Ruth Essay, Research Paper

Women are often trapped in an essentially idle, domestic role,

praised for purity and lack of sexual desire, pampered as ornaments, but

given no effective life functions other than demonstrating a few social

graces and bearing children, as is established by the Judeo-Christian ethic

and is reinforced in the story of Ruth. Though the story of Ruth appears in

the Old Testament, its relevance is not limited by its datedness, but serves

as a direct parallel to the predicament of the modern woman. Though

Christianity no longer dominates so visibly as it did prior to secularization

and modernization, its remains a strong undercurrent in that its influence

is still felt in contemporary Western society. Likewise, in the story of Ruth,

God is not a physical presence but is felt in the affected decisions Ruth

makes and in the path her life takes. Ideals still prevalent in society today

are drawn from the male-dominated Christian ethic. Thus, God plays a

more subdued, but at the same time no less powerful role both in society

today and in the story of Ruth. This is evidenced in Ruth’s decision to stay

with her mother-in-law upon the death of her husband. Ruth does this not

according to her own desires, of which none are made known to the reader,

but rather acts upon the desires of God, man, and society in accordance to

what has been deemed “right”. The decision to remain with her

mother-in-law, then, is not only a symbol of acting upon theJudeo-Christian

ethic, but also of women’s dependence under that ethic. A mother is

ultimately the person on whom a child is raised to depend, so it is not

insignificant that, when robbed of a man on whom to depend, Ruth turns

not only to a mother figure, but to the mother of her husband, a male

figure. ?..for wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will

lodge…wherever you die, I will die..? (Ruth, 1:16) In this way the story of

Ruth reveals that under the Judeo-Christian ethic both ancient and modern

women cannot be revolutionary or independent as society has

predetermined standards, inflicted by that same Judeo-Christian ethic,

which must be adhered to. Both Ruth and modern women are faced with a

similar predicament: to resolve the conflict between passion and

independence, and responsibility and loyalty as outlined by a

Judeo-Christian society.

This conflict is resolved for both Ruth and the modern woman by the

elimination of awareness of personal desire and the total assimilation into

the culture. Whether through nature or nurture, women are able to step

outside themselves in an attempt to be objective, objectivity being defined

as seeing with the eyes of society which is falsely assumed to be in a

natural and unbiased state. Thus, in stepping outside of themselves,

women are attempting to see themselves as society sees them. It is for this

reason that Ruth is presented as being without personal desire and is a

fairly mundane character. This lack of personal desire enables Ruth, and

women in general, to join society, accept its ideals, and view themselves in

terms of these ideals. Thus the need for the immediate, physical presence

of God in the story of Ruth, as well as in modern society, is eliminated.

Womankind has become her own God, her own judge; the Judeo-Christian

ethic is so deeply ingrained in her that she follows it automatically and the

constraints not only come from without, but also from within. Society does

not allow for the realization of choice.

Ruth’s worth, and the worth of womankind, is now stripped down to

that given to them by a male dominated society under the Judeo-Christian

ethic that it adheres to. So it is, in the story of Ruth, that Ruth gains merit

as a worker and member of society only through the influence of her

employer, a man, and finally marries him, effectively, willingly sealing her

dependence on man, God, and society for a sense of worth. This action is

encouraged and somewhat instructed by Naomi. ?..When he lies down, take

note of the place where he does so. Then go, uncover a place at his feet,

and lie down. He will tell you what to do.? (Ruth, 3:4) Boaz, Ruth’s

husband, becomes a symbol of these things: man, God, and society.

Though considerable progress has been made toward freeing women from

the binding state of marriage since the women’s liberation movement took

hold, women are still defined, and define themselves, by the values of

society. A woman’s sexuality is only acceptable in terms of her male

counterpart. Fashion emphasizes the need to appeal to and satisfy the

demands and interests of a male-dominated society. Finally, concern with

the female figure epitomizes the objectification of women by society and by

women, themselves.

Within all these concerns that revolve around the Judeo-Christian

ethic and culture, is an appearance of freedom of will and decision for the

woman, but it is an illusion. Contemporary society encourages people to be

freethinking, to undergo self-discovery, to be innovative, and to make

choices that reflect personal beliefs, and yet this can never truly be

attained. An inescapable tradition inexorably flips each child into some

predestined groove like a penny or a sovereign in a banker’s rack. This

groove is established from birth, by one’s sex, and the paths between

women and men do not often cross. This destiny is only etched deeper by

any attempts to demonstrate the alleged independence. By breaking away

from her family and following Naomi to Bethlehem, Ruth digs herself

deeper still into the groove that ultimately determines her fate. Thus, Ruth

comes to represent a willing acceptance of such a fate. Ruth’s exemplary

adherence to the Judeo-Christian ethic paints her as a martyr. This is

furthered by Ruth’s bearing of a son, the grandfather of the great King

David. Ruth’s role as a real person is further undermined as she is

measured by her ability to bear children, rather than by her personal

attributes. Ultimately she is measured by her ability to give her husband

and, in turn, the world, a strong son. This is the ultimate act of

martyrdom: total sacrifice of the self through devotion to another person.

Yet, oblivious to personal desire and the possibility of choice, Ruth can

never be a true martyr. It must also be considered that Ruth is never

acknowledged as the mother or the creator of David, and therefore how can

she look upon herself as such. She has been schooled by society to be both

humble, unassuming, and submissive.

Although modern woman is no longer measured by her ability to

procreate, the choice to not have children is perceived as abnormal or

selfish, arising from a lack of responsibility and ability to be devoted to the

greater good rather than to personal achievement. Furthermore, the

inability to procreate is a taboo topic of discussion. So, the modern

woman, aware of personal desire and choice and powerfully drawn to it

suffers greatly from the conflict between self and society, passion and

responsibility. The story of Ruth becomes a metaphor for the plight of all

women who struggle to liberate themselves from the pressures of society.

In addition, it serves to highlight the expectations placed upon women

across the ages: to serve the family first, to keep a respectable image in

society, and to marry and procreate. Ruth then, ironically, becomes a

symbol for women’s oppression where she could easily have been a symbol

of liberation. In the context of the Old Testament, the irony is undeniable

as Ruth is traditionally known for her loyalty. However, this only furthers

her function as a symbol of oppression as her loyalty was to society, not to

herself, a situation from which it was impossible to benefit. Moreover, Ruth

is a symbol for sacrifice for the wrong reasons. She is caught in a limbo

between martyrdom and self-interest, between the beginnings of the

Judeo-Christian ethic and its end. Ruth is the ultimate modern woman; this

should be pitied, not celebrated.

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