The Social Norms Of The 19th Century Essay

The Social Norms Of The 19th Century Essay

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For a young women, the idea of motherhood means taking on the ultimate responsibility of caring for a defenseless child in spite of the youth and inexperience. To complicate matters, include the social norms of the 19th century that young women should not have children out of wedlock and a lack of personal independence since most young women do not have livable income and a space to call her own. These norms are enforced upon young women so much that typically their only hope of survival is with the help of a patriarchal figure. Thus, we are introduced into the struggle of Charity, the young female orphaned protagonist of Edith Wharton’s Summer, who is faced with how to make the best “decision” on how her child should come into her world. The novel shows that although Charity seeks throughout the novel to make independent “choices”, she is still ultimately restricted by the 19th century societal norms for young women. However, Charity is not a fatalist because she makes the final “choice” to accept to help of Mr. Royall through marriage although it might seem she is succumbing to a predestined fate. Finally, Charity’s final self-sacrificial “decision” of marrying Mr. Royall is possible when Charity comes to the conclusion that in her society it is impossible for her to be a “good mother” and maintain her self-respect without the help of her patriarch, Mr. Royall.
Marrying Mr. Royall became the ideal “decision” for Charity after she had finally left her town home to “return” to the Mountain to seek the help of people outside of the patriarchal norms. The perceptions given the Charity of the Mountain people included, “No school, no church-and no sheriff ever goes up to see what they’re about” (Wharton 25). The Mountain is also a pl...


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...harity is then accepting her fate of needing a man to take care of her, yet after considering her other options and coming to terms with the fact that marrying Mr. Royall may not be so bad after all.
As readers we can see that Charity’s fate is influenced not only by the restrictive social conventions of the time of her situation but also based on Charity’s decision of what she would sacrifice for her child and her self-respect. However, Charity is limited by the 19th century society established against a young women’s independence, which is very limiting on what a young women can do when pregnant with an “illegitimate” child. Thus, Charity’s final “decision” to marry Mr. Royall was not a fatalist one nor based on her potential to be happy within the marriage, but based the conscious choice to fight for the future for her child and maintain a level of self-respect.

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