In 1848, feminists held the Seneca Falls Convention, led by such thinkers as Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In response to the cult of domesticity, this convention revised the Declaration of Independence into a Declaration of Sentiments, which contained a specific list of grievances held by women against men.
This convention did not mark a sudden end to centuries of forced gender roles: in fact, 1950's television did much to usher in a newer era for the cult of domesticity, with its shows about model housewives who were able to vacuum, cook dinners, and handle minor household difficulties, all while smiling and wearing pearls. However, there is also a great deal of literature concerning the dissatisfied women that raised families under this line of thinking. Rebecca Harding Davis' novel Life in the Iron Mills and Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes are two examples of works that explore the restrictions placed upon women by this cult of domesticity, using rhetorical devices and images richly to show the harm of this paradigm. Both stories parallel in their consideration of family roles, mutual obligations, and the ways in which gender expectations carry a heavy toll.
The women that are central to the novel toil under the sway of men who are too boorish to notice the harm that the rules of domesticity are having on those around them. Both protagonists are men with blue-collar jobs, who come from families that have just entered the United States. Hugh is the main character of Life in the Iron Mills, a Welsh furnace worker, whose cousin, Deborah, secretly loves him. Davis uses a wealth of imagery to describe Hugh's life - his last name is Wolfe, which is suggestive of the primal forces that drive workers at the lowest end of the economic spectrum - and his routine seems to revolve around "eating rank pork and drinking molasses with occasional nights in jail for some drunken excess." Deborah, though, clearly suffers under the idea that the female is in charge of domestic affairs: after long days of picking cotton, she then is supposed to bring his meal the foundry every night, nursing a love that he is too self-involved to notice.
The main character of Angela's Ashes is McCourt himself, as a young child who just has returned from the United States to Ireland, because life in America did not live up to its promise. Note the use of juxtaposition to describe his mother Angela, seen as "a pious defeated mother moaning by the fire." Three of the images (pious, mother, by the fire) could be seen as nurturing, positive images; however, the insertion of the words "defeated" and "moaning" in between those other images undermines the warmth of the domestic scene, showing the turmoil that rakes at Angela's soul. It is truly sad to see the depths to which Angela falls, because her connection with Frank's father began with an ill-fated "knee-trembler" (or sex against a wall, gaining its name from the couple "straining so hard their knees tremble with the excitement that's in it"(15). Of course, this one night of dissolution leaves Angela pregnant. If she had