The Widow’s Might by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
In The Widow’s Might by Charlotte Perkins Gilman we have the theme of independence, struggle, control, freedom, determination and duty. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Gilman may be exploring the theme of independence. Mrs McPherson since her husband’s illness and eventual death has become more independent in her life. While she was caring for her husband she was also managing the ranch and turning her efforts into a profit. This may be important as Mrs McPherson does not appear to have had an easy life with her husband nor have the children but she felt as though it was her duty to remain in the marriage despite the struggles that she endured. It may also be important that the children have already in their minds decided on the course of action to take when it comes to their mother. It is as though they do not believe that she can either take care of herself or that she has the ability to make up her own mind when it comes to how she should live her life after Mr McPherson’s death. If anything the children wish to control their mother.
It is also interesting that rather than being sad about her husband’s death Mr McPherson feels a sense of freedom. She now has the opportunity, without feeling under obligation to anybody, to live her life as she chooses. It may also be significant that Mr McPherson prefers to travel rather than spend time with her family. It may not be a case that Mrs McPherson is being cold but rather she is being realistic. She has done everything that has been expected of her when it comes to raising a family and is fully conscious that her family now have their own families. The fact that Mrs McPherson is prepared to honour her husband’s will. Even though she is not legally obliged to do so is also interesting as it suggests that Mrs McPherson though she may not be affectionate towards her children is showing them the same practicality that they were prepared to show her when they were arranging what to do with her. Each character in the story knows they have a duty to one another and each seems prepared to honour this duty.
It might also be important that Mrs McPherson shows the same practicality when it comes to her husband’s death as she shows her children. Something that is symbolically noticeable by the fact that she lets light into the room when the discussion of what is to happen occurs. Rather than pitying herself Mrs McPherson is determined to get on with her life and to do so under her own terms. Now that things have changed Mrs McPherson’s main priority is herself. Something which some critics might consider to be selfish. However it might be important to remember that Mrs McPherson has not had an easy life and moving into one of her children’s homes would be a discomfort to her. She wants to live her life and not be a burden on her children. For the first time in her life Mrs McPherson is able to put herself first and to do so without having to feel guilty. Something that may not have been possible while she was married and raising children. At the time the story was written (1911) it would have been deemed inappropriate by society for a married woman to think of herself and forgo what would have been considered her social obligations.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that the children don’t attempt to discourage Mrs McPherson’s actions. It is as though they are happy that they are to receive what they believe they are entitled to. There is no necessity for them to look after their mother. Which may in reality have been a hindrance to the children. Just as Mrs McPherson adhered to any obligation that she might have had as a wife or mother. The children do not have to perform the same duty. If anything each character is free to live their lives as they see fit. Something that the reader senses suits each character. There is also a sense that Mrs McPherson is saying goodbye to her children and that she has no intention of returning home. To either live with her children or to visit them. If anything Mrs McPherson’s resilience in life and her ingenuity have ensured that she can live the rest of her life as a free and independent woman. Reliant on nobody but herself. Something that many women at the time would have struggled to achieve due to the societal norms that existed. Rather than being a grieving widow. Mrs McPherson has found a new lease of life.