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A Feminist Perspective Of Fern Leaves From Fanny’s Portfolio

1634 words - 7 pages

A Feminist Perspective of Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio  

Judith Fetterly describes the fiction of Fanny Fern as basically conservative due to the seeming resignation to the institution of marriage. She claims that Parton’s work is safe and makes only small challenges to the patriarchal institutions of her day. I do not see this in my reading of "Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio." I hear the voice of a woman who recognizes the problems with patriarchy and who does not flinch from revealing them. I found her writing to be bold and even angry in places. Rather than Fetterly’s interpretation, I identify more with Hawthorne’s assessment that Parton "writes as if the Devil was in her" (244). I think that her anonymity as Fanny Fern allowed her greater freedom to critique society. Her status as a widow freed her from many of the Victorian constraints, since she had the benefits of independence, but permission to be aware of her sexuality and of relationships between the sexes. Furthermore, she had the excuse that her work was fiction and therefore "safe." This set of circumstances allowed her to use the Devil within her to describe and decry the Devil around her, namely patriarchal society. From behind the veil of fiction and of her pen name, Sara Willis Parton criticizes traditional gender roles by showing the folly of men, the wisdom of women and the flawed nature of patriarchy.

The folly of men is a persistent feature of the short stories in the collection. Men are portrayed as patronizing and oblivious at best and tyrannous and unfaithful at worst. The husbands and lovers in these stories behave so poorly that they arouse a defensive response from me as a male reader. I very much want to relegate their behavior to an anachronistic set of attitudes that have no relation to our modern, "liberated" society. However, the objectification of women demonstrated by Frank Fearing, who values his wife for the status he gains from her at parties, is far from extinct. This vision of the trophy wife is still a part of our society. Men must be wealthy; women need only be pretty. Frank also uses diction which indicates ownership rather than partnership. He is a pirate, and she is a jewel in his treasure. He prides himself in having "won her" from the possession of other suitors (249). Furthermore, her opinions, insights and intuition are ignored. Her distress is attributed to the "vile east wind" and only her near fainting at the ball causes Frank to heed her wish (249). The pattern of condescension is also visible in "The Invalid Wife" as the husband, oblivious of his wife’s needs, dismissed her as "a nervous little puss" (252). The speaker is so frustrated by her husband’s lack of awareness and sympathy that she exclaims to herself "men are so stupid!" (252). The husband’s cigar smoke is a good symbol for his attitude. Without meaning to, he "half strangles the new baby with the first puff" (252). Likewise, without conscious effort, he is...

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