The Woman’s Rose by Olive Schreiner
In The Woman’s Rose by Olive Schreiner we have the theme of authority, jealousy, appearance, insecurity, control and connection. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman the reader realises after reading the story that Schreiner may be exploring the theme of authority. The narrator has felt bound by the authority of men for most of her life. However when she was younger she felt as though it was her who was in authority with regards to men. She was able to refuse the marriage proposals and advances of men and felt good about being able to do so. For once in the narrator’s life she was in control of her environment. This may be important as Schreiner may be suggesting that the narrator through her young looks and beauty was in command of men when the reality was society itself was male dominated. The fact that the narrator does not consider herself beautiful in comparison to the other girl is also interesting as she may feel insecure about how she looks. With appearance being important to the narrator when she was young and also important to all the men who attempted to court the narrator. If anything Schreiner may be suggesting just how vain a man can be. Judging a woman not by her character but by her appearance.
It is also noticeable that the narrator when she was younger began to hate men. It is as though she could see what their motives were and how fickle they might have been when it came to choosing a woman to court. Again the men appeared to base their selection on the physical attractiveness of the woman and not on her character. Which may be the point that Schreiner is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that the men in the village objectified women rather than treating them as equals. It may have been a point of pride for a man to have won the heart of an attractive woman. Leaving other competitors to lick their wounds and deal with any jealousy that might have arisen. It is also interesting that the narrator is somewhat jealous of the other girl in the village. It is as though the narrator understands the rules of the game that is being played and through her own insecurities does not feel as though she matches up to the other girl.
It might also be important that the narrator never kept the flower that was given to her by one of her suitors as this could suggest that she had no interest in courting him. As a young girl she kept the flower but as time progressed she re-evaluated her life and the contents of the brown carved box. The narrator realised that the man was not to be part of her life past, present or future. It is as though the narrator no longer wishes to have the connection she may have once had with the man. However it is interesting that she kept the girl’s white rose as this would suggest that despite the passing of time the narrator still thinks of the girl and their time when they were younger. A simple act of generosity by the girl tore down some of the barriers that existed between her and the narrator. It is also interesting that the rose appears to be the most prized possession in the narrator’s box. It may be a case that she for the first time in her life felt connected with another woman and understood just how difficult life could be living in male dominated society.
What is also interesting about the story is that the narrator can easily disregard any of her suitors though the same cannot be said when it comes to the girl. Though both women were in competition the also realised that they were the same. They were both being pursued by men and they both had to deal with unwanted advances at times. If anything Schreiner may be suggesting that both the narrator and the girl were united by the girl giving the rose to the narrator. Where many would take the competition of another woman to heart and attempt to ensure that they were belittled for their own satisfaction. This is not the case in the story. Though competitors the narrator and the young girl understand that they are living in a male dominated society and that due to the shortage of women in the village. The men in the village are amorous towards them. When the reality could be should another girl arrive in the village. She too would find herself in the same position as the narrator and the girl. Perhaps Schreiner is suggesting that men in general will fall in love with any woman that they see. That they are driven by lust rather than by love.