A Small Good Thing: Feminist Perspective

Benjaman Smolden

“Hospital Room” by Kyle Taylor, Dream It. Do It. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The most interesting thing about stories is the different perspectives from which they are told. These perspectives often include many stereotypes. Albert Kingston and Terry Lovelace, explain in the article “Sexism and Reading: A Critical Review of the Literature” that “stereotypes are the spectacles through which our minds see the world; they are the definers of our ‘facts’” (135). The characters made by authors tend to reflect stereotypes of gender from the author’s perspective. Looking at these perceptions you can find interesting power dynamics and how each gender views the other. By looking at “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver, you can see how stereotypical perceptions of gender are expressed through Ann Weiss and the other female characters throughout the story.

Throughout the story, there are a few female characters, but it is important to note that there is only one main female character the story tends to follow. That character is Ann Weiss. Even though she is the only main female character, she interacts with a few other women throughout the story. The first of which is Franklin’s mother, Evelyn, and what can be presumed as her teenage daughter. Next are the nurses that work in the hospital. These women play a very minor role in the story, but they do help the story progress through the different tragedies that happen in the hospital. One thing that all of these female characters have in common is the stereotypical power dynamic they have with a man. All of these women are living in a man’s world where they have a man who has power over them.

Every woman in this story is in some way being controlled by a man. Looking at the nurses, they are under the control of doctors. The doctors in this story are males and the nurses are females. The reason for this can be seen by how males are generally perceived in stories. Kingston and Lovelace explain that in stories, “Adult males had significantly high constructive/productive behavior and physically assertive behavior; and they engaged in problem-solving behavior” (146). This narrative is continued based on Carver’s explanation of Doctor Francis. “The doctor was a handsome, big-shouldered man with a tanned face. He wore a three-piece suit, a striped tie, and ivory cufflinks. His grey hair was combed along the sides of his head, and he looked as if he had just come from a concert.” (219). Carver painted the doctor as a very masculine and physically assertive character and since he is a doctor his focus is on problem-solving. This is very stereotypical for male characters and this dynamic places him above the female nurses. Cynthia Griffin Wolff in “A Mirror for Men: Stereotypes of Women in Literature” explains that, “The stereotypes of women vary, but they vary in response to different masculine needs” (207). The way that nurses are portrayed in this story not only contributes to the stereotype that women must be nurses and men must be doctors, but it also establishes who has authority. Furthermore, these women are left without a name making them less significant despite them being around more than the doctor in the story. These stereotypes of nurses being female are established to respond to the masculine needs of the male doctor. This in turn creates a power dynamic in the story where the female nurses are there to serve the needs of the doctor. This narrative is also expressed by one of the nurses in the story. Carver states, “’I don’t understand this,’ Ann said to the woman. ‘Doctor’s orders,’ the young woman said. ‘I do what I’m told to do. They say draw that one, I draw’” (222). This shows that nurses are there to serve the needs of the doctor and they do not have a say in the reason behind certain situations.

The next situation of a woman being controlled by a man is very subtle but speaks volumes. In the story, Evelyn, the mother of Franklin was projecting emotions of angst in anticipation of what would happen to her son. Wolff continues by stating, “There is a long tradition which maintains that woman is essentially emotional” (210). Carver states when talking about Evelyn that, “She was trying to rise from her chair, but the man had closed his hand over her arm. “Here, here,” he said. “Evelyn” (226). With this, it is clear that the man is establishing power over his wife. He is essentially telling her to calm down by establishing authority over her and her emotions. Her being emotional is intentional because it allows for a masculine response from her husband. This shows that men view themselves as problem-solvers and that they have the solutions to a women’s problem. They feel the need to step in the way of a woman. Moreover, with Evelyn’s husband putting his on her he is establishing physical dominance over her. Even though this was most likely not the author’s intent to perpetuate these stereotypes, they came through in the authors intentionally as it relates to how the man views society.

When it comes to the main character, Ann, she is being controlled by male authority from many different angles. The masculine control of Ann comes across through Dr. Francis, her husband Howard, and the baker. All of these characters or figures establish some sort of masculine control or dominance over her. It is vital to recognize that Ann is dealing with the hardship of her son being in an accident. This naturally would cause her to be emotional. Wolff states, “With this obsessive focus on emotionality, women came increasingly to be defined as purely emotional, without rational competence…” (211). These perceptions that an emotional Ann having a lack of rationality comes across pretty clearly with her conversations with male characters as her emotions make her question male authority. The reason for this also stems from a man trying to maintain dominance over her. Berkley Connor states in the article, “Explaining Mansplaining” that, “men must embody male dominance or else risk losing social status as a result of being overpowered by a woman. As a result of the male need to remain dominant in conversation in public discourse women’s voices are constantly silenced …” (147). The first example of this is Ann’s interactions with Doctor Francis.

Doctor Francis’s respect for an emotional Ann is very limited. This can be seen with the doctor’s physical and verbal interactions with her. When talking to a nurse Ann states “I want to talk to the doctor. I don’t think he (her son) should keep sleeping like this. I don’t think that’s a good sign” (218). She insists that there is something wrong with her son and due to the incident, she is very emotional. As the doctor enters the picture it is clear that he does not have the same respect for her as he does her husband. This is shown when Carver states, “Doctor Francis came in and shook hands with Howard, though they’d just seen each other a few hours before. Ann got up from the chair. “Doctor? “Ann,” he said and nodded” (218). The way the doctor shakes Howard’s hand but not Ann’s signifies that he maintains a level of respect for her husband but not Ann herself. He only greets her with a nod signifying that he does not have as much respect for her as compared to the man by her side. As Ann addresses her concerns with the doctor he states, “He’s all right… Nothing to shout about, he could be better, I think. But he’s all right. Still, I wish he’d wake up. He should wake up pretty soon” (219). With this, the doctor’s attempt to mitigate an emotional Ann and paint her as incompetent is abundantly clear. She is questioning his authority which makes him want to establish his dominance and silence her concerns. He does this by telling her, “nothing to shout about.” He is telling her that she is being irrational in this situation. This mansplaining from the doctor reaffirms his male authority over her and perpetuates the stereotype that a “man is always right.”

The second example of this comes from Howard as he is essentially demanding Ann to go home. “Maybe you should go home and get some rest. I’ll stay here… You go on now.” She shook her head. “No,” she said, “I’m fine.” “Really,” he said. “Go home for a while” (217). With this instance, Howard is asserting dominance over her as he feels he is in better judgment to make decisions for her. She insists that she is okay, but Howard constantly persists to push her to go home. This further perpetuates the stereotype that an emotional woman lacks rationality as explained by Wolff. Her husband recognized that she is emotional, so he feels as if he needs to be the “problem solver” to her problems. Another way Howard asserts power over her is by mansplaining issues that address her concerns as the doctor did. This is seen when Ann puts her hand on her child’s forehead, and she determines that it seemed odd that her son felt cold. She expresses her concerns with Howard, and he mansplained to her, “I think he’s supposed to feel this way right now… He’s in shock, remember?” That’s what the doctor said. The doctor was just in here. He would have said something if Scotty wasn’t okay” (220). This shows that Howard feels the need to explain the most basic concepts. He reminds her that the doctor was just in the room as if she was not there. He also talks down on her by stating, “He is in shock, Remember?” It seems that Howard attempts to dumb down the situation in an attempt to mitigate her concerns. This example further perpetuates the stereotype that men are more competent when a woman is emotional. In reality, you find that Ann’s concerns are valid, but they are always mitigated by a man who assumes some sort of power/authority over her.

The third example of Ann being influenced by a masculine character comes from the baker. The baker does not have malicious intent but given the circumstances and the stereotypical perceptions of gender he comes across as hostile. As explained by Kingston and Lovelace, stereotypically in stories “males were portrayed as more physically aggressive than females, more verbally aggressive, more competent, angrier” (146). Despite women in stories stereotypically being painted as competent, due to the fact Ann was also painted as emotional it was perceived that she lacked a rational competence as explained by Wolff. Over the phone, Ann and her husband did not know the baker was the one calling and they thought it was some random man that was harassing them. This caused Ann to act out in a verbally aggressive and angry manner. “‘For God’s sake,’ she said. ‘Who is this?’… ‘Your Scotty, I got him ready for you,’… ‘Did you forget him?’ ‘You evil bastard!’ she shouted… ‘How can you do this, you evil son of a bitch?’… ‘Have you forgotten about Scotty?’…” (234). This showcases Ann acting in a very stereotypical angry manner. The author portrays in a way that is irrational and verbally aggressive. This could show the author’s subconscious stereotypical perceptions of how a woman in tough times acts in an emotional state. The main reason stories portray women as “madwomen” or overly emotional is due to stereotypes associated with a women’s menstrual cycle. This in turn makes women vulnerable allowing a masculine influence to assume power over them.

­­­­Stereotypes are perceptions as to how our minds see the world. In stories, gendered stereotypes by authors often come across unintentionally. In “A Small Good Thing” we can see how female characters are stereotypically developed to suit the needs of a man. These stereotypes come across in characters’ careers as seen by the male doctors and the female nurses. These nurses are built to meet the needs of a male doctor. Furthermore, male characters constantly assume authority over female characters as seen by Evelyn’s husband, Ann’s husband, and Doctor Francis. Women are stereotypically portrayed as overly emotional and lack rationality witch then require a response from a man. These stereotypical perceptions of gender make it seem that the women in this story are living in a man’s world.

Works Cited

Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “A Mirror for Men: Stereotypes of Women in Literature.” The Massachusetts Review, vol. 13, no. 1/2, 1972, pp. 205–218. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25088222. Accessed 18 Apr. 2021.

Conner, Berkley, et al. “Explaining Mansplaining.” Women & Language, vol. 41, no. 2, Winter 2018, pp. 143–167. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com.cwi.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=134089765&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Kingston, Albert J., and Terry Lovelace. “Sexism and Reading: A Critical Review of the Literature.” Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 1, 197, pp. 133–161. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/747592. Accessed 10 May 2021.



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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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