Conflicts in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' The Angel Over the Right Shoulder

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Conflicts in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' The Angel Over the Right Shoulder

"The Angel Over the Right Shoulder" is fascinating because of the conflict it uncovers between a woman's need to fulfill her domestic role and her need to develop as an individual. The story was published in 1852, when the American people were struggling with the role of women in society. The author, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, introduces two opposing possibilities for this role. One is the woman whose entire being revolves around her domestic sphere and who has no individual identity. The other is an individual who, although fulfilling the role of mother and wife, takes time to cultivate and develop her own interests and person. This essay will focus
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"Men were aggressive, exploitive, materialistic, physical, unchaste, impious, and mobile; women were pious, pure, selfless, delicate, domestic, nurturant, passive, conservative" (Melder 7). The adjective listed that relates most closely to Phelps' story is selfless. A woman dedicating her entire being to her family and abandoning any chance to develop her individuality is certainly exhibiting the utmost selflessness.

This is exactly what Phelps gives the reader as one option of the new definition of the role of women in society. This selflessness includes the woman's always acting on behalf of her family, caring for them in every possible way without stopping to consider whether she believes her actions are benefiting those involved. She is asked to have blind faith that all deeds done on behalf of the family are, by definition, beneficial to society as a whole. This concept fits very well into the ideas that were evolving through social changes of the early 19th century. The feminist movement which had recently begun held firmly to the idea that women were vital through their interactions with the family and their influences upon the new generations. "Woman's crowning glory was motherhood: in the bearing, nursing, and rearing of her offspring she could most fully carry our the responsibilities of her appropriate sphere," (Melder, 9). This implies that women…