A Garden of Women: How Women Are Compared to Flowers in a Vindication of the Rights of Women Essay

Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first credited feminists of the literary world wrote an essay in 1792 called, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. This essay thoroughly describes how women were treated and viewed through the eyes of others, mostly men, during the 18th century in England. Wollstonecraft speaks out against the sexist nation through this piece not only by pointing out the flaws in man and country but goes even future to attack her own sex in specific passages.

During the 18th century in England, women were not seen as equals but as “things” whose lives had been condemned at birth.

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Women were pretty things with arms and legs, eyes and mouths, but they were also pretty things without intelligence and passion, individualism and power. Women were solely seen as “flowers” and used to produce and care for the family. Since women were viewed as such things Wollstonecraft compares them to flowers in her essay.

Wollstonecraft writes, “The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds are not in a healthy state;(…)” she goes on to say “(…) like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity” (171).

This close reading will provide an in depth explanation of Wollstonecraft’s flower simile which contributed to her vision of the birth of the individualistic woman.

The opening line begins, “The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds are not in a healthy state (…)”, although this quote is not part of the actual simile, it is interesting. Wollstonecraft expresses her concern for women’s mental health in this passage by explaining to the reader that women could not exercise their individuality and intelligence because it was socially deviant among the community.

As the quote continues Wollstonecraft writes, “(…) like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty (…)” this excerpt is Wollstonecraft’s main argument expressed into a single line. The deeper meaning behind the words “(…) like the flowers (…)” is of course comparing women to flowers. Flowers are beautiful and there are a myriad of breeds. This interpretation shows that there are many different kinds of women and the only thing that sets them all apart is their unique forms of physical beauty.

Wollstonecraft goes on to say that the flowers are “planted in to rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty (…). ” The word “planted” signifies that once a woman is taught the norms of her culture such as; the way she must behave, dress, speak, dance, cook, and a copious amount other things there is nothing else for her to learn, therefore, she sacrifices her strength and usefulness to beauty.

Sacrificing is a very harsh word with many negative connotations, for Wollstonecraft to use such a word is issuing a very powerful statement, especially considering that the women are “sacrificing” such important physical human characteristics. Wollstonecraft is upset to see that women are “sacrificing their strength and usefulness” to beauty which is such a frivolous asset to society. The very last section of Wollstonecraft’s quote states this, “(…) and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity. The “flaunting leaves” are the beautiful women of the English society who have worked so arduously to achieve the status of beauty that was awarded to them, and with that reward came a male suitor, most likely a husband. After a while, the women’s beauty slowly diminishes with age, and with age, the women will not be able to produce any more children, therefore, all of their “usefulness” is expended. So, they will “fade” and will be “disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity. The women have spent their entire lives cursed, never getting any more than what was deemed necessary to their sex by the majority of society and when they start to wither everyone turned their heads the other direction. Wollstonecraft argues that if women were to receive a substantial education their lives would be forever improved and for others reformed, so women could expose their “strength” and “usefulness” to a much greater range.

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