Comparison of Two Stories
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Female perfectionism is a topic addressed on many forums. On youth forums, the issue is addressed in relation to the continuing trend among girls to be extremely thin (Ruggiero). According to Ruggiero, this wish of the girls to be thin is socially forced upon them because of the thin figure of models that the boys they interact with, tend to prefer. As Ruggiero identifies, this case is thus a manifestation of women trying to be perfect for the men. Saussy looks at the case among the adult women. According to Saussy, perfectionism among adult women is formed around many things. It is formed around the historical patriarchal society, where the woman is seen as existing to meet the needs and urges of the man. Here, the woman has to be perfect in all measures (Saussy). She is analyzed as an object for sale. Any faults, be they natural or accidental, will elicit rejection of the man (Saussy). In such a patriarchal society, women tend to be malleable. They easily loose identity as the men seek for the perfect woman identity.
As Saussy holds, in such a society, women go with the will of the man. They seek to be perfect in everything they do. According to Ruggiero, women are doing things which are harmful to them as they seek to achieve certain requirements in some societies and homes. Some have died trying to be perfect (Ruggiero). Others have ended up with very serous injuries as men forced them into being perfect females. Two stories discussed herein fulfill all the views of female perfectionism in the patriarchal society, as it has been discussed above. The first story is one titled Desiree's Baby. It was written by Kate Chopin. The other one is Birth Mark, authored by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Desiree’s Baby depicts perfectionism in its heights. Desiree is the main character. Her husband is Armand. The idea of female perfection is seen in this case when the bane of contention is revealed in the letter that Desiree writes to her mother, Madame Valmonde (Chopin). She laments that her husband does not want her because she is not of the white skin as he is. She explains that this was eating into her soul. Her wish is that she was of the color which her husband prefers. She asks her mother to explain which skin color she had. She also states in the letter that the answer that she was not white would devastate her (Chopin). The answer that she receives from her mother is the one, which evades the question. Her mother seems to have noted the deviation of the debate. She seems to have learnt that such a skin color that her daughter had would make her unacceptable to her husband. Instead of giving Desiree an answer, the mother asks her to come back to her father’s home (Chopin).
Desiree recognizes that her situation is hopeless. She realizes that her skin is a bar to their marriage because it made her imperfect in the eyes of her husband. She however prays for her husband to be different. She for a moment hopes that her husband is different and thus he would not see her as imperfect or not reaching the racial perfection standard. But the husband has already made up his mind (Chopin). When Desiree asks him of leave to go to back to her mother’s house, he is not of any resistance. This hurts Desiree so much. She had expected that her husband would recognize his attitude as too unfair on her and thus change it. She had expected that he would see that she was still the woman he had been married to out of love and that the skin color did not matter. This was not the case. He just agreed with her living. This makes her feel exceedingly dejected as she is an imperfect woman (Chopin).
The need for perfection in women is also the case seen the story Birth Mark. In this story, Georgiana is the character around whom the story revolves. Aylmer is the husband to Georgiana and the second main character (Hawthorne). He wakes up a single day and tells her that the birth mark she has should be removed. Out of ignorance on his motives here, Georgiana talks of the mark as her lifelong charm. The husband seems to be offended by this. He does not agree to her having a charm and says it would only be proper on another woman and not on her. The unexpected anger in Aylmer makes Georgiana to begin to focus more on the discussion. She considers that her husband somehow sees her as imperfect because of this birth mark (Hawthorne).
Georgina realizes the fact that her husband hates the mark when he begins to suggest that the mark had made her imperfect. He explains that she was born without it and was perfect then, not now when she has it. Aylmer calls this mark on Georgina, a defect on her body. Georgina cannot take this view of her from the husband. She cannot agree to her husband seeing her as having a defect thus being an imperfect woman. She becomes red with anger due to this imperfect view by her husband. Tears begin to show in her eyes. She even questions her husband why he had taken her from her homestead if he indeed thought of her as imperfect (Hawthorne).
The idea of perfection is even traced by Georgiana herself. She one night asks of her husband if he had ever dreamt about the birthmark she had, in dreadful terms. He says no. But she is not content. She fears that the husband may be suffering from the birth mark’s displeasure day and night and thus thinking of her as imperfect without telling her. After pondering for a long time, her husband remembers that he indeed had dreamt about it. He remembers that he dreamt of trying to remove the mark with a servant but found that it was a fatal attempt which destroyed the heart of the wife (Hawthorne). Here, the persistence of Georgiana and the dream by Aylmer show two things. First is that Georgiana fears potential imperfection of her birth mark. This is why she persists on wanting to know if he dreamt badly about it. Second is that indeed the mark is affecting her husband day and night. Aylmer’s dream of him removing the birth mark is a demonstration that he sees her as imperfect with the mark.
Coming to their discussion on removing the mark, Georgiana, is conscious of the impact of removing the mark. She holds that it may ruin or even kill her. Her husband still insists on its removal. He convinces her that it can be safely removed (Hawthorne). This is a show of continued focus on making the woman perfect. Aylmer is ready to go all the way to make Georgiana fit into his view of a perfect woman without marks on her body. The focus on perfection is also seen in the resolve by Georgiana. She holds that if there was any hope that the mark can be removed, then she would be ready to withstand the consequences of this, however serious they are. Here, she portrays a serious need to be perfect in the eyes of her husband.
There are indeed many points of comparison between these two stories in relation to the portrayal of perfectionism. Considering the case of Georgiana against Desiree, one realizes that they both become consumed and destroyed by the perfectionist beliefs put on them as women. For Desiree, she cannot take the rejection from her husband. She takes a journey to her father’s house but decides to take a route which is evidently a show of her deciding to commit suicide. She indeed disappears, proving that she committed suicide. Destruction by perfectionism is also the case of Georgiana in Birth Mark. Georgiana decides to go on with the dangerous act of removing the birthmark to be able to satisfy the perfectionism wish of her husband. She however does not make it. She dies from the injury inflicted on her body (Hawthorne).
Critical issues come to the fore in both cases. First is that the notion of perfection is brought about by the male figure and not the female one. For the case of Desiree, she does not even identify herself as being imperfect. Her husband however identifies her skin color as being a thing which makes her imperfect. This means the idea of being imperfect is held by Aylmer, the man, and not Desiree, the woman. This is also the case for Georgiana. In her case, she even thought the mark she had was an addition to her perfection. This is why she holds it is a charm. But her husband sees her imperfect. He is the one who puts pressure on her to change the birthmark. Talking of the birthmark, he says:
"Ah, upon another face perhaps it might," replied her husband; "but never on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection." (Hawthorne 231).
The points of comparison are many. As another example, in both cases, the woman subjects to the will of man for perfection. She does what the man decides. Georgiana agrees to the man removing her birthmark as a way of making her the perfect woman. Desiree on the other hand agrees to the notion of her husband that her case was beyond discussion, thus she cannot be perfect in his eyes. As she resigns and decides to go back to her home, she fulfils what Georgiana fulfills too, which is following the will of the husband.
In these two stories, it can also be said that love is being thrown out of the window for the choice of perfection. Desiree’s husband loves her so much. He does a lot of things for her including having servants at her service (Chopin). He is a man who is full of love for his wife. But the moment he recognizes that she is not his perfect woman, he descends to hating her. This is seen when he agrees to her going away. This is a show that the bond of love was already broken by the identification with perfectionism. It is the same case for Georgiana. She is greatly loved by her husband. He shares many things with her including his stories such as what he dreamt about. In the story, it is identified that he only loved two things in such a degree. These were his wife and science (Hawthorne). It is also showed that he loved his wife more. But this love is not seen when he interprets her birthmark. He is not remorseful on the pain she would suffer when removing the birthmark. This, in the Birth Mark it is shown that the love is gone while seeking for perfection.
Besides sharing similarities, the two stories also present differences. As an example, the female figure in Desiree is strong willed to challenge the male chauvinism insisting on female perfection. She does not agree with the way her husband views her as imperfect only because of her skin color. She confronts her husband, tagging him and prodding for answers on why he should think of her as imperfect (Chopin). Even when her husband tells her that it is because of her skin and that she was not white, she is not ready to take it. She even questions such analysis of women. She compares things about herself and her husband and holds that she was even with the one who was white. In the story, this is what she says:
"It is a lie; it is not true, I am white! Look at my hair, it is brown; and my eyes are gray, Armand, you know they are gray. And my skin is fair," seizing his wrist. "Look at my hand; whiter than yours, Armand," (Chopin 114).
Overall, in Desiree, it is a woman who is not ready to take it lying down. The same is not the case of Georgiana. Georgiana is already resigned to her husband’s analysis of her perfectionism. She even asks him of his dreams of how he views her. When the husband identifies that she is imperfect because of the birthmark, she is not ready to disagree with his unfair judgment of her. She instead agrees to what he says on removing the mark.
The two stories also differ in the behavior of the male figure. In Birth Mark, The male figure is ready to negotiate with the female one on the perfectionism and reach a point of agreement. He explains to Georgiana how they can reach the point of perfection together which is removing the birthmark. He is even ready to be a part to the process of solving the imperfection problem. This is not the case for the husband of Desiree. He does not even tell her what makes her imperfect. She has to force this out of him. When he decides to state it to her, he does not give full explanations as Georgiana’s husband does. He does not even take part in the solution. He instead lets the solution to come about by itself when Desiree decides to go to her parents’ house.
The two stories fulfill what was postulated by Ruggiero and Saussy. Georgiana and Desiree are indeed women trying to be perfect to the men, as postulated by Ruggiero. On the basis of the stories of these two women, the point that Saussy puts across on the woman existing to meet the needs and urges of the man is confirmed. In the stories, the women are forced to be perfect. Through the behaviors depicted by two husbands towards the women in the stories, the society is depicted as described by Saussy, of the woman as needed to be perfect in all measures. The stories fulfill what Saussy describes as a society where any drawbacks, be they natural or accidental, will elicit rejection of the man (Saussy). These two women are malleable. They have no identity and simply live by the wish and will of the man. These are qualities described by Saussy as evident in the society emphasizing perfection in women. These two women end up dead. This is the quality described by Ruggiero as devastating consequences for the woman trying to be perfect.
Besides the above realties, the two stories presented approaches of women and men to the perfectionism, which are different. In Desiree’s Baby, the woman has the will to fight the perfectionism ideal while in Birth Mark the woman lacks this quality. The man in Desiree’s Baby is less concerned with how the woman would become perfect. In the Birth Mark, the man is concerned. Love is also central in these two stories. It is however trampled upon for the sake of perfection.