Thesis: Sarah Orne Jewett and Feminism in Her Work

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Sarah Orne Jewett and Feminism in Her Work

Sarah Orne Jewett and Early Feminism in New England Literature

The Victorian Era provided many prominent male authors who played upon the image of the doll-like female character, completely devoid of power and passion. Yet, during the same time period, Sarah Orne Jewett was writing novels and short stories which played down male influence and therefore empowered women within the context of New England. Many of her stories focus on the incompetence of the old male within a modern context, and how that void is easily filled with strong female characters. Many scholars since Jewett's heyday during her writing career have posited the idea that Jewett proposed an inferred feminism, which degraded the image of the male figure within society while at the same time giving her female characters empowering roles dealing with major decisions and circumstances which raises them above the average conception of the Victorian woman as simply an object of aesthetic value. The female role is empowered within the roles of Jewett's characters; which are also given more power within the natural environment of New England around them.

Victorian women were expected to be fro affluent families and therefore act accordingly. Sarah Orne Jewett was born on September 3, 1849 to an affluent life; yet her later works would highlight a more feministic view than most other Victorian women would deem appropriate. As a native resident of New England, Sarah Orne Jewett highlighted the experience of the growing young female adult within the context of the New England atmosphere. As the daughter of an accomplished doctor in the region, Jewett had been born into a world of better circumstances in comparison to most individuals born in the same time period, (Blanchard 23). Along with the affluence of her family, she inherited a strong sense of individualistic power from her father. She acquired great strength from her family Jewett in her early years spent much time outside in nature, therefore influencing her later work to have strong natural sentiments, (Blanchard 27). As seen in her later work, strong female characters have a special association with nature and the natural world. In fact, this is one of the concepts which creates Jewett's representations of a unique kind of Victorian feminism. After graduating from college, Jewett returned to the influence of her family to study within their extensive library, which offered her great materials for her later writing career. Thus her later works prove to have great literary allusions and conceits which reach deep into her literary career, (Blanchard 33). She effectively blended beautiful imagery of New England nature along with the literary background of a New England intellectual. She successfully combines the two within several of her works in order to present a unique naturalistic view of feminism.

And so, Sarah Orne Jewett began he career in the literary world. She first published her work in the Atlantic Monthly while she was only nineteen years old, (Blanchard 41). Throughout the rest of the 1870s and even into the 1880s she gained esteem as a reputable writer within the New England community. She embodied her own vision of an empowered woman, yet did so within much different contexts than she portrayed within her most famous works. During her early years and beyond Jewett was known for her natural connection to the world around her. Most of her short stories revolve around country life, which also help portray images of passing into adulthood, along with the strong connection towards the empowerment of the woman and young girl within the country context. Yet, Jewett was known for being a strong woman who was able to make strong decisions on her own merit. Through her own reputation, Jewett was allowed to portray strong female characters that were able to make their own decisions which then created huge plot developments within her novels and short stories. Thus she was able to transcend a simple country life and work within the context of an actual paper, spreading her image of a naturalistic feminism to lands far outside her New England enclave.

Jewett is most famous for her humble and country style novels and short stories. Within works such as Country of the Pointed Furs and the short story "The White Heron," Jewett constantly returned to her roots within the natural setting of New England to portray her literary image of the world, "One can never be so certain of a good New England weather as in the days when a long easterly storm has blown away the warm late-summer mists, and cooled the air so that however bright the sunshine is by day, the nights come nearer and nearer to frostiness," (Jewett 198). As a New Englander, she was an expertise at writing about New England and the simple country life which existed there during that time. Her works center on country New England life as seen from the eyes of an intelligent female. The Country of the Pointed Furs presents a seemingly impenetrable network of friends and neighbors. Within this environment, it is obvious one must find ways to enter into the social atmosphere. It is with the character of the young writer which is allowed to penetrate into the social world and discover the town's secrets and grudges. Along with reaching into the social world of the small New England town, Jewett presents a strong female character outside of the social norm, living along on an island yet completely competent and happy within her own solitary enclave in the islands of a New England bay. This therefore represents the strength of female characters both within social environments along with proficiency in more outside natural environments..

Most Victorian novels present the female characters as reliant on the males, along with having no significant decision making processes within the context of the novel. Yet, the Country of the Pointed Furs represents the complete independence of a female during the time period. Although she still remains within the context of New England, and therefore a conservative small town atmosphere, the narrator embodies a very independent role compared to the roles of most women during the time of its publication in 1896. Instead of representing a married woman, or an otherwise male dominated character, the narrator is a single female who lives by her own means by way of a writing career. A summer trip to small town New England was meant to revive her spirits and encourage the young narrator to open up her writing abilities, (Jewett 5).

And so this context sets up Jewett's image of a woman on her own, handling her own business -- without the interference of men or other romantic ideals associated with the subservience of women. Thus she is allowed to explore deeper meanings of the natural world around her.

This female independence is also echoed in one of Jewett's famous short stories, "The White Heron." First published in 1886, this story is an astounding example of Jewett's idea of female independence from the patriarchal society which we all live in the United States. In this narrative, a young girl Sylvia is surprised by the appearance of a young male hunter in search for a rare bird, "But Sylvie was silent. She remembered how the white heron came flying through the golden air and how they watched the sun rise together from the top of the world. Sylvie could not speak. She could not tell the heron's secret and give its life away," (Jewett "The White Heron" 1). Although young Sylvia is intrigued with the young and handsome hunter, she refuses to give up the secrets of the forest, and chooses instead to protect the white heron instead of show the hunter where he could find it. Rather than becoming a servant to the common image of the make hunter, the young girl remains loyal to her own convictions and to the protection of the natural world around her which has fascinated her so much. Sylvia's own fascination with the natural setting of New England, including an unspoken love for the white heron, proves to be stronger than her admiration and adoration for the young attractive hunter who desires to know what she knows. So instead of succumbing to the demands of the make hunter, Sylvia, and therefore Jewett remain true to themselves and their femininity. The natural world provides the young female with satisfaction, a type of satisfaction reached without the loss of innocence or independence, which is often seen in the case of satisfaction through the young female's admiration for her male lover.

It is this element of feminism which many critics believe to make up a majority of Jewett's work. One major factor in the construction of a feministic argument from the Jewett perspective is that of her paralyzed male characters, which in most cases fail to influence the main female character, "Jewett scholars have cited her male characters as malformed human beings. Polar opposites, these men are generally… [END OF PREVIEW]

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