And Women Must Weep by Henry Handel Richardson
In And Women Must Weep by Henry Handel Richardson we have the theme of confidence, acceptance, innocence, appearance, insecurity, control, rejection and failure. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Richardson may be exploring the theme of confidence. Dolly prior to going to the ball feels confident within herself. Helped by the fact that she believes she is wearing a dress that compliments her. However when she arrives at the ball her confidence soon fades to a sense of insecurity when she notices the dresses that the other girls are wearing. This may be important as Richardson may be using Dolly’s thoughts on her appearance as foreshadowing to the ultimate failure she feels later on in the story when she is rejected by the gentlemen and she spends most of the evening sitting in her chair rather than being asked to dance. It is also noticeable that Dolly gets apprehensive and loses confidence the longer she is sitting in the chair looking at others dancing. As a defense mechanism she hides her programme to suggest to others that she is unavailable to dance with anyone.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Dolly appears to be under the control of her Auntie Cha. It is she who directs Dolly throughout the evening which may leave some readers to suspect that Dolly is somewhat innocent of the way things are supposed to be. All Dolly knows is that nobody is asking her to dance and those who do. Dolly deems them to be unsuitable dance partners. Forced by others to dance with Dolly. This may be important as Richardson may be suggesting that nobody at the ball (apart from the schoolboy) is prepared through their own free will to dance with Dolly. Something that is surprising considering that Richardson does not portray an unflattering image of Dolly. It might also be important that Dolly lacks the confidence to ask one of the gentlemen to dance when the leap dance arrives. It is possible that Richardson may be suggesting that Dolly feels not only deflated by her experience at the ball but defeated too. In reality Dolly is attempting to fit in with societies ideals and she is clearly not succeeding. That is if success is based on a gentleman asking a lady to dance. As it is Dolly’s first real ball the reader can assume that Dolly is still relatively young. So the ball takes on a significance or importance that it may not necessarily merit.
Which may be the point that Richardson is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that society and its priorities only lead to a sense of pressure for the individual. Where prior to going to the ball Dolly was full of confidence. Yet this confidence soon disappears when Dolly arrives at the ball. The ball symbolically representing societal values and tradition. Another noticeable tradition that is carried out throughout the story is the fact that except for the leap dance it is the gentleman’s responsibility to ask the lady to dance. It is as though the choices of the lady (and Dolly) are limited. Also any sense of freewill is taken away from the lady. Though this may not necessarily affect Dolly in light of the fact that her confidence is low due to the fact that the gentlemen at the ball are rejecting her.
The end of the story is also interesting as despite following tradition and doing as she had been instructed by Auntie Cha. Dolly sees the evening as being a complete failure. How upset Dolly actually is can be seen by the fact that she locks her bedroom door and isolates herself from others before she starts to cry. Dolly has no understanding as to why she should have been alienated by others at the ball. It probably doesn’t help Dolly that she takes what happened at the ball so personal. There are sure to be other balls that Dolly can attend. Should her confidence be restored but for the moment the events of the evening are too much for her. It is as though Dolly is a victim of the pressure that society can impose on the individual. Having not been chosen by a suitable gentleman to dance. Dolly has internalized how she feels rather than being confident enough to consider that the loss was on the gentleman’s side and not hers. Dolly who is still innocent when it comes to life experiences is a victim of societal values. Values that are dictated by the male and not by the woman. If anything the reader hopes that Dolly’s confidence grows and that she has learnt a lesson. Even if it is a cruel and harsh lesson.