Thematic parallel of marriage and family in "A Secret Sorrow" by Karen van der Zee and "A Sorrowful Woman" Gail Godwin

Essay by lilbrownbikerHigh School, 12th grade November 2006

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In both the excerpts from Karen van der Zee's novel "A Secret Sorrow" and in Gail Godwin's short story "A Sorrowful Woman," the plots center on ideas of marriage and family. Conversely, marriage and family are presented in very different lights in the two stories. Karen van der Zee presents marriage with children as perfect and completely fulfilling; it is what Faye, the protagonist of "A Secret Sorrow", wants and what is necessary to her happiness. For Godwin's unnamed protagonist, marriage and family are almost the antithesis of happiness; her home life seems to suffocate hear and eventually leads her to death. "A Secret Sorrow" directly endorses and encourages marriage, whereas "A Sorrowful Woman" indirectly questions and discourages it.

Both of the female protagonists in the two stories experience a conflict. In "A Secret Sorrow" Faye's conflict comes before the marriage. She is struck with misery and torment because she cannot have children and fears that this will prevent her from marrying the man she loves.

Both she and her beloved, Kai, desire marriage with children, and van der Zee suggests that only with these things will they truly be happy. Faye feels that her inability to have children is a fatal flaw that cuts her off from Kai's love. "Every time we see some pregnant woman, every time we're with somebody else's children I'll feel I've failed you!" (Zee 35). Faye's anxiety and fear are based on the thought of losing her beloved Kai, accompanied by never having children. In "A Sorrowful Woman," however, the conflict comes after the marriage, when the woman has already secured her husband and child. Unlike Faye, who would be ecstatic in this woman's situation, the protagonist of Godwin's story is not. Oddly enough, her husband and son bring her such...