In many works of Literature women play a controversial role, one in which their actions are the cause of conflict in many situations. There are more often then not two reasons for this. One reason why the female character is always caught in the center of the conflict is ignorance, such is the case Shakespeare’s “Hamlet; Prince of Denmark” with the character Queen Gertrude as an example. The second reason why women are the cause of the central conflict are that in many instances they are trying to make a stand against society by defying what society holds to be the norm. An example of this would be Sophocles’ “Antigone”. In either case, the woman character is cause of the central conflict within the piece and therefore holds much responsibility for the outcome of the piece, as well as the state the reader is in after they finish reading the piece.
Two pieces of literature that demonstrate how a woman’s ignorance can lead to the cause of conflict are Shakespeare’s “Hamlet; Prince of Denmark”, and Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll House”. In both of these works it is the lead female character, Queen Gertrude, and Nora Helmer, respectively, whose ignorance leads to the central conflict of the piece and consequently brings on their demise and loss of family as well.
In the case of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, it is Queen Gertrude who married her late husband’s brother and unbeknown to her, her husbands murder as well. It is her act of hastily remarrying so soon right after her husband’s death, that leads to her son Hamlet’s somewhat mad behavior. In Ibsen’s “A Doll House” it is Nora, the wife of Torvald Helmer a prominent lawyer, who breaks not only the standard law but an unwritten socioeconomic law of the day as well, by forging her father’s name on a loan. Despite the good nature and intention behind his wife’s deed, Torvald does not support his wife’s actions, as it jeopardizes his good name and standing. Through their actions, both of these women brought upon much stress upon not only themselves but members of their family as well, allowing for the central conflicts to take place.
In “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”, it is Queen Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius that causes Hamlet to act as though he has gone crazy. His father’s death was hard enough on him, especially due to the fact that his Uncle Claudius was his father’s murderer. His mother’s hasty marriage to him only causes Hamlet to speculate about his mother’s involvement in his father’s death. Shakespeare does not make it entirely clear as to whether or not Gertrude took part in the elder Hamlet’s death, nor does he make certain as to whether or not she took part in any extramarital affairs with Claudius prior to the king’s death. It is this uncertainty that drives Hamlet to the brink of insanity. Hamlet is unsure as to whether or not he should hold his mother responsible for his father’s death, and this causes him to act “mad” towards the others in the court, especially his lover Ophelia. It is the ghost of the elder Hamlet that tells his son not to harm his mother, that she is innocent of his murder. Hamlet listens to his father’s ghost but still resents his mother’s remarriage, seeing it as an insult to his father. As a result Hamlet remains in his “mad” state, and in the classical tragic ending, all are dead except for the loyal Horatio, who is left to retell the story.
In “A Doll House” It is the character Nora who is the cause of the conflict within the story. Nora’s character is one of a somewhat ignorant and frivolous woman, almost as though she were a young child. She is oblivious to business matters, yet carries herself as though she is well aware of what she is doing. An example of this is when she becomes concerned about her husband Torvald’s health and decides to take out a loan to a finance a trip to Italy, which she believes will save her husband’s life. Unable to take out a loan due to the fact that she was a woman and had no property of her own, she forged her ailing father’s signature in order to obtain the loan. She blithely does this, without thinking about the risks involved, such as getting caught and losing her family. The devious Krogstad, the bank clerk who financed Nora’s loan, takes advantage of his knowledge of Nora’s action when his position at the bank becomes in jeopardy as Torvald prepares to take over at the bank. He informs her that she must persuade Torvald to keep Krogstad’s position at the bank, or Torvald will hear of Nora’s financial workings. This puts Nora in a tough spot as Torvald has already given Krogstad’s position to Ms. Linde, a childhood friend of Nora’s who was had been widowed. Nora’s financial workings had put her husband and herself into a very awkward position, one that compromised her husband’s reputation and his well standing position at the bank. Torvald, who always had been self conscious about himself, and very judgmental of others, scolds Nora as though she were his child, and forbids her to continue raising their children. Within minutes after this takes place, a second note comes from Krogstad, telling Nora that a wonderful event has occurred in his life, and that he is no longer holding the loan against her. Torvald is ecstatic at this news, thrilled that his name and reputation won’t be tarnished. Nora, however, is still unhappy with herself and her current life, especially her now distorted relationship with her husband and children. She decides to walk out on her husband and children, leaving them for good.
Both Nora and Gertrude’s actions had negative effects on their families and their families’ lives. Although Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius resulted in everyone’s death, it is still very similar to Nora’s illegal financial workings. Both lost their families, and in Gertrude’s cause she lost her life.
Some works of literature serve a political purpose, especially ones that try to change society. Many times it is a female character that is trying to bring about change. Two such pieces of literature are Sophocles’ “Antigone” and Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. In “Antigone” it is the title character Antigone who is trying to change the city of Thebes and the society of her time by overstepping the traditional female bounds and defying the king’s sovereignty. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” It is the character of the grandmother who is trying to bring about reform although it may only be within her own family. She tries to bring her new age family of the ‘40s in touch with her old fashioned conservative family ideals. Both of these characters engulf themselves within the central conflict as a consequence of their ideals and motives, leaving them dead.
Antigone is portrayed to be a martyr; such was the way she wanted to be portrayed throughout the play. She is seen as being ignorant, as she defies not only her uncle Creon, but also society itself, as she “leaped” over the traditional male/female social structure. Creon is put into an awkward situation by Antigone’s actions. She uses the law of the god’s against his own word, thus questioning his leadership. As self-consciousness as Creon is, he is now overly worried about the people’s reactions to Antigone’s behavior. He wants to follow his word, thus not showing his in competency, yet he does not want to turn her into a martyr. Antigone, aware of the predicament she has put herself into, continues her crusade by not showing any additional respect to Creon’s sovereignty, showing that there is a natural equality amongst the sexes. Creon, having no way out of the situation, opts to have Antigone killed, making her a martyr, thus leading to his own demise as the King of Thebes. Antigone’s message, however, was still received by the people of Thebes, and the reader as well.
In “A Goodman is Hard to Find” the character of the grandmother represents conservatism in a quickly changing society. She is constantly coming into conflict with her new age family of the 1940’s. To make a comparison to modern day times, the grandmother in O’Connor’s story is very much similar to the grandmother on the CBS television series “Everybody Loves Raymond”. She persists on changing her family’s vacations plans to go to Florida, suggesting they go to East Tennessee instead. She believes that the children have no respect for her, due to the changing society. She tries to rectify this problem by teaching them a lesson in the old way of things. She uses the serial killer known as the “Misfit” as an excuse to not go down to Florida, stating that she would never put her children in danger like that. Her attempts of diverting the family’s vacation, however, are what cost her not only her life but her family’s as well. If it were not for her little detour to find the plantation house, that was in a totally different state, they would never had come across the “Misfit”, and her grave mistake was recognizing the “Misfit” and letting that be known. It is due to the fact that she tries to teach her family an old fashion lesson in conservatism that they were all gunned down in the woods. This gives the reader the notion that conservatism is dying in a very dangerous world as O’Connor saw it in the 1940’s.
All of these women were the cause of conflict in their respective stories. Three of the four lost their lives, while the fourth changed her life forever. Their despises were either characterized by their ignorance or martyrdom however their actions preceded them.