Feminist Writings in the Perspective of Feminist Criticism: A Comparison of Fay Weldon's Weekend and Doris Lessing's To Room 19

Seminar Paper 2005 14 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Characters and Themes
2.1 Responsibilities and Desires
2.2 Reason versus Emotion

3. Different Ways of displaying Oppression
3.1 Differences of the Characters
3.2 Differences in Setting and Perspective

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Early in the morning she rises,

The Woman’s work is never done.

And it’s not because she doesn’t try,

She’s fighting a battle with no one on her side.

She rises up in the morning,

And she works ‘til way past dusk.

The woman better slow down,

Or she’s gonna come down hard.

Early in the morning she rises,

The woman’s work is never done.

Woman’s Work, by Tracy Chapman (1992)

“Ah, to be all things to all people: children, husband, employer, friends! It can be done: yes, it can: super woman” (Weldon 1988, 312).

The short stories Weekend by FayWeldon and Doris Lessing’s To Room 19 resemble each other in the aspect of presenting two female characters struggling in their lives under the pressure of the multiple roles they are to fulfill every day. But despite the superficial similarity of these stories, the two female authors chose different ways of pointing out the general themes of patriarchy and female entrapment to the reader.

Feminist literary criticism covers a broad range of theories and politics and it is hard to define the one feminist approach, however one of the main goals of feminist critics has been to point out patriarchal structures[1], oppression of women and inequalities of power between men and women. While these themes are often implicitly hidden in male literature, Weldon and Lessing dramatize and display them explicitly in their short stories. In this paper, some of the aspects of feminist theory will be applied to focus on the author’s different ways of presenting patriarchal structures by analyzing the similarities, but most importantly the differences in their respective settings and characters. To create a basis for discussion, in the following chapter an analysis of the female and male main characters will be connected with a deeper look at the general themes and motives that both short stories display. Subsequently, the third chapter will deal with the significant differences of the characters and the plots, leading into the question in which way the authors influence their readers and what effect on the reader each author may have desired.

2. Characters and Themes

In order to avoid a simple characterization, this chapter will start with a short introduction of the main characters, but then focus will be laid on the main themes and motives concerning these characters.

Fay Weldon’s Weekend gives the reader an insight into the marriage of Martha and Martin for the short time span of only one and a half days. In To Room 19, Doris Lessing portrays the marriage of Susan and Matthew for over a year, from its height to its downfall. Both females are mothers of several children and both males have well-paid jobs to provide for an upper middle class standard of living. While Martha works as “a market researcher in an advertising agency” (Weldon 1988, 309), Susan doesn’t want to go back to her old job “for the sake of the children” (Lessing 1988, 152). Susan has got a daily woman to help her with the household and Martha is supported by an elderly lady who comes in “twice a week to clean” (Weldon 1988, 310).

2.1 Responsibilities and Desires

Seeking out and analyzing the female characters’ responsibilities and desires is a good tool to penetrate women’s inner emotional and psychological lives and to make the impacts of the ‘exterior’ world on their interior personality visible. The responsibilities of adult family members are often seen as split into two spheres: work and household. Since the exploration of the gendered roles within these supposedly separate spheres[2] has also been a major concern of modern family sociologists, taking their researches into account may provide some empirical data to support the arguments of feminist critics.

The two short stories were written within a period of time in which women had their break-through in the workforce. However, while the landscape of work was undergoing great changes, the image of the home did not adapt to these changes. In The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (1989), Arlie Hochschild talks about a stalled revolution for women in the home. Women have made great steps by entering the workforce and competing directly with men. At home, however, men are resisting the changes in gender roles, and women have to take on a greater share of work. The results are increased conflicts in marriages, women taking up the “second shift” of housework after they come home from work, and in some cases, an increased possibility of divorce. Hochschild concludes that the division of household labor is the most critical issue in dual-earner households. This is, where the family situation in Weldon’s Weekend comes in, even though Martha’s struggle of reconciling her job as a market researcher and her duties as a mother and wife is only addressed aside: “take the country bedding from the airing basket plus the books and the games, plus the weekend food […] plus her own folder of work from the office, plus Martin’s drawing material […]” (Weldon 1987, 309); “Creativity arises out of order, not chaos. Five years off work while the children were small: back to work with seniority lost” (Weldon 1987, 312). Regarding the above mentioned division of household labor in dual-earner families, there simply is none in Martha’s and Martin’s marriage. Even worse, Martin combines the conservative gender role construction of the male breadwinner and the female nurturer with the pseudo-modern attitude that he “allows” Martha to have a job, “as [this is] her perfect right”, “even though it [is not] the best thing for the children” (Weldon 1987, 310). Even though Martha’s earnings are almost reaching the level of his, they do not treat their incomes as joint money but Martha has to use hers as to make up for the deficits that her job means for the family. She has to pay for the cleaning woman and “all things to cheer the spirit, otherwise depressed by a working wife and mother” such as “drink, holiday, petrol, outings, puddings, electricity, heating” (Weldon 1987, 322) out of her own pocket. Here, a patriarchal structure becomes clearly visible in two ways: The phrase “working wife and mother” emphasizes Martha’s primary roles – being wife and mother – in contrast to describing her primarily as a woman, who has to manage the three roles as employee, wife and mother, or even more extreme, as a career woman who manages to lead a family parallel to her job. Secondly, by determining specific things Martha has to spend her money for, rather than having a joint money system, Martin preserves the gendered roles which allow him to see his main responsibility in the financial income while the work at home is left as his wife’s responsibility.


[1] Patriarchy by definition: A social system which ensures the dominance of men and the subordination of women (Eagleton 1991, 228)

[2] this term describing the view of strict separation of work life and family life has been challenged by most family sociologists, because it has become evident that especially for women each sphere also affects the other one


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Feminist Writings Perspective Criticism Comparison Weldon Weekend Doris Lessing Room Proseminar Reading British Short Stories



Title: Feminist Writings in the Perspective of Feminist Criticism: A Comparison of Fay Weldon's Weekend and Doris Lessing's To Room 19