“The Widow’s Might” is a story about how 20th-century societal expectations surrounding caretaking and domesticity unfortunately tended to curb female independence and freedom. Siblings James, Ellen, and Adelaide expect that their recently widowed mother, Mrs. McPherson, will be weak and devastated in the wake of her husband, Mr. McPherson’s, death. Although none of them want to take her in, they assume that she’s incapable of living on her own and needs someone to look after her. James in particular pressures his sisters to let their mother live in their homes. While he’s willing to provide for his mother financially, he assumes that his sisters should be the ones to take on the burdensome domestic role of caretaker—an indication that he clings to the patriarchal expectation that women should take on difficult domestic roles instead of men.
However, the sibling’s assumptions about their mother are soon proved wrong. Mrs. McPherson is stronger and more independent than ever. With her husband dead and her children grown, she is finally free of the domestic caretaker role that society assigns women. Additionally, and importantly, she has achieved the financial autonomy necessary to live as a fully independent person. When her husband signed his property over to her, he transferred to her a power typically reserved for men in the early 20th century (which is when the story was published). For the past three and a half years, Mrs. McPherson has managed a successful business on their ranch and amassed a small fortune that will allow her to spend the rest of her life independently pursuing her own dreams and interests. For Mrs. McPherson, this means traveling the world, literally leaving the confines and limitations of her old life behind. In this way, “The Widow’s Might” illustrates that breaking free from the domestic caretaker role society forces on women—and managing to achieve financial autonomy—allows women to live fully independent lives in pursuit of their own dreams and desires.
Societal Expectations and Female Independence ThemeTracker
Societal Expectations and Female Independence Quotes in The Widow’s Might
“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.”
“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.
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.”
“I dare say it was safer—to have the property in your name—technically,” James admitted, “but now I think it would be the simplest way for you to make it over to me in a lump, and I will see that Father’s wishes are carried out to the letter.”
“Your father is dead,” remarked the voice.
“Yes, Mother, we know—we know how you feel,” Ellen ventured.
“I am alive,” said Mrs. McPherson.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.