Critical Analysis of “A Sorrowful Woman” by Gail Godwin
Gail Godwin an American short story writer, novelist and journalist, had contributed greatly in increasing and enhancing American literature. The work of Godwin includes a number of short stories and other literary works; however, this study would review one of her masterpiece “A Sorrowful Woman” published in 1971, which represents the story of a woman who is no longer satisfied with her role of being a perfect mother for her son and a perfect wife for her husband. This study would critically analyze the plots and characters of this story.
The heroine of Gail Godwin's short story "A Sorrowful Woman" seems inexplicable. Apparently healthy, married to a "durable, receptive, gentle" husband, and mother of a three-year-old son, she seems to have no aspirations beyond the roles of wife and mother she more than competently fulfills. And yet, one day, as the result of no discernible cause, the sight of her husband and child "made her so sad and sick she did not want to see them ever again. When she tells her husband about her feelings, he comforts her, he said, he understands and asks what he can do to help: "He was attuned to her; he understood such things. He said he understood. What would she like him to do? (Busch, pp. 40-124)" She asks him to settle their child for the night and goes upstairs to bed. The next night it happens again. Noticing her child's approving eyes upon her as she puts away the warm dishes after supper; the woman begins "yelping without tears, retching in between" (Pickering, pp. 436). Again her husband understands. "Mommy is sick" (Grimes, pp. 224) he tells the frightened child as he carries his wife upstairs. He puts her to bed and prepares a sleeping draught. The following morning, he brings her breakfast in bed and then lets her sleep until it grows dark again (Kirkland and Dowell, pp. 9-40).
Here, follow weeks of the woman's increasing retreat, until one day she wakes up needing urgently to be busy. From dawn to dusk for the next several days she engages in a flurry of activity baking pies and several loaves of bread, roasting a turkey, glazing a ham, laundering sheets and shirts and towels, knitting sweaters, painting watercolors, writing stories and poems. Leaving her family this one last cornucopias gift of her, the woman then retires to the small downstairs room she has appropriated, slips into bed and dies (Kirkland and Dowell, pp. 9-40).
Though one may, in the usual way, scratch beneath the deliberately cool surface of Godwin's fable-like plot for clues to the woman's behavior, rational explanations simply are not easily come by. The woman does not seem to be "kept" or diminished, as Nora is, for example, in A Doll's House. Neither her talents nor her intelligence seems undervalued; she is not deprived in any sense we can see; she does not want a job; there are no hints of unresolved conflict. This nameless ...