Character Analysis of Sarah Penn

9 September 2016

Analysis of Sarah Penn In Mary E. Wilkins’ “The Revolt of ‘Mother,’” the character of Sarah Penn serves a special function. She is both representative of the women of her time and also an anomaly. Like other women of the late 1800s, Sarah is a very hard worker in her home. She lives as a servant to the dictates of her husband, and despite her painful disagreement with his actions. She continues to serve him as any other wife would serve her husband.

She cooked his favorite meals, sewed his shirts, and did the many chores around the house that are expected of her. However, although representative in these ways, Sarah is also an anomaly, because even while she is serving her husband she finally decides to rebel against him after 40 years of marriage. His long unfulfilled promise of building his family a better house to live in has been postponed once again while he instead builds a new barn for his farmyard animals.

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Sarah determines to move the family into the barn, which is far nicer than the old house they currently inhabit. As such, her actions constitute a world-changing revolution in a society where wives never challenge their husbands’ authority or decisions. Sarah’s traits are similarly divided between the traditional traits of her era’s women and the traits that she needs in order to take a stand against her husband’s failure to fulfill his promise.

On the one hand, Wilkins describes Sarah as having a “mild and benevolent” forehead and “mild, meek and benevolent downward lines about her nose and mouth,” stating that “she could be any woman of that time period” (p. 371). Yet when it comes to the long unfulfilled promise, Sarah’s habitual meekness and subservience give way to self-assertion. Her first words in the story are a question posed to her husband Adoniram: “What are them men diggin’ over there in the field for? ” a question that she keeps repeating until she gets an answer (Wilkins, 1890, p. 71). This is a woman who has the gumption to take a stand for what she feels she is honestly entitled to and who is willing to be vocal about it if necessary. When the minister attempts to interfere with what she is doing, Sarah tells him, “I’ve got my own mind an’ my own feet, an’ I’m goin’ to think my own thoughts an’ go my own ways, an’ nobody but the Lord is goin’ to dictate to me unless I’ve a mind to have him,” yet she follows this immediately with, “Won’t you come in an’ set down? (Wilkins, 1890, p. 381). The motivation for Sarah’s sudden rebellion against her husband is derived from two sources. First, the fact of the barn’s being raised is a slap in the face when it is so much newer and better than the house she has been living in for 40 years. Second, Nanny is getting married soon and will not be able to endure the hardships of marriage if she cannot live at home where Sarah can help her. Sarah’s development in the story is of the turning-point variety.

She has patiently endured her husband’s broken promise and being taken for granted for the entire length of her marriage up to her moment of epiphany when she realizes that she must take charge right now if she is ever to have the home she wants. At that moment, she turns and begins asserting herself. She does not become vengeful or bitter; upon finding Adoniram weeping, she touches his arm and comforts him, but she still maintains her victory. References Wilkins, M. E. (1890). The Revolt of Mother. American Literature, 371 – 381.

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