When I was a child, I considered myself my mother’s slave and knew her to be the cruelest task master on the planet. She rarely left me alone so I could read to my heart’s content. Before I could finish one task, she’d be calling me to do another. “Mary Ann, aren’t you finished with those dishes yet? You don’t have your book in the kitchen with you, do you? I want you to sweep the living room floor. And the kitchen floor needs to be mopped sometime today. You’ve put it off long enough!”
“Aw, Mama, I have to do all the hard work around here,” I’d complain.
“I know you do,” Mama would reply on her way to the clothesline with a basket of wet clothes in her arms. “If I had time, I’d feel sorry for you.”
When I finally left the servitude of my mother, I spent a few easy years in college, but some disadvantages emerged. My clothes never washed or ironed themselves as they had at home. I had to clean up my own messes. The cafeteria did feed me, but I had to walk all the way over there. I never had to wash my dishes though, and at the time, I considered that a real boon to college life.
The real lessons hit me like a mud slide when I got married and suddenly had my own household to run. Wow! I’d barely get one load of laundry done before the basket was full again. I was the official maid, dishwasher, and cook. And it wasn’t very long before children, a job, and animals joined the household. If I had time to read three pages a day, I was a lucky woman. Suddenly, I had a new appreciation for my mother and less freedom than ever before.
No one I know really understands what being a slave means. We make ourselves slaves to other people for money, for love, out of duty, etc., but at least we have the freedom to choose the master we will serve. That changes the situation completely. This country of ours has seen many quests for freedom—its own from England, slaves from masters, women from harassment and for equal pay and respect, homosexuals for marriage rights, and the list goes on ad infinitum. However, we are a blessed country. We have the right to complain, which we do rather well. We elect our representatives and then spend the next term complaining about them as they run amok of our plans. We have the right to elect a new government, which we do, and then the cycle repeats itself. Will the situation ever change? I hate to be negative, but . . . . If history does repeat itself, then no, it won’t—ever!
One major change that has occurred in this past century is woman’s role in the United States. Women have freedoms never guessed at in centuries past. I for one appreciate that fact. We vote, we work, and we do pretty much whatever we want to. That change reverberates soundly in American literature. Throughout the years I’ve not only read the best feminist writers but taught their works (along with other genres of literature) in my classroom. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a favorite of mine, along with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I’ve devoured Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and all the Toni Morrison books. Then there’s the poet, Adrienne Rich, whose work I’ve enjoyed and revered. I admire these writers who chose to write about the plight of women.
Nonetheless, our freedoms are limited by our attitudes much more than by our government. For example, one of my all time favorite authors, Pat Conroy, writes of an encounter with Alice Walker at a writers’ conference. He told her how much he enjoyed her book Meridian and produced a copy for her autograph. She signed it, but spoke not one word to him. The friend with Conroy explained, “She has a thing about Southern white men, Pat.”
At the same conference Adrienne Rich kicked all the men out of her workshop. It sounds to me as if they had a thing with their own attitudes. For adults, freedom only works when we are strong enough and free enough to turn loose our personal prejudices. Let freedom ring.