiting that she will marry when she finishes weaving her shroud. She works all day on it and secretly undoes her work at night while they are sleeping. In this case, Penelope is seen as smart and cunning, and she is being faithful to her husband and at the same time, she does not have to blatantly disrespect the suitors. At the time this was written, it was almost impossible for a woman of her stature to avoid remarrying immediately. Another way that Penelope is seen as loyal and exceptional as a woman is the test that she gives Odysseus when he returns home in disgui...
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...in literary works has often reflected the way that women were viewed at the time of each work’s creation. For three works, The Odyssey, The Wife of Bath, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, each author chose to oppose the prevailing view. The characters that these women play are crucial to the hero’s success or failure. Each woman is able to overcome adversity and oppression to prevail over the male sex. By doing so, they can be viewed as being a role model to all the women who read these works. Even though, there may not have been noticeable changes in the way women were treated in each work’s respective time period, they serve as a divergence away from traditional values and set a framework for further success in equality.
Anonymous. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Norton Anthology. Ed. Sarah
Lawall. 7th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999. 1458-1511.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. The Norton Anthology.
Ed. Sarah Lawall. 7th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.
Homer. The Odyssey. The Norton Anthology. Ed. Sarah Lawall. 7th ed. New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, 1999. 209-513.
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