Rhoda and Gertrude
Rhoda is firstly represented as a mysterious, lonely and segregated person who has a history with the character, Farmer Lodge. This assumption can be taken from the way the fellow workers treat Rhoda and their conversations involving Farmer Lodge and his new bride. For example one milk maid says, “Tis hard for she” while looking at Rhoda who is described by the writer as, “a thin fading woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest”.
This description is just, because the workers speak blatantly about Rhoda and her past, even though she is in hearing distance. It is like they are aware of her presence, but choose to discount it because Rhoda, in their eyes is worthless. This leads the reader to think what Rhoda has done in order to be isolated from the group and be treated with such an obvious mix of contempt and sympathy. The initial conversation in the workplace also highlights how differently men and women are treated and how differently their roles in life really are.
The reader can see that Rhoda and Farmer lodge have some kind of history and they are aware of what people’s reactions to Rhoda are, yet it is clear that the man, who has presumably participated in the same secretive affair is treated with a more positive and accepting attitude. Despite the workers still gossiping about his wedding and debating his age, there doesn’t seem to be as much scandal about his past, any references made are directed about Rhoda and her involvement.
The next paragraph begins with the workers leaving for home, Rhoda’s seclusion because of past events and her womanhood, are highlighted once more in the line, “… lay apart from that of others, to a lonely spot… ” The readers also learn that she has a son as a result o a past affair with Farmer Lodge, “… your father brings his young wife… ” Rhoda’s obsessive nature concerning her past love is also made clear. She continually asks her son for details in order to compare Gertrude with herself, “If she’s dark or fair, and if she’s tall…
The writer uses Rhoda’s insecurities to symbolise how men drive women to desperation, how they cause women to doubt themselves and loose confidence in their own mind and body just because of a man’s actions and how they choose to treat women, in this case in a disparaging way. The writer also uses Rhoda’s self- absorption (… his mother not observing that he was cutting a notch with his pocket-knife); obsessive fixation on Gertrude’s appearance and the twisted gratification she receives at hearing of Gertrude’s faults (“She is not tall. She is rather short”.
He replied. “Ah! ” said his mother with satisfaction) to criticise how weak some women can be. The writer sympathises with Rhoda’s mistreatment but also pities her for allowing she to become a victim in the first place. This opinion is later confirmed when Rhoda is so consumed with envy and scorn that she dreams about Gertrude. The dream being a metaphor for her inner feelings. Up to this point the writer doesn’t prompt much sympathy for the character of Rhoda as she is construed as bitter and slightly vindictive, yet after the event we see a softer side to her.
She does worry when she meets Gertrude and notices that she does in fact have a withered arm. She is racked with guilt and remorse (“Rhoda’s heart reproached her bitterly”) and we see that she isn’t just a hostile ex with a chip on her shoulder and that she does actually care as the writer shows us in the line, “This innocent young thing should have her blessing not her curse”. Throughout the rest of the story Rhoda does her best to help her ‘replacement’ Gertrude and not because she’s only feeling guilt but because she actually likes her.
Gertrude at the beginning of the story is described as Rhoda Brook’s opposite, (of Rhoda), “there was more of the strength that endures in her well-defined features and large frame than in the soft cheeked woman before her”. Gertrude’s initial character is kind, cheerful and in the trend of the time was completely devoted to her husband. It was only after her husband’s reaction to her withered arm did she begin to change into an ‘irritable, superstitious woman’.
Instead of supporting her and showing her unconditional encouragement and affection Farmer lodge froze her out, making her feel ugly, useless and eventually causing her to take drastic measures, which were most out of her once caring and sensible character. The writer uses the lines,” I shouldn’t so much mind it… if-if I hadn’t a notion that it makes my husband dislike me-no love me less. Men think so much of personal appearance”, to once again criticize both males and females of the time.
Men for making women degrade themselves in order to pathetically please ‘their man’ and women for allowing themselves to be so hopelessly dependant on a males approval and love. He is saying that, that kind of relationship is destructive, to a female especially since most men of the time focused solely on appearance, “Yes; and he was very proud of mine at first. ” The writer uses the characters of Rhoda and Gertrude as a kind of before and after picture.
In the beginning we see that Rhoda Brook is a lonely, poor woman who is branded a witch and thought of as highly scandalous yet we see Gertrude as an innocent and beautiful young woman, the later image is ironic because the beautiful Gertrude does transform into a Rhoda-like being, bitter and obsessive. The writer is allowing us to see the process in which vanity, reliance, obsession and the behaviour of men towards women along with the nature of the female friendship enables the downfall of a person.