Agency according to the Oxford English Dictionary is the, “Ability or capacity to act or exert power,” (“Agency’). In marriage this is an interesting concept as there are only two parties involved in a marriage. Each party desires control; however there is often an imbalance of power. In many of modernist works there is a clear investigation into the agency of women in marriage. Many women lacked agency in marriage at this time, such as the inability to make decisions about their children or the expectation that their only role was to clean the house and cook. However, in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf wives maintain their agency in these oppressive martial relations through different methods: Janie gains agency through her internal and external rebellion and Mrs. Ramsay exerts her agency through her ability to change perceptions and through the careful choice of her words. These methods of maintaining agency although are different reveal a similar idea: it is important for women to keep their agency in marriage even if it is often very challenging and is sustained in less apparent ways.
Janie marries three different men over the course of Their Eyes Were Watching God: Logan Killicks, Joe (Jody) Stark, and Tea Cake. Janie is able to preserve her agency in these marriages via an internal rebellion, she uses her thoughts to remain happy and outside the world her husband’s create. It is often the case that husbands expects a marriage where the female is subordinate to them and even Janie’s grandmother suggests Janie should abide by this expectation. However, Janie creates a space in her mind for an idealistic relationship and a place that her husband’s cannot touch. This ...
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...es clear that women are able to maintain their agency even when it seems impossible. They may not be able to make huge changes in their lives but the agency they do have allows them to manipulate situations in their favor and/or ensure their voice is heard. This fact is clear through Janie’s internal and externa rebellions in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Mrs. Ramsay’s ability to change views and her choice of language in To The Lighthouse. Overall, this demonstrates the issues with agency for wives. They often find themselves in an oppressive relationship that makes it difficult to sustain their agency, thus they must be creative in their choices in how they remain active agents. This issue is common in modernist narratives and beyond. It is a topic that needs to be explored in literature so it can be explored in the real world with real world consequences.
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