Subverting the Ideal of Womanhood: Mary Lavin’s “Sarah” and Female Agency


Ilha Desterro




Abstract: Women’s living conditions in the Republic of Ireland in the 1940s were strongly conditioned by Catholic beliefs since the Church still held great influence at institutional levels and maintained close relations to leading politicians. The 1937 Constitution was the clearest proof of such relation, and tried to confine women’s role merely to the functions of wife and mother. The short story “Sarah,” written by Mary Lavin (1943), discloses the patriarchal standards and stifling social mores imposed on women at the time. Sarah, the eponymous character, endures the life of being an unmarried mother in a conservative and merciless society. In this paper, we argue that, in spite of being inserted in such constrictive environment, Sarah manifests a position of agency, to the extent that she does not conform with such pre-established moral and socially acceptable behaviors.

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