Page 1

Tara Walker February 18, 2010 Eng 293, Section 2 Margaret Fuller: “The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men. Woman versus Women” Margaret Fuller was an incredibly adept author who wrote numerous essays, columns and a few books, some of which helped fuel the proliferation of ideas regarding women’s rights. She was an enlightened thinker who pioneered the frontier for what would later be known as the Women’s Rights Movement. Fuller said, “Those who would reform the world must show that they do not speak in the heat of wild impulse; their lives must be unstained by passionate error; they must be severe lawgivers to themselves” (Fuller 741). In her essay “The Great Lawsuit”, Margaret Fuller’s description of the female role in society, as equal to that of her masculine counterpart, is heavily influenced by specific transcendentalistic tenets including society’s control and corruption of woman’s identity, the equal importance of her individual self, the removal of that self from outside influence in order to gain independence and consequently, the reliance and awareness upon her own nature that she might reach her full potential. Fuller regards the roles of women heavily dictated by society. She considers the basic stereotype of the time, the “household partnership.” This relationship is one of “mutual esteem [and] mutual dependence.” The man is responsible, intelligent and willing to provide for the needs of his family. The woman is “capable, sweet tempered” and sees to the needs of their family and home, within the home. (Fuller 739) It is interesting that Fuller brings attention to the discrepancy that a man looks upon his sister with tenderness and respect but with regards to his wife, “she can, without much thought of her own be, by him, led and directed, as by a father” (Spangenberg qtd. in Fuller 744). However, this is not entirely his fault as the author dictates the man’s behavior as habitual. Most habits are learned from another source, and in this case it is their “civilization” which has taught men to think and act this way over the centuries (745). Regardless, society claims that the woman should not receive a scholarly education but one of a domestic nature because she is not capable of intellectual thought on her own. Margaret Fuller illustrates the importance of the woman and her necessary adherence to transcendalistic ideals in order to claim a new role in society as equal. “Their characters and their eloquence alike foretell an era when such as they shall easier learn to lead true lives” (741). In order to live a true life, she must find this valiant creature, the oppressed woman, within herself. She must then withdraw from the world to reestablish her existence in the world (74_). Despite the brand society has placed upon her, she can and should reclaim herself. The author contradicts this societal view of marriage as an ownership of cattle, by declaring that the woman does not in fact belong to the man, but “instead… form[s] a whole with him” (747). A marriage should be one of companionship and both parties, as equals, should confide in one another as friends. Fuller claims that the man and the woman “represent the two sides of the great radical dualism” (744). However, because they are halves of the same whole, and thus connected, ideas and emotions are continually being transferred from one to the other. Nature enables the man to find tender compassion when nurturing his infant and the woman to fight valiantly and bear “immense burdens” (744). Still, she forever retains her femininity. Thus, she is capable of pure thought, intellectual expression, and awareness of her individual self.

The Great Lawsuit  

This paper was written for an American literary history class at BYU and discusses Margaret Fuller's view on gender.