The Role of Women in The Stone Diaries
Gender inequities have existed since the beginning of time. The various roles assigned to men and women in society have served to perpetuate differences that even until the present have not been overcome. These gender differences are evident in The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. Initially the main character, Daisy Goodwill, is a pathetic, weak woman whose only joy comes from appreciating the small things in life. After a series of personal events, she changes dramatically and becomes a stronger individual. Daisy’s continual need for self-reliance is fulfilled by the changing society around her.
Daisy’s initial character is anything but extraordinary. She is ordinary in every way except her birth. Neither of her parents knows her mother is pregnant. Her mother dies in childbirth, leaving Daisy to find her place in society without her mother’s example. Daisy grows up in a normal home, with guardians and basically lives a normal life. Daisy’s moderate intelligence affects her both positively and negatively. Daisy has certain fundamental needs, which sadly go unnoticed by those around her and even sometimes by herself. Her appreciation of the small pleasures in life is attributed to her ordinariness. As critic Geraldine Sherman points out, “Shields demonstrates there are no small lives, no lives out of which significance does not shine. She makes us aware that banality, ultimately, is in the eye of the beholder” (47). Her view of the beauty of nature and her curiosity towards people in general portray this. On the other hand, Daisy’s average intelligence causes her inability to express herself. Her conversations with her mother-in-law to be, Mrs.Hoad, illustrate this. Mrs.Hoad is very overbearing and tells Daisy how to run her life. Daisy does not even try to defy her and remains as passive as ever, even accepting her own insignificance. Shields suggests that in an ordinary life like Daisy’s, a character’s imagination can offer redemption for her ordinariness (Fitzgerald 21). She explores the experiences and inner lives of unremarkable, unnoticed people with careful detail (Sherman 49).
The society Daisy faces daily demands standards very different from those of present day society. In the beginning of the novel, the role of women is confined to that of housewives. Daisy lives in an era where women are expected to make the best of things and not ask for much for themselves. She fulfills her duties as a woman in this society by cooking, cleaning and presenting a good image of herself. Daisy never knows her mother and has no real role models. She manages to follow her guardian’s example in certain aspects of how a woman should act. Daisy’s roles in society are mostly those of “daughter of,” “wife of,” and “mother of.” This conveys Shields’ true message in the novel, that “Human beings are defined as much by the things that don’t happen to them...