Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay
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Many literary critics have presented theories on the meaning of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, ranging from claims of Oedipal Complexes to insinuations of homosexuality. Though most such interpretations can be considered true at some level, there seems to be some basic theme - some driving force - that underlies all other interpretations.
While most criticisms focus on individual characters, a more insightful criticism of the true nature of Hamlet can be drawn simply by analyzing the key relationships in play. These relationships - especially those dealing with women or issues of femininity - allow a level of interpretation that examines not merely the events of the play, but the true underlying significance of gender both to…show more content…
Her feelings of confusion and unsure loyalty reflect some of Hamlet's deep-seated weaknesses, while her unnatural sexuality and traitorousness ultimately reflect the darker qualities of Claudius. Gertrude - though distinctly female and independent in her worldview - is in many respects tainted or misguided by the flaws in both her lover and her son.
Moreover, as mother to Hamlet, she acts largely as a reflection of the evils within Claudius. Much of the antagonism Hamlet directs towards her is, thus, aimed clearly at the elements of her that mirror Claudius: her lustfulness and corruption. In return, however, Gertrude offers Hamlet a level of motherly love and understanding. When she says "Let not thy mother lose her prayers, Hamlet. / I pray thee, stay with us, go not to Wittenberg," she quite clearly is expressing simple love and a desire to remain close to Hamlet. While Claudius is purely destructive towards Hamlet, Gertrude's ability to filter her lustfulness and corruption through her womanhood allows her to act, at least on some level, as a positive force on Hamlet.
The qualities Gertrude draws from Hamlet, however, lead her more towards destruction than love in her marriage. Hamlet's characteristics which she adopts - a timidity and weakness - allow her to be not merely corrupted by Claudius, but clearly also controlled. While she undoubtedly shared in a level of mutual love with Hamlet's father
A black child is born and twelve years later that same child asks, "How do you get someone to love you?" The answer can't be found in Mrs. MacTeer's songs or in the Maginot Line's description of eating fish together, and even Claudia doesn't know because that question had never entered her mind. If Claudia had thought about it, she would have been able to explain to Pecola that although she didn't know exactly how you made someone love you that somehow she knew that she was loved. That love was expressed on those cold autumn nights when Claudia was sick and loving hands would gently touch her forehead and readjust her quilt. Those were the same loving hands that told Claudia that they did not want her to die, and those were the loving hands of her mother, Mrs. MacTeer. Unfortunately, Pecola had no loving hands to comfort her.
In America, in the 1940's, white supremacy reigned and the values of the white dominant group were internalized by the black community in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. These images were reinforced in children's literature, on billboards and even on the giant theater screens. Although the effects of this propaganda rippled throughout the black community, its most devastating consequences were inflicted by Pauline Williams. Perhaps it was because she had always been a dreamer and she had to fantasize in order to escape her daily grind that the silver screen was able to captivate her. Once her education was complete, and she had been indoctrinated by the standards of this medium, she could never look at the world the same way again. Everything was now assigned a category; there was good and evil, white and black, beauty and ugliness, and she would be its judge.
Prior to her instruction, Pauline Williams loved the colors of purple berries, yellow lemonade and the streaks of green the June bugs made in the trees at night. When she first met Cholly, she felt that her savior had come to take her home and to protect her from all the ravages of the impending storms. But Cholly was only a man, a man that carried the scars of abandonment on a trash heap by his mother and rejection at a crap game by his father. Cholly, who tried to anesthetize himself with booze, for the humiliation and degradation he experienced by sneering white men, with flashlights, who stole his manhood. In the beginning, filled with the promise of young love, things went well for Cholly and Pauline in the North. However, as time went by, the colors of Pauline's youth begin to fade as her loneliness consumes her, and she is forced into the picture show for her tutoring.
The giant screen allows her to escape her homesickness, Cholly's abandonment and the colored folks meanness. When the screen lights up, Pauline is transported into a world where she sees white men taking good care of their wives and where the women are dressed up and live in beautiful clean houses. The images are white, they are happy, and they are beautiful, and so Pauline devours these false portraits, and consequently coming home to Cholly becomes more and more difficult. Pauline tries to accept her circumstances, and begins to joyfully look forward to her second pregnancy. This time she convinces herself that things will be different, because she is not afraid and she has vowed to love it, no matter what it looks like. Pauline begins to lovingly talk to her child while it is still in her womb, and she feels good about this baby up until the end. But when the healthy, smart, baby girl is born, Pauline is repulsed by her looks, and tells the Lord how ugly she is.
It would be very easy at this time to blame society, White and Black, for Pauline's predicament, but I cannot accept this, and am unwilling to let Pauline off the hook so easily. Pauline, unlike Cholly, knew what it was like to grow up with a sense of family. She lived in a nice house with her sisters and brothers and both of her working parents. And even though Pauline had a feeling of separateness and worthlessness which she attributed to her foot, I still suspect that she had good family role models. For example, whenever someone in her family accidentally scattered one of her arrangements, they always stopped to retrieve them for her. Therefore, her complaints of not having a nickname or family anecdotes or a separate pot of rice and peas seem a little hollow. Instead, I think her family was attentive to her needs and considerate of her feelings. Because of her background, and the kin whom she stated she missed when she went up North, I think it was her responsibility to be the role model for Cholly, Sammy and Pecola.
Pauline also claimed to be a good God-fearing woman, yet she went to Church and cloaked herself in her-self-righteousness, and used Cholly as her scapegoat. She became a martyr and held up Cholly as a model of sin and failure, but Cholly was easy, and she manipulated and used him for her own selfish sinful deeds. Pauline never looked into her own blackish heart, she never saw beyond Cholly to her own inequities. She seemed to be only interested in gaining approval and pity from the church women who had ridiculed and scorned her. Unfortunately, this single-mindedness caused her to abandon her children. Pauline was going to punish Cholly for not being her savior, but in her quest she denied her children, especially Pecola/ their savior.
Love has many facets, but children's needs from love are simple and are usually transmitted through a sense of being wanted and ultimately by being protected. These feelings were communicated by Mrs. MacTeer to Claudia when she was sick, to Frieda when she was molested by Mr. Henry, and even to Pecola when she begins to menstruate and soils her dress. Mrs. MacTeer lives in the same black community as Pauline, she is exposed to the same white propaganda, and she also is angry with her poverty, yet she does not blame the children, she blames the situation. Three quarts of milk have disappeared, and even though Mrs. MacTeer knows that Pecola drank it, she does not actually blame Pecola, she blames the circumstances and her mother, Pauline. What kind of a woman, a mother, would not check to make sure that her child is alive or dead, and whether or not she has enough food to eat. She was not Mrs. MacTeer's natural child In nor a relative, yet she treated Pecola better than Pauline ever had.
It would be very easy to portray Pauline as a weak, ignorant woman who didn't know any better, but that would be false. If she were weak, she would have succumbed to the white woman's wishes, and would have left Cholly in order to keep her job. But instead she proves just how strong and smart she is when she so cleverly tries to extract her pay from her employer. In addition, because of this incident, it was difficult for me to believe that she could have ever idolized white society, because she seemed to have such contempt, and seemed to view white folks as ignorant, lazy, and superficial people. Another example of how clever she was, is when she discovers how to win the admiration of not only her church members, but also her new white employees. Further, even in her lovemaking, she is in complete control. Pauline is able to subdue her passion, and to delay seeing the colors of her youth, until she is assured that Cholly is powerless to both mentally and physically separate from her. Additionally, Pauline was also capable of nurturing; of calming and comforting a scared crying child, but those feelings she willingly gave to the little white girl, and miserly refused to Pecola.
When Pauline Williams married Cholly, she became Mrs. Breedlove in name only. She did not breed love; instead she procreated shame, guilt, and ugliness. Although it is true that Cholly's behavior was ugly, and he was dangerously free to gorge his own appetite, I believe that it was Pauline who forced the family to wear their ugliness. Pauline cultivated her child, Pecola, with ridicule and shame, and so she ripened, and felt unworthy. Pauline, more than anyone else, knew Cholly's character, yet she refused to believe, and protect her child from his lustful advances. As a consequence, Pecola turned to Soaphead Church for her protection, and his path led her into insanity. However, Soaphead Church was just her guide, Pecola's road to madness had already been paved the day she was born, by her mother!