In Mary Wilkins Freeman’s “The Revolt of ‘Mother’” Mother is the typical woman of the late 1890s, who was brought up to be subservient to men, as was common during the era. America was a completely patriarchal society at the end of the nineteenth century. Women had always been perceived as lesser beings than men; women were thought to be less intelligent, weaker, and generally less important than men.
“The Revolt of ‘Mother’” was written just around the time when women started demanding their rights, strong women, like Sarah Penn. The characterization of ‘Mother’ as a meek woman strongly conveys an idea about real women standing up for themselves and their beliefs that was just the beginning of a women’s liberation movement toward reform.
Freeman portrays Sarah as the typical woman living in America in the late 1800s. Her lack of strength is emphasized strongly in her description, “Her forehead was mild and benevolent between the smooth curves of her gray hair; there were meek downward lines about her nose and mouth….” The physical characteristics, referred to as mild, meek and benevolent, indicate her personality and yet generalize her so that she could be any woman of that time period.
The generality of calling her “Mother” instead of Sarah in the title symbolizes that all women, not just this one rare case, can make a difference and stand up for themselves. Adoniram’s lack of interest in the house reflects his lack of interest in his wife. The new house is a womanly place; Mother will take care of it and clean it and cook in it every day for the rest of her life.
Adoniram cares much more about himself and his own wants and desires. He spends his days in the barns, so he would prefer a new place for himself before a new place for his wife. He believes that his desires are more substantial than those of a woman. Adoniram’s sense of power over Sarah is clear when he refuses to answer her questions about the barn he is building. He seems to think he is in some way better than she, for she was just a dumb, but obedient woman.
He ignores her when she questions the new barn, and reminds him of the house he had promised her forty years ago. He does not even respect her enough to have a conversation of his plans with her. In his mind, she is not important. because she is a woman. To add insult to injury, he told his son three months ago, because he sees his son as being more important than his wife. Sammy is personified as a smaller, younger Adoniram.
He, like his father, did not tell Mother that they were building a barn. A strong comparison is being made when he was being confronted by Mother he “showed a face like his father’s under the smooth crest of hair. Similarities between father and son are pointed out as a key reason for Sarah finally taking a stand. Sarah’s first rebellious attempt to change Adoniram’s mind about building her a house failed, illustrating her lack of power.
She “stood in the door like a queen; she held her head as if it bore a crown; there was that patience which makes authority royal in her voice,” but still could not convince her husband to change his mind. He still has no respect for her, although she is starting to try to assert some authority in the household.
She is the one who takes care of the whole family, and the house, yet he still refuses to abide by his promise and build her a new house. Sarah was unsatisfied with several aspects of her life, and she hoped for a better life for her children. She did everything she could for her daughter, not even letting her do dishes or any other “hard” work.
She wanted Nanny’s wedding to be in a nice parlor, and she wanted Nanny and George to move in with her, so she could continue protecting and caring for her daughter. She started to see a part of her husband in Sammy, and she saw Nanny as more meek than she, and she did not want her children to succumb to weakness. Sarah’s desire for a better life for her children led her to take a stand against Adoniram. She had to show her children how to be strong and independent, and by moving into the barn, she was trying to teach them a lesson.
She did not want her children to suffer because they did not know how to stand up for themselves. When Adoniram first confronts Sarah about moving, Sammy gets up and stands in front of her, as a way to protect her, which shows that he learned from his mother’s example and stood up for what he believed is right.
The message was meant for Nanny, but she cowered behind her mother, meaning that she is still not standing up for herself. Sammy’s eagerness in telling his father that the family had moved into the barn further demonstrates that Sarah has really taught her son how to stand up for himself, and he was anxious to test his newfound confidence.
Adoniram was frightened when he walked in the new house. He did not know what to do when Sarah took control of the situation, and he for the first time, would be obedient to Sarah. Just as Sarah asserted herself against her husband in “The Revolt of ‘Mother,’” millions of women have since then and still do today. A woman’s position in life has changed completely since the nineteenth century. Expectations of the roles of men and women are much less clearly defined.
Yet, “The Revolt of ‘Mother’” is still very relevant today. Many women have demanding and abusive husbands. Many women are sexually harassed or assaulted. And they need to stand up for themselves. It is their responsibility to stop the injustice occurring to themselves. Nothing is going to change if no one ever does anything about it.
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