Friday, July 19, 2019
The Female Martyr of Nineteenth Century Literature :: Literature Literary
The Female Martyr of Nineteenth Century Literature The literature of the nineteenth century is abundant with stories about children dying, partially because it was common for people to die young. One of the most popular forms of the dying child in literature is the martyr, who is almost always female. During the nineteenth century, white men held virtually all of the power in American society. The only way female characters could obtain power was through transcendence in death, but white males already had power and thus had nothing to gain by dying. The image of the pure girl who sacrifices herself for the sake of another seems very positive at first glance. However, this figure perpetuates the notion that girls should be selfless; rather than portray selflessness as a desirable characteristic for any morally upright human being, it is portrayed as a suitable characteristic for women. The female is supposedly the moral center of society, so she is the character who sacrifices herself for others. The martyr figure is a role model for all good girls to follow, while boys have brave heroes to look up to. Barbara Welter notes Ã¢â¬Å"the death of a young girl was so celebrated as a triumph of beauty and innocence that a whole ritual grew up around itÃ¢â¬ (11), but she doesnÃ¢â¬â¢t fully explain why the death of a young girl was so captivating to Americans of the time. The martyr is the ideal woman who will sacrifice herself for others, and in death she attains more importance than she ever could in life. The only way a woman could obtain any substantial degree of power in nineteenth century America was if she was dead. Because a martyrÃ¢â¬â¢s worth is only proven in death, this figure is the perfect role model to promote the sexist ideologies of that society because it encourages women to be good but denies them tangible power. Ã¢â¬Å"My HeroineÃ¢â¬ Ã Ã Ã Ã Ã¢â¬Å"My HeroineÃ¢â¬ is a poem about a seven year-old girl who dies while protecting a baby. The author praises the child for her constancy at school, and reports that she is Ã¢â¬Å"never careless, never dull.Ã¢â¬ Of course, the child wouldnÃ¢â¬â¢t be a proper martyr if she wasnÃ¢â¬â¢t also Ã¢â¬Å"as sweet as any seven yearsÃ¢â¬â¢ child youÃ¢â¬â¢ll meet.