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Virginia Woolf's a Room of One's Own - Gender Inequality and Women

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A Looking Glass for Women

For a long time, women have always been in an unfortunate circumstance of being disadvantaged. In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf explores the history of women, specifically in the literary tradition, in which they are deprived of the basic necessities required to write fiction. Along with other literary devices, she uses symbolism in her writing to convey her ideas regarding women and their situation at the time. Aside from the river and the fish, Woolf uses the Manx cat in particular as one example to point out her thoughts about women’s position in society. The Manx cat being out of place and lacking a tail serves as a looking glass for women being unwelcome in intellectual settings and not having a room of their own to pursue their aspirations.

The way that the cat seemed out of place symbolizes the similar situation that women were in of not being welcome. The narrator says that “if things had been a little different from what they were, one would not have seen, presumably, a cat without a tail.” (Woolf 11). As the narrator vividly describes the served food and makes a comparison between the luncheon she is in and a luncheon before the war, the sudden sight of the Manx cat distracts her. The startling appearance of the cat in the middle of the lawn is quite unusual and unseemly while the luncheon took place. In addition to that, it completely meddles with the flow of the text as the narrator swiftly goes from thinking of people humming such things even under their breath at luncheon parties before the war and laughing to pointing at the tailless cat as an explanation for her laughter (Woolf 13). The interruption of the Manx cat depicts women’s experiences of disruption brought upon them by men as they strive to do work without their own essential space. Women in society, who are not given as much importance as men, are a representation of the incongruous tailless cat that the narrator ridicules during the luncheon.

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Ironically, men’s attitude toward women is reflected upon the narrator’s feeling of superiority over the cat. Men think so little of women and it is often shown in the text, such as the time that the narrator is refused entrance to the library unless “accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction.” (Woolf 8). The irony in this is how she expresses the same feeling of dominance and insensitivity toward the cat, as men do to women, despite already being aware of the inappropriate act experienced from the opposite sex. The narrator refers to the Manx cat as being a little absurd, while she refers to the best woman as, intellectually, the inferior of the worst man (Woolf 13 & 53). The way she inspects the cat is a mirror image of the way men generally scrutinize women as having little significance when they make an effort to be creative through their work.

A room for a woman, just like a tail for the Manx cat, provides the beneficial balance to make progress and avoid interruptions. The narrator says that it is strange what a difference a tail makes (Woolf 13). For the cat to look more beautiful rather than quaint and have more balance, it could use a tail. In the same way that women are able to pursue their goals, especially in writing, they would have to have the same opportunities that men hold presented to them. Also, the narrator imagines what would have happened if Shakespeare had a gifted sister who was as adventurous and imaginative as he was, but was not sent to school and was always interrupted by her parents each time she picked up a book (Woolf 46). She makes this allegory to emphasize that even though women are just as good as men, they can only do so much if they have the resources. Just as how the cat could use a tail to look more appealing, women could use a room of their own to escape distractions and to be able to work independently.

The out of place Manx cat and its lack of tail parallels unwelcome women in society who do not have their own space to make progress. The cat serves as a distraction to the narrator while she is at the luncheon, and it also interferes with the flow of the text as she suddenly changes the subject from the luncheons to a tailless cat. As the narrator catches a glimpse of the cat, she refers to it as absurd, implying her feeling of superiority over it, which directly reflects upon the view of men on women. Women’s unfortunate position in society is caused by not having their own space to work toward their goals and to avoid the hindrance brought upon them by the opposite sex. Similar to the cat only becoming more attractive and balanced with a tail, women can only be creative and move forward with their work if they have the essential room of their own without having to experience interference from others, especially from men.

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