In Gail Godson’s short story, A Sorrowful Woman, an unnamed woman withdraws herself from her family due to her belief of having an overwhelming life. Godson’s protagonist in the short story is unhappy with her current role as a housewife and seeks to explore different roles, but has a hard time coping when faced with making more engaging decisions when they are presented to her. The wife slowly steps out of her role in the family until they are completely shut out of her life. The only thing the wife seems to want in A Sorrowful Woman is the ultimate escape from what she minds unbearable, life confined by roles related to her gender.
Godwin uses different elements to elaborate the theme throughout the short story by involving changes in setting, the aspect of fairy tales and the characters’ interactions with one another. The overall theme of A Sorrowful Woman is the meaning of self-discovery and how Godson’s protagonist attempts to find herself through the tensions of being a mother and wife. The one element that Godwin really hits on in the short story to strengthen the overall theme is the use of fairy tale aspect. At the beginning of the narrative,
Godwin inserts a line before the actual story starts that reads, “Once upon a time there was a wife and mother one too many times” (Meyer 36). In this line, she is trying to put the point across to the reader that this short story will challenge the notion of what women desire. Godwin tries to portray that the wife in her story is not the normal wife and mother, like in most fairy tales. The wife in A Sorrowful Woman resembles the exact opposite of what women in fairy tales were portrayed as. In most fairy tales, the woman usually finds prince charming, gets married, has children ND lives happily ever after.
She desires to different and hopes for a changed role in society. The reader doesn’t know about the wife and husband’s life before their child’s birth, however some passages presume that she had a beautiful “fairy tale” life. Slowly, she falls from that beautiful, harmonious life into the horrid person she becomes. In most fairy tales, the fictional characters are usually the essential component to the plot. However in A Sorrowful Woman, Godwin doesn’t develop the characters or even give them names.
By not giving her characters names, she tries to how the reader how different this family is from the average families that everyone pictures in most books, movies and television shows. The aspect of fairy tales and how Godwin inserts it throughout the entire story really brings the theme of self- discovery to the forefront. Another great way that Gail Godwin establishes the self-discovery theme was the hidden use of setting and how it corresponds with the events of the short story. The use of the setting might go unknown to the reader, but Godwin seems to use the climate as a way to connect with the theme and events that are happening.
In the first lines of A Sorrowful Woman, the narrator says, “One winter evening she looked at them: the husband durable, receptive, gentle; the child a tender golden three. The sight of them made her so sad and sick she did not want to see them ever again” (Meyer 36). Already at the beginning of the novel, the reader knows that the wife is unhappy with her life, as she looks upon her husband and child with sickness. Woman is sad and sick of her life, the climate is the cold, dreary and unpleasant winter. Later in the story as the woman slowly tears apart from her family, the season goes deeper into the winter.
Godwin mentions how the wife sits in her sweaters while in front of the fireplace. This continues the connection between the weather climate and the woman’s attitude to being separate from her own family. At the end of the novel, I finally realized the connection as it starts to become the spring. In the second to last paragraph, the narrator says, “The house smelled redolent of renewal and spring” (Meyer 41). As the woman kills herself, the climate changes from winter to spring. I think Godwin did this to resemble the fact that the Oman was finally free from what she didn’t want to be.
The unnamed woman had found herself through the self-discovery, even though it wasn’t the best thing to kill herself. Godwin effectively used the winter and spring to establish the difference between when the wife was locked into her role to when she discovered herself to be free finally. The third element that Gail Godwin uses in A Sorrowful Woman to establish the theme of self-discovery is the way she uses the interactions between the few characters. The first interaction is when her son accidentally scratched her and she lips out.
The wife said, “Go away,” to her son, then she tells her husband, “Eve locked myself away from him. I’m afraid” (Meyer 37). Godwin shows that the woman can’t even stand to be around her son, even when he simply makes the mistake of scratching her. She is obviously sick of being a mother and wants to find another way live, without her toddler son. This goes back to the fact of how she loved her previous life with Just her husband, before she got pregnant. Later in the short story, the wife also realizes that she wants to find a way to live without her husband too.
In accordance with that, she totally removes herself from any situation that revolves around either her son or husband. The wife tells her husband, “I’m afraid it’s come to that. Just push the notes under the door; I’ll read them. And don’t forget to leave the draught outside” (Meyer 40). After this conversation, it seems like this is the last time that she speaks to either her husband or son before she “offs” herself. Godwin uses this confrontation between the husband and wife to show that she is done from her life and that she needs to be by herself now.
The few interactions that occur between the characters really set the scene that the unnamed wife wants to separate from the family and rediscover who she wants to be. In Gail Godson’s short story, A Sorrowful Woman, the unnamed woman withdraws herself from her family due to her belief of having an overwhelming life. Godwin uses different elements to elaborate the theme throughout the short story by involving changes in setting, the aspect of fairy tales and the characters’ interactions with one another.
Godwin uses fairy tales as a way to contrast between the usual omen in other tales to the wife who is the total opposite in A Sorrowful Woman. The weather is used as a way to show the slow move from the woman’s trapped life to becoming free. Godwin also uses a few interactions between the characters to establish that she needs to be separate from them and move on in her life. Godson’s protagonist attempts to find herself through the tensions of being a mother and wife, ultimately showing the quest for self-discovery throughout A Sorrowful Woman. Meyer, Michael. Literature to Go. Boston, MA: Bedford/SST. Martins, 2011. Print.