“Oh those base invaders of my country, those oppressors of the best of its patriots; Should the fate of war place any of them within my power, I will instantly deliver up their throats with my knife.” – Agustina de Aragón (1785-1857)
According to Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, women are vicious, self-centered and lack inherent goodness.
And that means they are equal to men in every way.
The role of women in Western civilization has always been based on normative views. According to society’s norms, women should be inherently motherly and naturally submissive to men. Nineteenth century novels such as Jane Eyre began to question what a woman’s role in society was. In Salome, the princess Salome is frequently alluded to when the characters refer to the moon. The young Syrian describes the moon as “a little princess who wears a yellow veil, and whose feet are of silver” (1). Herodias’ page views the moon as “a dead woman” (1). Herod, who has a sexual interest in his stepdaughter, describes the moon a naked and wanton (28). The prophet Iokanaan predicts that the moon will become like blood, suggesting blood-guilt (44). Salome herself describes the moon as “cold and chase…a virgin” (11). All of these qualities are demonstrated by the princess in some form within the story.
Herodias, Salome’s mother, is the only character to provide a positive analysis. She says “the moon is like the moon, that is all” (28).
At the time of the writing of Salome, women were asserting their rights in the United Kingdom and the United States. However, with equal rights comes equal responsibility. Women were viewed in Victorian culture as the angels of the home. They were to be quiet, raise children, serve the needs of their husband and, ultimately, behave exactly how society dictated they should act. The princess Salome, however, asserts her power and requests the head of Iokanaan on a silver platter. Her desire for Iokanaan’s head, whether out of possessiveness, jealousy or revenge reveals a woman who defies the values of the day. The audience, whether watching the play or reading it for an English literature class, is shocked by Salome’s actions. Yet many find it more offensive because Iokanaan’s death is caused by a woman.
Being viewed as equals in society is important to both sexes. However, it creates difficulties that society has not always been prepared to face. Due to the view of women as angels in the home, society has had trouble realizing that, given the opportunity, women will act a lot like men who have enjoyed same freedoms for centuries. While one woman may be the traditional mother and wife, another may decide to have a career. While a woman in Victorian times had little choice but to stay home and be quiet, a free woman can stand up and speak out for or against anything she believes is important. And some, like Salome, will kill.
While history books are content to focus on the supportive wives of presidents, actual history is filled with women who were not afraid to break rank with polite society and be themselves. Julia Agrippina, Anne Bonny, Augustina Zaragoza Doménech (Agustina de Aragón), and Irina Sebrova are all excellent examples of historical women who would be viewed as heroes if they had been men. Yet most people have no idea who these women are. While children are taught of the bravery of King Leonidas’ stand against the Persian horde, they are never taught about Tomoe Gozen, a young female samurai who, when confronted by a rapist, decapitated the man. Women are never declared as heroes equal to men because the established normative thinking is that women are heroes by breeding heroes, not by direct action.
In the case of Herod, he discovered that Salome was not the adorable sexual object that he wanted. Repelled by her actions, he realized that she needed to be treated, not as an innocent child, but as a monster (66).
While the fight for equality is hardly over, great progress has been made. Equality can be about equal wages or the right to vote. However, it can also be about the right to sow one’s own field of life and reaping from it, good or bad. And maybe that is what women really want, the opportunity to freely make decisions, and be judged, not by long-established rules of gender, but by their own merits.
Originally written May 2, 2011 for an English literature class.
© Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Wilde, Oscar. Salome. New York: Dover, 1894. Print.