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Feminism Is a Futile Cause

Essay by   •  February 22, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,851 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,206 Views

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Feminism is a Futile Cause

Twentieth century literature is not always sympathetic to feministic sentiments. Novels such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Age of Innocence, and All the King's Men, try to undo the prominent effects the feministic movement of the 20th century. Women's denial of their inferiority is the underlying fear that materializes in these three books to produce reactionary actions and attitudes from their patrimonial society in order to prevent the inversion masculine and feminine role in the western culture. The patrimonial society dominates in all three novels, and its presence is a leviathan of power and intimidation that demolishes any hope for an upheaval of feminine leadership, independence, and liberation from the gender restraint. Although Ken Kesey, Edith Wharton, and Robert Warren incorporate strong female characters in their books, these characters ultimately succumb to the morass of egotism, authority, and limitations imposed by their male counterpart. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Age of Innocence, and All the King's Men show how detrimental social interaction with men is to women by exemplify how women's leadership, independence, respect are reduced by methods of alienation or rejection and how the virtues and perceptions of strong women are also altered through such interactions.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest emphasizes the unnaturalness and peculiarity of a woman in authoritative role by a close examination of the forceful Nurse Ratchet's character. Nurse Ratchet embraces the essence of unnaturalness because she performs her job with an aberrant accuracy and a smooth precision of a mechanically man-made robot. All elements of womanhood are lost in her because she [unsexes] herself with the china-doll smile, the porcelain face, and the army trouser that hides her visage of womanhood (45). Critic Irving comments that " the Big Nurse is no longer a woman [...] All of her gestures, commands, feelings, and possessions are mechanized; there's no compact or lipstick or woman stuff..."(81-84). The Nurse is the "ball-cutter" because she psychologically castrates the men in her ward by removing them of the necessary masculinity and confidence required to overcome her (Kesey 89). By the castration, she reduces men to inferior roles while she automatically raises hers. Her feminine authority labels her the antagonist and an outcast that prevents the normality and the tradition of a patrimonial leadership. She possesses the control and power that rightfully belong to male leaders, and this is the reason for her estrangement and alienation from her immediate society. As a female leader, she must "ignore the way nature had tagged her with those outsized badge of femininity and sex" (138). Nature has coerced inferiority upon the Nurse and when she refuses it, it ultimately leads to her inevitable downfall. Similar to Nurse Ratchet, Ellen Olenska also faces a traditional and patrimonial society that tries to force inferiority and submission upon her when her independence and unconventionality threaten its established sphere of domesticity.

Ellen Olenska in The Age of Innocence finds herself an outcast among Old New York aristocratic society by displaying profound unconventionality that menaces its established traditions. Olenska attracts alienation to her because her European manners and outfits lack the sartorial splendor that is expected from a member of the esteemed Mingott family. Critic Geoffrey Walton agrees "the inflexible social patterns of Old New York society" severely punish dissenters who disregard "the implication of conventional habits" (138). Olenska further adds to her estrangement by refusing to return to Europe to her abusive husband Count Olenska. By pursuing a divorce, Olenska flagrantly disobeys "indissolubility of marriage", a notion valued among Old New York aristocratic families (Wharton 134). Olenska's desires for assimilation into Old New York society, but this assimilation will not occur due to her inability to give into the demands of traditions and marriage. Although Olenska is separated from her husband by the Atlantic Ocean, Old New York patrimonial and traditional society forces her to obey his order and oppression merely to preserve the hypocritical sanctity and false marital bliss. Old New York tacitly fears and dislikes Olenska because she is a disturbing force that chips at the foundation of class, distinction, wealth, but most significantly, the authority of the male figurehead in the aristocratic family. The women in Old New York society lead mirthful existences in their sheltered and dignified upper-class lifestyles in which they trust their husbands to be intellectual as well as authoritative. Olenska's personal crusade against her husband, which leaves the aftertaste of feminism, warrants her permanent rejection and ultimate departure to Paris where New York's narrow society and her husband's influence can not affect her.

Similar to how Ellen Olenska's fate is changed by her disinclination for Old New York's traditions, All the King's Men exemplifies how a woman's fate can be distorted by the flaws and virtues of men. According to critic Steven Ealy, Jack Burden's quest of "self-discovery" helps him to approach his "psychology and moral development" while jeopardizing his intimate relations with the people closest to him (304). His desire to prove his ability to the unscrupulous political tycoon Willie Stark compels him to conduct investigations into Stark's political opposition, Governor Stanton. Anne's respect for her father is destroyed through Burden's struggle to find his identity by being Stark's henchman. Burden's search causes Governor Stanton's malfeasance to surface, which results in the denigration of the Governor's integrity and reputation. Governor Stanton represents utmost model of probity to Annie, and this discovery convinces her to accept that corruptions and deceits are inevitable elements of life. She comes to the unprincipled conclusion that "cleans hands pure heart was no longer with us" (Warren138). Anne's psychological defeat is preceded by her own moral decay which drives her to become Stark's mistress. Burden's internal exploration for insight ironically pushes Anne to undergo her own personal disillusionment.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest illustrates that women who do not accept inferiority will be coerced into it. Nurse Ratchet's refusal succumb to McMurphy's leadership only encourages him put more effort in permanently removing her authority and intimidation. McMurphy receives almost unanimous support from the

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