Women Pressured by the Demands of a Patriarchal Society in Michael Cunningham's The Hours
In Michael Cunningham's The Hours, Laura Brown, one of the novel's protagonists, is trapped by the responsibility of being a housewife and mother. Cunningham's story uses one of Virginia Woolf's works, Mrs. Dalloway, as a template to weave the lives of three women together in a narrative delicately split into three branching tales that echo each other. One branch of the story leads to a fictional account of Virginia Woolf creating the first draft of her famous novel. A second narrative in Cunningham's tale is that of Clarissa Vaughn - a woman whose life mirrors that of Woolf's fictional character Mrs. Dalloway. The final woman in the trio of Cunningham's leading protagonists is Laura Brown, a depressed housewife slowly being pushed to a breaking point by conforming to a life that a patriarchal society demands.
Laura Brown's story begins in June of 1949 on the birthday of her husband Dan, a returned war hero. Dan is a good hearted man, a friend of the family, and the first man to adore her and shower her with affection, so when he asked Laura to marry him, she thought "what could she say but yes" (40). The protagonist is initially wrapped up in the romanticism of her relationship with Dan. Their marriage begins as the role of housewife is slowly diminishing after the Second World War (Sullerot 80). Technological advancements and the returning of men to the workplace makes the lives of women more subjugated as they are confined to the more socially acceptable role of housewife. Laura does what a male dominated culture says is the right thing and marries a good man that is every woman's ideal, but she slowly realizes that she is not ready for the life she settled for and wants something more.
In the beginning of Laura's narrative she describes interacting with her husband and her son as if she is "about to go on stage and perform in a play . . . for which she is not adequately rehearsed" (43). Sullerot explains this with: "The underlying reason being that the position of women has always or nearly always been defined in terms of their role. Women have always been given a specific role, mainly in the family, and their social role has evolved from it" (Sullerot 13). Laura is stifled in this traditional role; she seeks a sense of independence and privacy.
Cunningham borrows these ideas of independence and privacy from another piece of Woolf's work, A Room of One's Own. In Woolf's essay she stresses the need for a woman to have money and a room of her own. The money "stands for the power to contemplate," and this power is the independence gained from the woman's financial status (Woolf 110). Woolf also states, "That a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself" (Woolf 110). The room is a place of privacy that keeps out the world of man. While the context of Woolf's statements was meant to apply to women who wished to be writers, it also is...