What Role Do Women Characters Play in Homer’s the Odyessey and Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales?

Topics: Odyssey, Gender role, Woman Pages: 8 (3258 words) Published: April 23, 2012
Women: What role do women characters play in Homer’s The Odyessey and Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales?

Men and women are both stereotyped to behave a certain way that fits into roles that society has created for them. Men are seen as being the forefront of the family, while the women are behind the scenes and inside the household taking care of petty things. Men are always portrayed as being mentally and physically tough and mighty with the ability to forge a life outside of the household, while women are depicted as weak fragile beings that belong only in the safe interior of their household. It is thought that only a woman can be excessively emotional and tender and that qualities like such interfere with having the ability to be self reliant and powerful. Men are thought to naturally be self reliant and powerful in both a physical and mental sense. While these stereotypes might seem believable and applicable, in texts such as, The Odyssey by Homer and The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, women’s role are more than meets the eye. Even though the women in the texts play the common roles of wives and mothers, there is a much deeper meaning and purpose to their function as women in the story. The women might not seem like the obvious heroes, for we have been lead to believe that a damsel in distress must always be saved by a grandiose macho man. In these texts, it is the women whom hold the power over the men even though they fall under the stereotypical labels of being a housewife and mother. Their shabby insignificant roles might seem unlikely of authority or power at first, but with analysis, it is clear that women don’t blatantly display a lust for command, yet they manage to craftily take the control away from the men.

The women of The Odyssey, especially Penelope, clearly all hold a very unique sexual control over the men they come across in the story. Although the story mainly focuses around the hardships and adventures Odysseus and his son Telemachus had to face on their journey back home, the somewhat untold story of the women associated with Odysseus on his quest back sheds light onto the crucial role women play in this epic. The power struggle for total authority isn’t just between Odysseus and the suitors, but rather the suitors, Odysseus, and his wife, Penelope. Penelope’s role in this grab for power seem insignificant at first because she isn’t on some glorious venture at sea, but rather at home waging a more vital battle against the suitors that can determine not only her fate, but her husband’s fate and the fate of the people in their town. It can be argued that women are made out to look foolishly weak and perpetually devastated in the story without their husbands by their sides supporting them by stereotypically being stronger. It is made out to seem as thought men are stoic and that women are built to depend on men, but looking deeper into the text, it is apparent that Penelope is clearly able to handle herself while she fools the suitors into thinking she is away grieving in her room and working hard on a wedding veil for her new husband. In Nicole Smith’s article, “The Narrow Role of Women in The Odyssey by Homer”, Smith complains about how Penelope only has the roles of a wife, mother and a seductress while the men of the story get to play as these heroic figures out on adventures for long periods of time, while Penelope is forced to stay at home. As if being at home as opposed to being at war is a more horrid and loathsome thing. Penelope’s character goes more and beyond just the roles of a wife and mother. Her character might fall under these labels, but she acts as a hero herself, working to maintain a sense of authority for herself and her husband in case he ever returns. Penelope tactfully does what she can for herself in order to preserve the control she holds over the suitors. Without her consideration, Odysseus would return from his venture only to find his wife with a new suitor,...

Bibliography: Atwood, Margaret. The Penelopiad. New York: Canongate, 2005. Print.
Lionsgate, 2005. DVD.
Homer, and Richmond Alexander Lattimore. The Odyssey of Homer. New York: Harper
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Ackroyd, Peter, and Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Viking,
"Oh, Get a Grip" Digital image. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. .
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