It is quite true that Sarah Penn and Grace Ansley come from contrasting social backgrounds and are separated in terms of place and period. Roman Fever is set at the turn of the 20th century and reflects the values and ethos of urban America at that time. Grace Ansley, though belonging to a particular historical era, cannot be said to typify all women of that era. The strongest proof of her uniqueness is obtained in comparison to her antagonist Alida Slade. Revolt of Mother, in contrast, is set in rural America. Its primary character, Sarah Penn, is a good representation of the homemakers of that generation. She shares the same problems that most women of her generation suffered, chief among them being male domination. While there are these undeniable differences in terms of their social mileau, the stories of the two women share many similarities. The rest of this essay will delve into these similarities.
The most common characteristic between Sarah Penn and Grace Ansley is their strong will. Their stories were set at a time when women’s rights were muted and their self-expression undermined. Yet, in their own ways, the two women show daring and assertiveness. This is not to say that their opposition comes in the form of men. It is the prevailing social mores and prevalent patriarchal mindset that serve as their oppressors. For, in terms of the actual personnel, both men and women present the two women several challenges. The antagonist of Mrs. Ansley is her envious friend of many years Mrs. Slade. Despite the poly-amorous streak in Mr. Delphin, he is not the main oppressor to either of these women. Years earlier, when the two were young women, Mrs. Slade hatches a cunning plan to mislead Mrs. Ansley. Anticipating her fiancé’s rendezvous with Ansley, Slade writes a forged letter of excuse on behalf of her fiancé. The letter announces the cancellation of the rendezvous. But as fate would have it, the politeness of Mrs. Ansley in replying to this letter proves to be a blessing. Upon reading this reply, Mr. Delphin declares to meet her that evening. This fact is not privy to Mrs. Slade, who is smug on the belief that she sabotaged the prospects of a competitor to her fiancé’s attention. It is often lamented that women in the 19th century suffered male domination. But the evidence of Roman Fever prompts how women were undermining their own cause.
The strength of character of the two women can be learnt from other details as well. For example, despite attempts of deception on part of Mrs. Slade, Mrs. Ansley displays real strength of character. She spends no time fretting and regretting about having to lose Mr. Delphin. Instead, the consummation of their love bears her Barbara, who grows into a lovely young girl. As the final line of the story claims triumphantly, Barbara is indeed a symbol of Mrs. Ansley’s success. Despite not having Mr.Delphin to support her and Barbara, Mrs. Ansley does an exemplary job in raising her daughter. She must have surely felt the pain of social ostracization. Yet her tenacity and perseverance proves fruitful in the end. That fruition is in the healthy blossoming of young Barbara. Just like Mrs. Ansley emerges a successful woman in spite of her adversities, so does Mrs. Sarah Penn. In Mrs. Penn’s case, the adversity is not so much an individual as a whole social structure. Her husband, though not meaning to insult her, finds no qualms in being the sole decision maker in the family. In her long battle to alter the mindset of her husband, Mrs. Penn tries various methods of persuasion. But it eventually occurs to her that no amount of constructive dialogue or protest is going to help her meet her objective. This objective of Mrs. Penn is to build a bigger house for the family to live in. But, as Mary Wilkins Freeman skillfully portrays, women of the era faced numerous hurdles in realizing their interests. Mrs. Penn’s patient fight for self-determination comes to a climax when she finally decides to convert the barn into the house without informing her husband. This decisive act of hers towards the end of the story can be interpreted at multiple levels. The obvious interpretation is that it achieves a practical end, namely, finding a bigger abode for a growing family. But, more importantly, it is a symbolic victory for the long suffering wife in Mrs. Penn.