The Widow’s Might

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Themes and Colors
Societal Expectations and Female Independence  Theme Icon
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon
Death, Loss, and New Beginnings Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Widow’s Might, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love vs. Duty Theme Icon

“A Widow’s Might” complicates the assumption that families are bound together by love. In the wake of their patriarch’s death, the loveless McPherson family begins to crumble. The three McPherson siblings, James, Ellen, and Adelaide, openly acknowledge that they didn’t really love their late father, Mr. McPherson, nor did he ever truly love them. They remember their family as affectionless, and they all hated living on the family’s ranch. They are so happy to have escaped their childhood home that they were even reluctant to return for their father’s funeral and can’t tolerate spending even one night there, even though they made the long journey to be there. It’s clear, then, that this family has always been bound together by nothing more than a sense of obligation and duty.

Now that their father is dead, the siblings assume that the duty of caring for their mother will become theirs, and though none of them is excited by or even willing to take on this obligation, they see no other option, for to reject it would go against the idea that family members are expected to stand by one another—something they only seem willing to do in a cursory, compulsory sort of way, as if to keep up the mere appearance of familial love. When Mrs. McPherson rejects their empty offers to take her in, then, she dissolves the ties that have kept the family artificially bound together. In other words, she frees them all from the familial duty that none of them, including herself, want to uphold any longer. In turn, “A Widow’s Might” suggests that families are not always held together by love; sometimes, the story implies, families stay united only out of a superficial sense of duty and obligation that, when it comes down to it, can have very little to do with affection or a sense of personal connection.

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Love vs. Duty Quotes in The Widow’s Might

Below you will find the important quotes in The Widow’s Might related to the theme of Love vs. Duty.
The Widow’s Might Quotes

“Perhaps if she stayed with me, you could—help some,” suggested Ellen.

“Of course, of course, I could do that,” he agreed with evident relief. “She might visit between you –take turns—and I could pay her board. About how much ought it to amount to? We might as well arrange everything now.”

“Things cost awfully these days,” Ellen said with a crisscross of fine wrinkles on her pale forehead. “But, of course it would be only just what it costs. I shouldn’t want to make anything.”

“It’s work and care, Ellen, and you may as well admit it.”

Related Characters: Ellen (speaker), Adelaide (speaker), James (speaker), Mrs. McPherson
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

“She had help toward the last—a man nurse,” said Adelaide.

“Yes, but a long illness is an awful strain—and Mother never was good at nursing. She has surely done her duty,” pursued Ellen.

“And now she’s entitled to rest,” said James, rising and walking about the room.

Related Characters: Adelaide (speaker), Ellen (speaker), Mrs. McPherson
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

Ellen looked out across the dusty stretches of land.

“How I did hate to live here!” she said.

“So did I,” said Adelaide.

“So did I,” said James.

And they all three smiled rather grimly.

“We don’t any of us seem to be very—affectionate, about mother,” Adelaide presently admitted, “I don’t know why it is—we never were an affectionate family, I guess”

“Nobody could be affectionate with Father,” Ellen suggested timidly.

“And Mother—poor Mother! She’s had an awful life.”

“Mother has always done her duty,” said James in a determined voice, “and so did Father, as he saw it. Now we’ll do ours.”

Related Characters: James (speaker), Ellen (speaker), Adelaide (speaker), Mrs. McPherson , Mr. McPherson
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

“I have no children, Mr. Frankland. I have two daughters and a son. Those two grown persons here, grown up, married, having children of their own—or ought to have—were my children. I did my duty by them, and they did their duty by me—and would yet, no doubt.” The tone changed suddenly. “But they don’t have to. I’m tired of duty.” The little group of listeners looked up, startled.

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker), James, Ellen, Adelaide, Mr. Frankland
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

“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:

“If you want to know my plans, I’ll tell you. I’ve got $6,000 of my own. I earned it in three years—off my little ranch sanitarium. One thousand I have put in the savings bank—to bring me back from anywhere on earth, and to put me in an old lady’s home if necessary. Here is an agreement with a cremation company. They’ll import me, if necessary, and have me duly—expurgated—or they don’t get the money. But I’ve got $5,000 to play with, and I’m going to play.”

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker)
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

“Are you—are you sure you’re—well, Mother?” Ellen urged with real anxiety.

Her mother laughed outright.

“Well, really well, never was better, have been doing business up to to-day—good medical testimony that. No question of my sanity, my dears! I want you to grasp the fact that your mother is a Real Person with some interests of her own and half a lifetime yet. The first twenty didn’t count for much—I was growing up and couldn’t help myself. The last thirty have been—hard. James perhaps realizes that more than you girls, but you all know it. Now, I’m free.”

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker), Ellen (speaker), James, Adelaide, Mr. McPherson
Page Number: 146-147
Explanation and Analysis:

“Where do you mean to go, Mother?” James asked.

She looked around the little circle with a serene air of decision and replied.

“To New Zealand. I’ve always wanted to go there,” she pursued. “Now I’m going. And to Australia—and Tasmania—and Madagascar—and Terra del Fuego. I shall be gone some time.”

They separated that night—three going East, one West.

Related Characters: Mrs. McPherson (speaker), James (speaker), Adelaide, Ellen
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis: