Ruth Hall is the first fiction novel by Fanny Fern, one of the most famous American newspaper writers. This work is based on Fern’s story of a struggle for finding her way when she was a widow with children. The story follows the life and difficulties of a woman called Ruth, whose life was mostly subject to men and the social structure of that days. Ruth Hall, which aroused criticism and the enormous response of nineteenth-century society, contains several feminist ideas and representations of the possible independence of a woman. Fern resists the concepts of the “Culture of Domesticity” and illustrates the ambiguous gender role of the man in the nineteenth century.
According to the “Culture of Domesticity” philosophy, a woman was supposed to be the center of her family, and her role was confined to being a good wife and mother. Through the events and characters of Ruth Hall, Fern seems to be playing against such concepts. During the plot development, Ruth Hall, the novel’s main character, becomes a widow and has to sustain her children alone. She finally awakes from her lifelong dependence on men and begins searching for her own purpose in life despite all difficulties emerging on her way. For example, when Ruth decides to start her writing career and appeals to her brother, a publisher, for help, he rejects her request telling her she has no talent (Fern 222). Nevertheless, Ruth eventually becomes a successful newspaper columnist and provides a better life for her daughters. It is possible to make a conclusion that the book plot conveys Fern’s ideas about a woman’s role in society and opportunities she could access, relying only on her great strength.
At the same time, the role of men and its appraisal is represented not so explicitly in Ruth Hall. First of all, the novel is full of negative examples of man’s gender role. The actions and decisions of many male characters, beginning with Ruth’s father and ending with her first editors, turn out to be only infamous and harmful for Ruth. For instance, the disregard of Dr. Hall, Ruth’s father-in-law, becomes the main reason for the death of Daisy, Ruth’s first daughter (Fern 80). On the other hand, several situations show positive aspects of the leading role of men in the society of that time. As an illustration, the success of Ruth’s writing career was achieved with the help of influential male editors, who saw her great potential and let her realize it. In this way, Fern provides a quite mixed picture of how male gender roles affected women and society in general. Therefore, this can mean that the author wanted to transfer the ambiguous nature of the patriarchal structure of society and its possible benefits for both men and women.
In conclusion, it is necessary to emphasize that Fanny Fern was likely to illustrate the awakening of a nineteenth-century woman, her aspiration for self-development and building a career. By the example of her own life, partly concluding in Ruth Hall, she proves the beliefs of the “Culture of Domesticity” to be controversial and depicts the other possible way of women’s self-fulfillment. Moreover, the novel’s message may include the idea of the impossibility of estimating the consequences of the dominative position of men in society. However, this fact doesn’t deny Fern’s presumptive criticism of patriarchy and problems related to women’s subjection to men in the United States in the nineteenth century.
Fern, Fanny. Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time. Mason Brothers, 1855.