Aug 7, 2020 in Research

Oppression of Women in Society As Depicted By Grace Paley

The short story titled “An irrevocable diameter” by Grace Paley exemplifies how authors use the literary platform to criticize the way things are or are done in society. Using two young persons, Charles and Cindy as the main characters, Paley explores and demonstrates the manner in which individuals of the same age group are expected to behave differently just because they are of different genders. However, in this varying behavior, the society appears to oppress the female gender, preventing women from pursuing what they want and instead requiring them to adhere to supposed social norms. On the contrary, men are free to do as they wish and enjoy themselves. Even though significant steps have been made to overcome gender inequality, it is still a challenge in most societies. This essay is an analysis of Grace Paley’s “An irrevocable diameter” to demonstrate the manner in which the author uses the literary platform to criticize the treatment of women in a patriarchal society.  

Cindy’s emotional response to the manner in which she is treated represents the discontent that women have with the way society treats them. In one instance, she says “I am sick and tired of this crap”. She said this when yelling at her parents following their constant complaints whenever she arrived home late. On the contrary, Charles is living a free life in his home. In fact, his mother even told her to enjoy his youth, much to the opposite of the case of Cindy. Charles is free to explore his passions and for his parents, arriving late is not an issue. Even though a typical parent would be concerned if his or her daughter gets home late too often, it is an issue of concern when this form of control is used to keep a woman from exploring her passion and probably achieving her potential. The author uses a simple example of coming home late, but the truth of the matter is that the society appears biased even in other issues affecting both genders. Parents claim they are protecting their daughters, but in so doing, some of them cause their female children to lead an unhappy life in which they feel imprisoned.


Paley demonstrates how parents do not mind going to the extreme when trying to contain their female children, whereas they sit and watch their male children as they do as they wish. Cindy’s parents are clearly obsessed with “protecting” their daughter and the audience is left wondering whether some actions are really warranted. In some occasions, they would even threaten to call the police to assist them in rectifying their daughter’s behavior. Cindy indicates that’s they have thrice made the threats, intending to scare her from the “criminal” act of getting home late. From all perspectives, this can be interpreted as going to the extreme. In fact, it is likely to push away Cindy from any willingness to change her supposedly negative behavior, as she may feel that her parents are not exercising any compassion towards her. Actually, Grace Paley may have introduced the action of Cindy’s parents to demonstrate how parents go overboard instead of solving issues with their adolescent children using simple but effective measures. Feeling “sick and tired…” of her parents’ reactions, Cindy contemplates going away from her home. She indicates that she hated her home and she would be glad were she to get an opportunity to move out. This shows just how counterproductive over-protection is when it comes to molding the behavior of children. 

The author uses lyricism to imaginatively explain how males are endeared in the patriarchal society while women feel threatened within the same society. The choice of the name Charles in the play was intended to bring out this effect. The name is usually modified into Charley or Charlie, especially by those who enjoy a close relationship with the person bearing the name. The two modifications represent modernity and the fact that Charles is adequately accommodated in the modern society. This is unlike Cindy who is a victim of over-protective actions intended to safeguard her from the many ills present in society.

Even when they have to bear the impact of gender inequality, women also have to deal with wrongful actions exercised on them by men. Cindy and Charles are in a love relationship as Charles indicates “There was love in physical union”. Cindy must have been blinded by this love such that she cannot see anything wrong with smoking. However, what is most important is that the author terms Charles as having been a deceitful sheep or dishonest wolf. If this is the case, it implies that he has taken advantage of Cindy who thinks that he genuinely loves her. This is a common occurrence in patriarchal society in which men take advantage of the weaknesses of women to exploit them. A relationship situation is particularly a suitable one, as deceived that a man loves her; a woman can go to any length to maintain the relationship. Such actions by men worsen the situation women have to deal with and it could explain why in such a society, women continue to lag behind their male counterparts. 

In an almost similar manner, Charles attempts to influence Cindy’s parents to confine her more, while on his part, he is left free to do as he wishes with his life. This is in an attempt to ensure that Cindy does not fall into the hands of other men. Looking at Charles’s actions, it is a high level of selfishness. He wants Cindy to be prevented from going out at wish, so that she can be “maintained” for him. However, the fact he can go out whenever he wishes means that he can get attracted to another girl, upon which Cindy will be the looser. In this, Grace Paley must have intended to implicate the men for also behaving in a manner that puts women in a situation worse than that in which the society as a whole has put them. 

The patriarchal society allows men to freely abuse power, while women are expected to strictly and adhere to what morality dictates. In one instance, Mr. Graham’s attorney tells him “You took it upon yourself, knowing something before the pitfalls of a young girl…”. In this context, a man is free to use the power endowed on him as he finds fit, whereas women are threatened against going against moral norms otherwise they will fall. Whenever he feels agitated by an issue, Charles can freely express his concerns to Cindy. On the contrary, it can be expected that Cindy would shy away from doing it as it is not expected of a woman. In this case, the society is depicted as creating contexts that look for the slightest chance to exercise unfairness over women.  The abuse of power is also seen symbolically when Charles finds Cindy smoking under the ceiling. Cindy is probably not expected to smoke, but this does not in any way mean that Charles has the authority to dictate the direction her life should take. On finding Cindy smoking, Charles takes the cigarette from her and kills it between his fingers. The author must have used this scene to symbolically demonstrate how men drive the life of the women in their lives to the direction they wish it would take. Charles is not even married to Cindy, but he is already exercising authority over her. It appears that men really enjoy the social situation that gives them an upper hand over women, instead of sympathizing with and even trying to lift them up. 

Lastly, Paley’s choice of “An irrevocable diameter” as the title of her work must have been intended to show the huge difference between men and women in a patriarchal society. Diameter refers to a distance between two opposite and extreme points of a circular space, and the term represents the fact that men and women stand on different ends of the society. Unfortunately, women stand on the disadvantaged side. Notably, even though efforts have been made to bring the two groups to the middle in terms of gender equality, it is hard for the efforts to yield entirely successful results. In other words, the difference is “irrevocable”. This being the case, the society may need to do a lot to alleviate the differences in the manner in which men and women are treated.

In conclusion, Grace Paley’s “An irrevocable diameter” is a platform that the author uses to express discontent in the manner in which women are treated within a patriarchal society. Using two adolescents namely Cindy and Charles, Paley successfully paints a mental picture in the mind of the audience regarding just how women are oppressed in society. Interestingly, they are deceived into believing that they are being protected, but the truth is that they are just being manipulated. This happens as their male counterparts enjoy all the freedom they want. The society has improved from what Paley depicts in her work, but the distance between men and woman is far from being revocable. 


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