Christopher Solley-Mead Professor Julie Brinson ENGL11104 3 November 2013 These Vows Are A’ Changin’ An Examination of the Role of Marriage through Literary Analysis Marriage… it is what brings us together today… Princess Bride It’s not a lack of love… but a lack of friendship that makes marriages unhappy. Friedrich Nietzche You know it’s never fifty-fifty in a marriage… someone always falls in love first… puts someone on a pedestal first… someone is Just along for the ride. Jodi Picoult If you want to start a heated, contentious argument, ask someone their opinion about arriage.
Should homosexuals be afforded the right? Should persons be able to divorce on “no-fault” grounds, or should marriage be dissolved only under the greatest duress? Is marriage a purely religious institution, a “sacrament” if you will, or does it fall under the stature and design of the state? Few other topics find such disagreement. The purpose of this paper is to examine exactly what is marriage, from a legal and religious standpoint, and how it has evolved from the medieval period to that of the modern day.
The other purpose is to examine specific literary eferences throughout different periods in time, and offer perhaps a glimpse as to why responses in type mirror what has changed in society at large. Marriage, in the classical view, finds its roots in the early medieval period of Europe. While it does extend roots to the late Roman era through Augustine, its true birth is a product of the death of culture within the “civilized world. ” Augustine does provide the basis for classical marriage, that being procreation, fidelity, and permanence (Reid 462. Simply put, marriage’s purpose was noted as the production of linage, and to sustain that line a sustainable family unit was needed. Neither comfort nor convenience of the immediate parties was of importance, but rather the procreation of a progeny was the order (Reid 463. ) Of course, the need for progeny was “to the father” but as the wife had no claim beyond doweristic property, this is expected. Fidelity, mutual support and assistance were intertwined into this need; if one partner chose to dally around; the potential for other progeny could disrupt, and perhaps destroy the bonds needed to continue a line maturely.
This is, again to say, that the husband may choose to dally, but should the wife be found with the stain of nfaithfulness, well, the result could destroy what was so carefully built. Permanence, closely connected with fidelity, existed more of a political status and of fundamental supremacy to not only the church, but to that of society as well. It was in the medieval period that a break in whom was bestowed the power to dissolve the bonds of marriage, that being the state or the church. Both noted that the power to dissolve said bonds were where one party failed to perform essential obligations of the marriage contract (Reid 467. Remarriage was seen as much as a detriment to marriage (468) in that it disrupted he society; the very questions of responsibility and loyalty that modern families face were simply avoided. Other issues, such as homosexual marriage, were simply not an issue as they could not fulfill the primary obligation of the marriage contract; there was no opportunity for procreation. The Victorian/Gilded view of marriage carries over from that of Augustine; the purpose of progeny, structure and state/church control remains the forefront of the marriage agreement.
Love, commitment and affection were desirable, yet, the device of marriage as a social mobilizer remained of paramount importance. We also see, as the world of industrialization takes hold: the lathe replaces the plow, the city replaces the farming community, and the family is replaced by the company. Marriage itself is placed into question. In the place of property, marriage allowed aforementioned social-stratification and solidification among the middle and upper class, yet the lower socio-economic rungs find marriage suffocating.
It is also, as economic independence allows growth into Maslowian self-actualization among the upper classes, the burgeoning thought-school of feminism begins to question the ery nature of marriage as a restriction upon the feminine. Of particular interest is the means of which these initial treads occurred, through veiled literary references. Stoker’s Dracula, Chopin’s Story of an Hour and Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime all address the issues immerging within the question of marriage. Each addresses this matter differently, each skirting the gaze of the censor Just enough to fire the crucible of social revolution.
Of particular interest is “Story of an Hour,” Chopin’s three-page indictment of marriage as the death of self-actualized life. Her heroine, Louise Mallard, finds herself brutally removed from the bonds of Victorian matrimony, and in the place of mourning finds she awakened to the potential of life without his husband. Now, this freedom may be more than Just the emotions, as suggested by Chongye: although Mallard wanted to ‘have a change,’ it seems that she has already experienced this… through some affair, be it emotional or physical… ith [Mallard’s] brother-in-law Richards (92. ) It is here that we see the beginning of the break-down of the marriage needs; for it is the wife, Louise Mallard, which feels the lack of commitment and fulfillment in her gainst the supremacy of men in the patriarchal Gilded Age society. Upon learning of her husband’s death, Mallard finds herself free of ALL ties (406) and thus: “[She] bursts into tears [of happiness]. (Chongye 93) It is as if the heavens have opened to her, and she hears the world around her for the first time.
Her affair with Richards, another man, could not bring about the life that singular existence offers, and thus it is when all ties to all men are removed that she is able to express such emotion. Now, is it the institute of marriage that changed, or is it the needs of the people and society? Is Mallard, the voice of Chopin so unhappy that is takes the death of her ties with mankind to become truly alive? What about Nina Harker, forced to remove herself from traditional society, and her husband, in Dracula? Hacker suggests that, there is a need to reorganize marriage to fit [new] economic and political institutions (153. So, perhaps marriage, as defined by Augustine, no longer provided a basis for societal structure. If this question existed at this point in history, would it not be so much more into the progression of social revolution within the twentieth century. As the Victorian/Gilded Age come to an end, and as the modern era began with start of a new century, marriage found itself on the cusp of questioning. Society found old ways no longer surviving, two great wars made sure of that. As the “Roaring 20’s” came about, a distinct questioning of what were the roles of gender would remain, and which would require change.
Daisy of Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby often refers to her marriage of that ofa bruised finger (175,) annoying and barely tolerable. Gone are the veiled references of happiness without a spouse in love; now love and companionship are that is required. It is society that requires marriage, as Delaney notes in her commentary on a publication of the era 🙁 “Girls Own Annual 1927 demonstrates a distinct construction of womanhood at odds with the 1920’s view. ” (29) Marriage was still noted as the “stabilizing force[… ][that] improve[d] the moral state of the nation[… ” (Delaney 41) but it was no longer needed by the “rebellious” generation of the 1920’s. Thus, is marriage still needed at this Juncture? Or more precisely, was the Augustan model of marriage; progeny, fidelity, and reliance still apparent and viable? Despite the metronomic return of pseudo-Victorian values uring the 1950’s, the societal constraints that marriage afforded seemed no longer needed, or even desired. Divorce grew from one in nine marriages in 1920 (Delaney 30) to nearly one in four by emergence into the 1960’s. What had changed?
Thus we return to the modern day, where divorce has risen to almost fifty percent, granted on the most frivolous of grounds; yet there are those who beg for the right “to be miserable. ” Is the classic definition of marriage stated above serviceable, or is a major re-alignment required? This is the question that now stands before each state, and very well before our nation’s highest court. Definitions of state-driven marriage, to the benefit of social beneficiaries (Reid 476; et al. ) exist in Hawaii and Vermont. Adultery, while a crime-in-writing, no longer stands as the legal and societal pariah.
Propagation is now nothing more than paying to be impregnated; so where does marriage stand? As this discussion continues to hamper other discussions, it is the beneficiaries, society or the couple themselves. Marriage can no longer be seen as the “neat bow” of life (Levenson 161), the “happily ever after. ” Marriage may be a “discipline… and means of grace (Good 52), but that is no longer enough in the odern context. Thus, in order for society to move forward, marriage must be forced to adapt, and the Augustan laws that so shaped it for over a millennia no longer apply.
It is with a new definition and a new status within society that it may regain a toehold into the realm of importance it once held, and provide status to those who have been too long denied. Works Cited: Chase-Levenson, Karen. “‘Happiness Is Not A Potato’: The Victorian Cultivation Of Happiness. ” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 33. 2 (201 1): 161-169. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Oct. 2013. Delaney, Lesley. “Little Women, Good Wives: Victorian Constructions Of Womanhood In The Girl’s Own Annual 1927. ” Children’s Literature In Education 34. (2003): 29-45. A Academic search premier. web. 29 oct. 2013. Fritzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2013. Print. Good, Deirdre J. , et al. “A Theology Of Marriage Including Same-Sex Couples: A View From Tile Liberals. ” Anglican Theological Review 93. 1 (201 1): 51-87. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Oct. 2013. Hacker, Helen Mayer. “Marx, Weber And Pareto On The Changing Status Of Women. ” A American Journal Of Economics & Sociology 12. 2 (1953): 149-162. Business source premier. web. 29 oct. 2013.
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