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WOMEN AND SOCIETY
In the course of our life we need to make many decisions. The way we live our life is a decision each person makes for him/herself. Usually, one choice is better than the other, yet society doesn't always support the better one. The poem, "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" and The Scarlet Letter present two ways in which women can react to a society dominated by men and how their lives are shaped by their different decisions. A woman can just ignore the restraints put on her and suffer, or she can challenge men's authority and enjoy her life.
In a society where men choose the standards, Hester follows her own set of rules. She is independent, unrestrained and makes her own decisions. The reader's first view of Hester's uniqueness in The Scarlet Letter, is the scarlet letter. Hester has transformed the society's sign of guilt into her own work of art by decoration the "A" with elegant stitching and golden thread. Her interpretation of the punishment clashes with that of her neighbors, and she is not reluctant to stress their contrast of opinions. She does not fear men, as most women did in her time. It was mandatory in her society that women respected their husbands, and did what the men ordered. Hester fears neither the leaders of the community nor her husband. She demonstrates her confidence by standing up to a group of the most respected men in town, when she hears they might take her daughter, Pearl, away from her. She even has the courage to demand the minister for his help. "I will not give her up!" She firmly states. "Speak thou for me…Thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother's rights…Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!" (Ch.8). She refuses to let the power of the men intimidate her, and gets what she wants. While most women of Hester's time did whatever their husband ordered them to do, Hester refused to keep a secret that Chillingworth asked her to. She wanted to disclose the evil that her husband was placing upon Dimmesdale. "I must reveal the secret, he must discern thee in thy true character." (Ch. 14), Hester states knowing her husband will disapprove. Hester also gives orders to Dimmesdale. "Thou must dwell no longer with this man," she instructs Dimmesdale on the subject of Chillingworth (Ch.17). "Leave this wreck and ruin here where it hath happened…Exchange this false life of thine for a true one," she says in her motivational yet manipulative speech. (Ch. 17). Hester proves that she is an equal to Dimmesdale by demonstrating her intelligence and wit in her speech. She is not afraid to do or say whatever she wants. Hester possesses a power that no other woman in her village has: The power to be free.
In Adrienne Rich's poem, "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers", Aunt Jennifer is a restricted and constrained woman controlled by her husband. She fulfills the role society has assigned to her, and does not question authority. Her passiveness restricts her from doing what she wants. Adrienne Rich demonstrated with the quote, "The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand." This suggests that Aunt Jennifer is "weighed down" by her husband. Aunt Jennifer's passiveness and intimidation is caused by the limits her husband sets on her. Had her husband let her do as she pleased, she could have put her creativity to greater use that knitting, such as writing, or teaching. The weight can only be lifted if she is able to stand up to him and become fearless of men.
The two women respond to the dominance of men in two contrasting manners. Aunt Jennifer followed society's rules while Hester followed her own. The outcome of their actions also differed. Hester lived her life as she wanted to live it. She said what she meant, she went where she wanted to go, and she left when she felt it was time to leave. She led her own life, not her husband or a governor or a priest. By standing up for herself, she accomplished many things. She refused to give up her daughter Pearl, who later became one of
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