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Mary Robinson's "The Natural Daughter." Is Martha A Hero Or Protagonist? Includes Works Cited Page.

1772 words - 7 pages

In Mary Robinson's, The Natural Daughter, Martha, an eighteenth century young woman is faced with making choices that run counter to what is considered acceptable for a woman of her day. In a society that demeaned the worth of women and made it virtually impossible to succeed without the protection of a family or husband, Martha overcomes all obstacles while retaining her individuality. Does this make Martha a heroine or is she simply the protagonist in the novel? Whether Robinson intended her character of Martha to stand forth as a hero is impossible to establish with any certainty, and because the characterization of an eighteenth-century hero is dissimilar to modern day notions, to simply examine the textual definitions of each term would prove inadequate. A determination of whether Martha is or is not a heroine must be based on the expectations and conditions of her own time. An examination of Martha's actions and trials will show that Martha's character is indeed a definitive portrayal of an eighteenth century heroine, whose extraordinary perseverance elevates her beyond that of a mere protagonist.Martha lives in a time that requires women, once married, to give over governance of any property they bring into the marriage or subsequently acquire, to their respective husband. Martha's society believed that women should "distinguish themselves as tender mothers and faithful wives rather than furious partisans. Since women's ideal role was to be supportive to their husbands, care for their children, and provide a haven from the troubles of the outside world, the idea that they might wish an independent life or career of their own seemed unnatural," (Stearn 8) They were not allowed to have wills or enact any real estate transactions without consent of their husband. " By law, women had been deprived of equal property and civil rights; by custom they had been denied equal educational opportunities and access to public office," (Flory 251). The only way a married woman could establish ownership over marital property was through widowhood. Marital separation, regardless of who initiated it, left women destitute. English common law granted no rights to women over marital property. It "assigned all property, income, and child custody rights to husbands regardless of their fitness," (251). In essence, upon entering into matrimony, a woman became little more than an extension of her husband's property and reliant upon his continued benevolence. "Socially and economically their activities have been largely circumscribed by the kitchen, nursery and other demanding aspects of human existence," (Truman, Schaeffer, Stewart & Hunter 738). Martha rejects this customary reasoning that women should be docile and grateful creatures who acquiesce to their father's and husband's restrictive code of feminine deportment. "Then women, from the moment that they marry, do not submit to personal captivity only? Marriage, in that case is little better than slavery,"...

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