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Women's Independence in Early Literature

            Stereotypes have long identified what is "male" and what is "female". These stereotypes, designated by society, determine what type of role each gender fulfills in society. But male and female roles change over time, and as traditional stereotypes begin to fade, so do gender roles. Today, women experience freedom and opportunities that were thought unattainable by their female ancestors.
             Stereotypes and gender roles had a strong hold on society in the late 1800's, and because many women silently desired independence above all else, their wish for equality was a common theme in literature of that era. One such example is Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's story, "A New England Nun." In this account, Freeman uses a variety of symbolism, along with the character of Louisa Ellis, to give women of the late 19th century a unified voice - to express through literature their desire for liberation and their quite pursuit of freedom from what men had determined them to be. .
             Perhaps Mary E. Wilkins Freeman best represented a woman's struggle for independence through the character of Louisa's relationship with Joe Dagget. In a time when women had very little freedom and were "chained" to the running of their homes, Louisa Ellis' rejection of Dagget's marriage proposal symbolizes the emergence of women and their growing sense of autonomy. The character of Joe Dagget has many characteristics that a typical woman would desire in a man. He's dedicated to his work and is faithful to Louisa; he is also wealthy. Dagget had built his fortune in Australia and "would have stayed fifty years if it had taken so long" (656). However, "the fortune had been made in fourteen years, and he had come home now to marry the woman who had been patiently and unquestionably waiting for him all that time" (656). .
             Seemingly, Joe is portrayed as an excellent male partner. However, Louisa decides not to marry him, and instead, holding onto a thread of independence, she "gives him away" to another woman.

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