Professor Alexis Walker
Eng. 350 – American Literature I
17 August 2013
“The Suttee” and the Condition of Women
Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney’s poem “The Suttee” addresses the condition of women, but also describes in graphic detail the “Suttee”, namely the practice of burning alive the wives of deceased men on their funeral pyres. This reflects her desire to teach morality and to speak out against this atrocious custom, but also in favor of women in general.
Sigourney comes to the point in the very first line, with the words, “She sat upon the pile by her dead lord…” (Sigourney 1030) describing the Indian woman bound to her husband on his funeral pyre. The people approve of this choice of hers, which, apparently, she is not doing out of love for her husband, for he is called “her loathsome partner” (Sigourney 1030). The poem describes how she nurses her child for the last time, and ends with the line “That burning mother’s scream….” (Sigourney 1031). The poem communicates Sigourney’s attitude towards this custom, as the young Indian woman represents every woman, who to some extent is sacrificed for her husband. Of course, in our society and in the society of Sigourney’s day, it is not, and was not, necessary for a woman to be burned on her husband’s funeral pyre; the Indian custom represents the extreme to which such sacrifice can be carried – to the woman-object-possession, obliged by social mores to relinquish her very life. Women are and have been sacrificed in many other ways: in the household, for the pleasure of her husband, and in life in general, not being permitted to seek self-realization and fulfillment.
Sigourney was an educator, a Christian and an activist. She wrote to expound upon moral matters and to teach. In “The Suttee” she evokes sympathy for improvement in the condition of all women.
Robert S. Levine, Arnold Kruper. “The Norton Anthology of American Literature Seventh
Edition Vol. B – 1820-1865”...