In her essay Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Margaret Fuller discusses the state of marriage in America during the 1800?s. She is a victim of her own knowledge, and is literally considered ugly because of her wisdom. She feels that if certain stereotypes can be broken down, women can have the respect of men intellectually, physically, and emotionally. She explains why some of the inequalities exist in marriages around her. Fuller feels that once women are accepted as equals, men and women will be able achieve a true love not yet know to the people of the world.
Fuller personifies what is wrong with the thoughts of people in nineteenth century society. She is a well-educated, attractive woman and yet, in America she is considered unmarriageable because of the unintended intimidation her knowledge brings forth. She can?t understand why men would not want to find a woman with whom they can carry on an intelligent, meaningful conversation and still be physically attracted to. She knows that once this inferiority complex is gotten past, women will start to excel in all different fields. My interpretation is that Fuller feels if women are educated and skilled then they will be able to take care of themselves until the right man comes along. Their discretion will be tenfold, and they will be able to wait for the proverbial ?Mr. Right?.
Fuller gives three wonderful examples of how equality gets broken down in a marriage. The first is the ?household partnership?(42), where the man goes off to work and makes a living to support the family, and the woman stays home barefoot and pregnant, takes care of the children and tends to the house. There is a mutual admiration between the husband and wife because they both keep up their end of the bargain. But there is no love built into this relationship. Couples like this are merely supplementing each other?s existence, he by working to support her, and her by cooking and cleaning for him.
When she states ?this relation is good, as far as it goes?(42), Fuller implies that women are settling for the sake of settling. In the nineteenth century there was a stigma attached to any woman in her twenties who was not yet married. Fuller questions why two people would settle for each other when there are so many people with different things to offer each other. I think that marriage is sacred to her, not in a religious sense, but in a moral and intellectual sense. She feels that people who are to be wed should be able to look at each other and state ?this is the person I will share the rest of my life with?, and with that, they should be perfectly happy. When she looks around America that is not what she sees.
The second example Fuller gives is of ?idolatry?(42). By this example she means the people who get lost in the physical beauty of one another. They think they love one another, but they are actually lusting after one another. They can think of nothing but each other, nothing else seems to matter to them, and they don?t care what others think because they know they are in love. The relationship is as superficial as the people involved in it. But as Fuller infers, in a relationship such as this, the looks will begin to fade and the feelings will be sure to follow. Because the relationship was formed solely on the basis of looks, the marriage will have nothing to fall back on. We must remember that this is not the year two thousand, where divorce is as common as marriage itself. When they said ?till death do us part? in the nineteenth century, they meant it.
In the end of this example says Fuller, the woman will look at the man as ?an effeminate boy?, and he will see her as ?an unlovely syren?(42). In the long run, she will not respect him as a man, because she considers him a ?pretty boy?, and he will not respect her for using her looks to dupe him into marrying her. They will resent each other for the rest of their lives. They will live out their days saying ?I should have done this? or ?I should have done that?. Fuller would rather never marry than end up in a relationship like this.
The third example of the breakdown of equality is in the relationship of ?intellectual companionship?(42). Fuller explains that this is a rising trend amongst the scholars of this era. Men are marrying women who are their intellectual equals and with whom they are friends. They see eye to eye on a wide array of topics, and the stereotype of the woman in the home only being good for cooking and cleaning are being broken down. These men are cognizant of the strides women are making intellectually and accept them as equals. I think Fuller feels that these men are the best to marry in these times.
After reading this essay, I kept thinking of questions about these inequalities. Do the women only like these men because of the acceptance they get from them both emotionally and intellectually? Are these women not also settling the same way the woman does in the first example? Again there is a mutual admiration for the knowledge that they both possess and they can have wonderful discussions on a wide range of topics, but is that what a marriage should be based on? Where is the love that they share for each other? Why can?t women have it both ways? Why can?t they find a man who they love and who will love and respect them back? It is questions such as these that light the fire inside Margaret Fuller.
Fuller is not attacking men in this essay; it is directed at women as well. She is simply asking that everyone try to look at things differently. She wants people to understand that if women get more education and skills, men will benefit as well. Fuller?s passion and desire for equality is most clearly evidenced when she states, ?What deep communion, what real intercourse is implied by the sharing the joys and cares of parentage, when any degree of equality is admitted between the parties? (42). Fuller?s point is that if all responsibilities are shared, men and women will get to have a deeper love and respect for one another. They will finally be able to find their true soul mates. They will be marrying each other for who they truly are, not because of convenience, looks, or for good conversation and friendship. They will be marrying a person they truly know, love and respect, and who loves and respects them back.