The Revolt of “Mother” by Mary E. Wilkins tells the story of a woman who defies tradition and rebels against her husband. The protagonist Sarah Penn decides to take action and provide a new house for her family after waiting for forty years for her husband to do so without success. She does this by moving her family into the new barn her husband had made for his cows and a new horse. When he returns home and finds his family in the new barn, he complies and agrees to make it a proper house.
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The author of the story, Mary E.Wilkins lived during a time in history when patriarchy was so strong and the women submitted to their domineering husbands silently. The author seems to have been highlighting the struggles of women in a male dominated society. Through her works, she shows that women could overcome the dominance if only they took decisive action.
Thus, Wilkinson and the female protagonists in her stories fight against patriarchy. For instance, Elrod (1997) urges that Wilkinson’s story reveal the odds that women had to contend with in New England’s religion and the possibilities of emancipation.
The women being patient bring about the possibility of freedom and Sarah Penn had to wait for forty years before she got a new house (Tritt, 2004). The woman in her story goes against the tradition of the time and triumphs by challenging it and gaining a new self-identity. Thus, Wilkins was a domestic writer who was willing to critic the tradition in her society that clearly oppressed the women.
Wilkins lived in an era, which considered religion very important. She underwent many teachings in religion and thus she uses her knowledge of religion to speak to her audience using biblical illusions. In the story, Sara Penn alludes to the biblical Sara, the wife of Abraham. Sara was a woman to reckon with because she spoke her mind out to her husband for instance telling him to lie with her maid Hagai to bear him a son, as she was barren at that time.
Later she tells him to send Hagai and her son away after God and been merciful to her and she gave birth to Isaac. These actions changed the lives of the next generations just as Sarah Penn’s did. Sarah Penn changed her family’s living conditions as well as her son’s view of women. For example when Adoniram her husband returned from his trip, his son Sammy tells him that they had moved into the barn to live there.
His attitude seems to have changed from the Sammy we met earlier who was so similar to his father that he could not tell his mother or sister about the plan to build a new barn yet he had known for three months. Therefore, through Sarah Penn, Wilkins shows us a woman who confronts male dominance head on and through an unorthodox behavior and achieves independence (Westbrook, 1988).
The author uses this story to address the issue of women oppression that was rife at her time (Brand, 1977). The men oppressed the women by silencing them or failing to communicate with them like Adoniram did with his wife whenever he was asked a question he would not speak.
Adoniram’s behavior of putting animals before the welfare of his family was a wanting behavior that had to be confronted because a man is supposed to put his family before all else. Therefore, Wilkins using her story The Revolt of “Mother” addressed the issues facing women in the nineteenth century and showed that there was hope for the women just as Adoniram had been defeated so would patriarchy.
Brand, A.G. (1977). Mary Wilkins Freeman: Misanthropy as Propaganda. The New England Quarterly, 50, 83-100.
Elrod, E. R. (1997). Rebellion, Restraint, and New England Religion: The Ambivalent Feminism of Mary Wilkins Freeman:’ Literary Calvinism and Nineteenth-Century American Woman Authors. Michael Schuldiner (E.d). Lewiston, NY: Mellen.
Tritt, M. (2004). Freeman’s The Revolt of Mother. The Explicator, 62, 209-12.
Westbrook, P.D. (1988). Mary Wilkins Freeman. Boston: Twayne.