The Widow’s Might

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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The Black Veil and Mourning Cloak Symbol Analysis

The Black Veil and Mourning Cloak Symbol Icon

Mrs. McPherson’s black veil and mourning cloak represent the inauthenticity of her grief, as well as the freedom and empowerment her husband’s death has afforded her. Throughout her husband’s funeral, Mrs. McPherson’s face is obscured by the veil, and her children comment that it’s impossible to tell how she’s truly feeling because they have yet to see her face. They regard it as a typical symbol of mourning and expect that she’ll look old, tired, and devastated underneath. After she stuns her children with the revelation that she is in possession of all her husband’s assets and has no intention of surrendering her newfound independence, she dramatically removes her veil. First, she opens the window shades so that the blinding Colorado sunshine fills the room, fundamentally altering the dark and funereal atmosphere. Then she throws off the veil, which she explains is borrowed. That the veil is borrowed symbolizes the inauthenticity of her grief. Rather than a symbol of genuine sadness over her husband’s death, Mrs. McPherson’s grief is a costume she has borrowed to live up to what society expects of a widow. After shedding the veil, though, she removes her black mourning cloak and reveals a traveling suit underneath. The suit represents the exciting and empowered future that awaits her now that she is free of her family and her limiting, domestic role as a woman.

The Black Veil and Mourning Cloak Quotes in The Widow’s Might

The The Widow’s Might quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Black Veil and Mourning Cloak. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
).
The Widow’s Might Quotes

“I’m going to do what I never did before. I’m going to live!”

With a firm swift step, the tall figure moved to the window and pulled up the lowered shades. The brilliant Colorado sunshine poured into the room. She threw off the long black veil.

“That’s borrowed,” she said. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings at the funeral.”

She unbuttoned the long black cloak and dropped it at her feet, standing there in the full sunlight, a little flushed and smiling, dressed in a well-made traveling suit of dull mixed colors.

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker), Adelaide, Ellen, James
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Black Veil and Mourning Cloak Symbol Timeline in The Widow’s Might

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Black Veil and Mourning Cloak appears in The Widow’s Might. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Widow’s Might
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
...this kind of talk. Ellen changes the topic, noting that their mother didn’t remove her veil at the funeral. She suspects that, when they see her, their mother will have aged... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
Just then, Mrs. McPherson joins the group. She’s tall and draped in her black veil and funeral clothes. She tells Mr. Frankland she’s happy to hear him say that Mr.... (full context)
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
...shades, and lets the bright Colorado sunshine fill the room before pulling off her black veil. Then she tells the siblings that she borrowed the veil because she didn’t want to... (full context)