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Social Perplexity


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Angela’s middle to lower class parents send her to a women’s college to become educated and move up in society. Through experiences with her roommates, Angela gets a taste of what the upper class is like. Angela is confused by the preconceived notion of high society values that she learned from her parents, and her real life experiences with her peers at college. Angela’s idea of what her college experience would be like, and the actuality of the experience is conveyed in the many contradictions she witnesses. “A Woman’s College from Outside” portrays the harsh reality of the differences and similarities between social classes of the time. Throughout the story, Angela struggles to come to terms with her parent’s desire for her success and the reality of college life, the laughter she witnesses and the pain she experiences, and her ideas about chastity and sexuality.
Angela’s parents send her away to school hoping her education from a high-class college will be the key to her success as an independent and self-sufficient woman. However, from the very beginning of the story, Woolf suggests that Angela’s true destiny is to become similar to her mother. The excerpts, “This lily floating flawless upon Time’s pool, fearless, as if this were sufficient—this reflection” (1), and “Even that lily no longer floating flawless upon the pool” (1) suggest Angela is already becoming her mother, no matter how hard she tries. Her parents want to set her up in a social class so she doesn’t have to become a housewife like her mother. They believe that her education is the key to her future success, but while rooming with women of the higher class she finds out that she will only become a higher class housewife. Angela believes she is wasting her parent’s money and her time by attending this school. Education and wealth are reasonable goals, but Angela knows that her parent’s desire for her future will never be realized. Angela’s parents want her to complete college so that she is able to support herself and her family. They do not realize that despite the class differences, the class values remain the same. Even the wealthy and educated believe the man provides the main source of income and support for the family. This notion is hidden within the text but it is a main source of Angela’s confusion. She finds that no matter the social class, she will not be the benefactor of her parent’s wishes.

Angela’s confusion is also demonstrated in the conflicting emotional expressions between herself and her peers. Laughter and pain go hand in hand and emerge several times in the story. Laughter is normally thought of as an expression of happiness, and success, while pain normally deals with sadness, agony and defeat. However, in the story, laughter is a cover for the roommate’s lack of work ethic. It symbolizes their laziness compared to Angela’s diligence. Angela’s classmates are at school for entirely different reasons than Angela. Their laughter signifies fun and deficiency of discipline. On the other hand, Angela endures great pain and sacrifice while in college for all the right reasons. Angela does not participate in the laughter. Instead, she witnesses the laughter and experiences pain. “Pouring forth into the garden, this bubbling laughter, this irresponsible laughter; this laughter of mind and body floating away rules, hours, discipline: immensely fertilizing, yet formless, chaotic, trailing and straying and tufting the rosebushes with shreds of vapor” (2). This quote is rich with evidence that the laughter is causing Angela to effervesce with anger. The bubbling and irresponsible laughter of the other girl’s enjoyment while neglecting their studies caused Angela to churn with anger “like one possessed of a wind lashed sea in her heart” (2). She is horrified at these other woman; the reason they are at college is completely beyond her. Angela hates the fact that they can get by in life so easily while she is working so incredibly hard for both herself and her family. Her parent’s put everything, -their expectations, hopes, dreams, and money- on Angela’s education. They risk all of their money so Angela can go to college and try to one day support herself while these girls are just there to have fun. Angela’s confusion stems from her inability to see how moving up in class will change her. She is caught up in the idea that she will support herself when reality dictates that this will never come true.

Angela is also confused about her ideas of chastity and sexuality. This is conflict is expressed through the use of color. Throughout the story colors are frequently used to express themes. The story begins with white. It is mentioned in the moon, and the lilies. White, in the text, stands for purity and chastity. Angela wants to be pure and feels it will lead her to social success or the golden fruit. “… The golden fruit is held close to Angela, glowing to her breast…” (2). Golden is the idea of success in Angela’s life, and what she is working to accomplish. It was not supposed to be talked about because none of the other girls in the room where there for the same type of success as Angela. The other girls are colorless and represent the middle ground between gold and white. Helena says, “Because it’s utterly and intolerably damnable,” and “We’re not eunuchs” (2). At this point in the story, she is talking about someone sneaking out with a boy from a different college. This implies that the girls are not there to educate themselves towards self-sufficiency. Instead, they are at college to find men to marry, or be promiscuous. This is the notion that confuses Angela the most. She does not know what to expect when going into college with people from a higher class. She finds their values are not as productive as those of the poor class. At this point, Angela realizes her reasons for going to school will not help her achieve her goals.

“A Woman’s College from Outside” is a short story but it is dense with information. While many ideas are portrayed within the context of the short story, three central conflicts emerge. Angela is confused about what her education will really do for her, experiences emotional turmoil related to laughter and pain, and is confused about chastity and sexuality. These conflicts create significant pain for Angela and represent a total contrast to the other characters in the story.




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Bethani said...
Mar. 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm:
hmmm. interesting. good topic!
 
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