The Role Of Women In Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping

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2015 Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping sets out to define home and the role of women in it through the practices of housekeeping. Through a series of polarizations (fixity – transience, society – nature, dividing – merging, outdoor – indoor, patriarchy – matriarchy) taken up by the characters Robinson manages to show how different notions of housekeeping correspond to different definitions of home and different female subjectivities. Housekeeping in its traditional sense is related to patriarchal notions, namely that of women’s confinement in the private sphere and that of the house’s condition as a sign of women’s character. In her essay, Paula Geyh views the house as the physical dimension of societal patriarchal organization (107); potential instability in it could pose a threat to prevalent societal values. This attitude is echoed in the neighbors’ visit to Sylvie’s house, where they are exposed to the mess in her parlor: “[t]he parlor was full of the newspapers and magazines Sylvie brought home. [...] Then there were the cans stacked along the wall opposite the house” (Robinson 181). Sylvie diverts from the norm, having reappropriated her parlor in a sort of storing room. This however is viewed by the visiting women as dangerous for Ruth: “they had reason to feel that my social graces were eroding away [...] I would be lost to ordinary society” (183). Failure to adhere to propriety rules seems to be linked with unfitness to be part of the society, ergo threatening its
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