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Burden Of A Woman in a Patriarchal Society A Look At William Wordsworth’s The Thorn

William Wordsworth is an early 18th century poet who has shown signs of being a feminist in the way he portrays the poor, for instance, Martha Rey. It was interesting that Wordsworth chose an unsympathetic narrator. In this paper, we are going to take a look at some of the ways that women and men are treated differently in the same situation. For example we will look at a description of a pregnant unwed woman and her married, bastard baby s; father. We will also discuss how the society passes blame on this mythical woman who is forced to reside on the fringes of society. Finally, we will talk about why Wordsworth may have chosen such an unsympathetic and unapologetic busy body to narrate his poem.

William Wordsworth’s “The Thorn,” recounts a tale around a woman’s hardship managing her extraordinary misfortune and anguish. The poem begins with an expansive, wretched, old, dim thorn standing erect on a peak (Wordsworth, N.p.). Likewise on the peak is a sloppy lake of water, a load of greenery, and what is comprehended to be a newborn child’s grave. At this area, a distressed lady in a red shroud is crying out. The lady, Martha Ray, cries and cries day and night, sitting alongside the thorn. Already, Martha had encountered monstrous bliss while in a relationship with a man named Stephen Hill who on their wedding day abandoned her. Martha was pregnant with their child, yet what later happened to the infant is obscure (Wordsworth, N.p.). The villagers around the local area are interested in the whereabouts of her child; some say it was downed in a pond, others say it was hung, however nobody even knows whether the infant was conceived alive.  But the villagers trust the child is covered underneath the reasonable greenery that laid on the mountain’s top. Martha sits on the peak alongside the pathetic thorn and the baby’s assumed grave and persistently cries. One inquisitive and bold man climbed the mountain to discover Martha sitting on the ground shouting out, “oh misery! Oh misery!” (Wordsworth, N.p.).

We are introduced to Martha Rey as a beautiful, vivacious young lady who is engaged to Stephen Hill, the love of her life. Unknowingly, Martha Rey has given her hand, heart, body and soul to a scoundrel who has promised her that he will definitely change her life and status in town for the better. Because he is a man, Stephen suffers no backlash from the society for having two women on the hook and proves that in a patriarchal society such men’s reputations are not marred by the same situations as woman (Wordsworth, N.p.). On the other hand, an innocent and naïve Martha Rey instantly became this mythical thorn in the eyes of the society. The author or narrator who seems to be a retired traveler with too much time on his hands, walks across the towns asking people about a woman whom he encountered on his way to the town. He describes the woman as a thorn bush who he cannot have imagined to have been such beautiful and lush. The traveler asked the town people what her story was. The town people were happy to gossip with the traveler gladly letting him know of the poor Martha Rey. They describe her to her as a jilted mother of a bastard baby, for whom they have never seen or heard of. Wordsworth uses a powerful imagery in describing the baby’s face, for instance he states that it appears on a pond. The town people paint Martha Rey’s papers as an apparition that floats between a lonely shanty in the hills and the pond where her babies face frequently appears (Wordsworth, N.p.). The town people tell the nosy traveler that they are not sure why or how the baby died but they are sure she killed the baby because of her unfortunate life and overwhelming grief for her unrequited love. This part of the poem is very amusing as all the gossips that are put forth here are not practical in real file situation. They are pure speculation and that is demeaning (Lind, Amy, and Stephanie Brzuzy, 17).

The author also implies that Martha Rey probably has more in common with the nature and animals that surround her modest home. This is indicated the Wordsworth’s choice of the unsympathetic tone in narrating about the poor Martha Rey (Wordsworth, N.p.). It is my opinion that Wordsworth would have used a more sympathetic tone in narrating about the character because it is clearly stated that he left the mother of his child in Europe to return to the Lake area of England to frolic amongst the country side with his sister and other poets of his time. In my opinion, Wordsworth‘s feminist views and spotlight on this type of judgment is hypocritical. It is a clear example of a strictly male dominated society. This kind of a society presents obstacle to the advancement and development of women. This is because men are in total control thus keep women dominated and subordinate (Lind, Amy, and Stephanie Brzuzy, 17).

Wordsworth   uses the woman character as a reflection of the real issue, the real story behind the poem which is the sad and loneliness of this retired collector of stories. When doing some research to see if my arguments were valid, I ran into two critics that shared my vision of duality in Wordsworth’s poem “The thorn”. Brian Brodeur feels like “there are two plots going on in the poem:  the first being the obvious burdened Martha Rey, however, he also senses that the old traveler is burdened with the task of traveling to collect stories” (Brodeur, N.p.). The second critic also shared my vision of the ascension of Martha Rey to an immortal being. For instance, Thomas L Ashton also believed “in the supernatural versus the natural aspect of the story” (Ashton, N.p.).

When I started the Wordsworth’s poem “The thorn”, I did not realize that there maybe two issues at play, but the more I read, synthesized and analyzed the poem, the more I got a sense of the duality of the issues which made me like the poem even more. I also got a better sense of the romantic styles of William Wordsworth’s poetry (Wordsworth, N.p.). Feminism is recently at play in this patriarchal society, but I think the sadder situation is the retired traveler collector of stories who has never been settled down with a family and therefore he constantly wanders with no home to go to (Ashton, N.p.). Feminists have criticized gender roles that are associated with the traditional nuclear family. This is because nuclear family only performs roles that oppress women such as socializing girls to accept roles that are subservient within the family while boys are perceived as superior (Lind, Amy, and Stephanie Brzuzy, 17).

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