Rural Life Comparison: 16th Century France vs.
Natalie Zemon Davis' book The Return Of Martin Guerre is an excellently detailed, understandable and well-researched account of the famous Martin Guerre and his impostor, Arnauld du Tilh. But even further than only outlining the truth of the story, Davis also uses her research to enlighten us on the responsibility of various family members in 16th Century rural French life, the politics of family life and peasant life in general, and the role of the mounting change from Catholicism to Protestantism among the elite as well as the peasant classes. Likewise, in Jonathan D. Spence's historical novel, The Death of Woman Wang, this describes the rural society which relegated women to second-class citizens. Spence concentrated his novel on county of T"an-ch"eng in the seventeenth century, and referred to examine the Chinese social structure from the bottom, rather than at the top. In this way, Spence attempted to recreate social history as seen through the eyes of the people who not only constituted the majority of the Chinese population, but who were the most adversely affected by the fixed structure. The primary social issues which were explored by The Death of Woman Wang are the family area, i.e., the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children; the huge gap which existed between the wealthy land owners and the impoverished peasants. .
In relation to family and marriage life, Davis uses Bertrande de Rols, Martin Guerre's wife, as an example of a strong, virtuous woman with familial duty and an obstinate nature. Davis uses this characterization to explain how de Rols was not a weak-minded woman who was so easily duped by her missing husband's impostor, but was rather a woman who was in love and used her strength in order to facilitate her new relationship with Arnauld du Tilh: 'Either by explicit or tacit agreement, she helped him become her husband.