The major theme in Doris Lessing’s short story “A Woman on the Roof” is female sexuality, which is juxtaposed with male aggression. The story happens one afternoon while three men work to replace gutters on a roof. They suddenly see a beautiful woman basking under the sun in a bikini bottom and only a small scarf tied around her breasts. They all watch her and Tom and Stanley saunter over now and then to catch a glimpse.
The next day, the sunbathing beauty appears again, however, this time the scarf is gone.
When she catches them looking at her, she doesn’t react, she just lay her head back down. At this gesture of indifference, they all three, Stanley, Tom and old Harry, let out whistles and yells. Harry was doing it in parody of the younger men, making fun of them, but he was also angry. They were all angry because of her utter indifference to the three men watching her.
Bitch,” says Stanley (Lessing, 1963). The woman is innocent, having done nothing wrong, yet she becomes the target their ridicule and angry cheers because she is beautiful and because these men are attracted to her. It is her indifference that spurs their fury and their hatred of her. Somewhere in the male evolution, Lessing seems to suggest, a beautiful woman – or any woman for that matter – who is being her feminine and sexual self, should return men’s advances.
And if not, she will earn the name “Bitch”. The story is a feminist perspective and is replete with a feminist theme that advances throughout the story—The more this woman is indifferent of their male aggression and tendencies, the more these men grow to despise her. The story is disturbing because it shows how a woman’s sexuality and independence can intimidate men. Finally, the woman yells for them to “go away” – exerting her will and showing the men that men’s advances are utterly unprovoked.
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