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Gail Godwin's Sorrowful Woman

What Does the No Name Woman Want in "A Sorrowful Woman?"

The fairytale-like opening of Gail Godwin's (p. 26) "A Sorrowful Woman" presents us with a "no name" narrator and clearly spells out her predicament, "Once upon a time there was one wife and mother too many." Despite the fairytale reminiscent opening, Godwin's narrator dies at the end of the short story, having completely and totally withdrawn from the affections of her decent husband and small child. The narrator does what she does not want in this story. She no longer wants her roles defined by the confines of "wife" and "mother." However, as to what she actually does want, the answer is more elusive. She accepts blame for her abandonment of her roles, "It's all my fault, I know. I'm such a burden, I know that" (Godwin, p. 27). The only thing the no name woman seems to want in "A Sorrowful Woman" is the ultimate escape (death) from what she finds unbearable, life confined by roles related to gender.

We might say that in one sense "A Sorrowful Woman" is a story that undermines the common myth that a woman is fulfilled when she has a caring and loving husband and a healthy and beautiful child. Yet in this story the narrator appears to have all this and more in her life but something is wrong she just does not understand. She cannot figure out why she feels the way she does about her roles as wife and mother, "What has happened me, I'm not myself anymore" (Godwin, p. 27).

We see that the woman is miserable. We see that her child is healthy and looks at her with approving eyes and we are told quite often that she has an understanding and considerate husband, "He understands these things" (Godwin, p. 28). Her husband even tells her "I want you to feel freeràyou need a rest from us" (Godwin, p. 28; 27). Still, the woman is tortured by anguish and unhappiness as she goes about her daily ritual as wife, mother and homemaker. At one point she breaks into


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Gail Godwin's Sorrowful Woman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:24, December 10, 2016, from