Ambiguity In The Walking Woman By Mary Austin

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There is little wonder that Mary Austin’s short story, “The Walking Woman,” is often read as a narrative that is teeming with feminist themes. The abundance of feminist strands within the text can hardly be gainsaid. Yet, it is the way in which Austin approaches these themes that makes the tale such a fascinating piece of American literature. “The Walking Woman” rarely veers into the realm of the explicit, instead favoring challenging ambiguity to portray its message, creating a text that frustrates definitive storytelling in concert with its title character’s denunciation of established gender dynamics. Austin’s often cryptic diction reflects the Walking Woman’s own enigmatic nature as well as her place within socially constructed gender norms. The very title “The Walking Woman,” is illustrative of Austin’s use of language as a means to present her themes obliquely. Though the …show more content…
The passage regarding the Walking Woman’s beginnings is far from certain: “By her own account she had begun by walking off an illness. There had been an invalid to be taken care of for years, leaving her at last broken in body, and with no recourse but her own feet to carry her out of that predicament” (217). The reader is left to not only decide what sort of “illness” the Walking Woman suffered from, but also the relation between herself and her “invalid.” Both terms can be read literally and figuratively. The illness she suffers could be born of an adherence to duties of matrimony, motherhood, filial devotion, or something completely removed from any of these proposed readings. The particulars of the passage are purposefully vague. Austin’s reluctance to present the character in straightforward terms makes the experiences of the Walking Woman applicable to a variety of suppositions, all with equal connection to “feminine” gender roles, yet open enough not to be confined to any one

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