I am currently in many classes dealing with the role of women in literature and religion. Thus, I found it appropriate that I base my research on the word, “woman.” I decided to first compare the two words, “woman” and “lady,” since these are both associated with certain societal expectations in the female role.
It seemed like “woman” was always the typical vernacular when referring to someone who is a female. However, “lady” is more prevalent in the 18th century when a lady is meant to become a mother and wife, always catering to her husband’s needs. The split between the two happens around the 1840s. Previous to this split, books like The Coquette and Charlotte Temple, were written in order to emphasize a woman’s fidelity and chastity. These books were pedantic and meant to reflect the cultural values at the time, as well as teach women how to carry themselves. This, I noticed, is not very reflected in the graph, unfortunately, probably because women are not often the main characters of literature at the time.
The graph from 1700 to 2000 illustrates the difference between the two words today, as well. The trend for “lady” is a pretty steady decline, whereas the use of “woman,” which is used just as often as “lady” in the earlier centuries, gets used more regularly closer to the 2000s. Nowadays, “woman” has taken the additional meaning of someone who is strong and independent. Because it is clear that the word has taken new form, I decided to try out the word, “woman,” in addition to its possible associations. I tried adjectives such as “strong,” “independent,” “powerful,” “proper,” and “motherly.” I hoped that these would trend in their respective cultural associations.
For the most part, this is the case. “Strong,” “independent,” and “powerful” become the most used of the five in that respective order. These word associations are hidden connotations of the depiction of the female within literature. Thus we can see from the graph that women in literature become more associated with power than the domestic realm. Their independent characteristics are emphasized as opposed to their influence on their husband and children.
There is a particular spike that I found interesting, as well. In the 1950s, “motherly” hops significantly. I expected this to be the result of the returning husbands from WWII. As the men left for the war, the women took over the workforce, and afterwards, when the men return the women must also return to the domestic realm. It seems that this is a reflection of the cultural values of the time.