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Sometimes, viewing history, we find ourselves drawn into the trap of believing that oppressed groups completely lacked strength and power. This was not so; for years, minorities have fought for their empowerment and found communities within one another, enough to grant them the strength to persevere in a society that rejected them or that attempted to reduce their social power to nothing at all. People are not as altogether weak as we sometimes assume. But that strength can only come from community, from forcibly pulling that power out of the solidarity that comes from co-existing with people who are like you; it cannot exist in isolation. And thus is the plight of the woman in D. H. Lawrence’s “The Rainbow,” who finds herself surrounded by men, forced to live on a farm, and trapped in a life far away from any urban area where she could hope to better herself or find a community of like-minded women. Thus, she begins to idolize the city as a miracle cure for all her ails, growing more and more resentful toward the men who keep her trapped in a life she never wanted nor chose. In “The Rainbow,” D. H. Lawrence characterizes the woman as unsatisfied with her traditional life and desperate to escape it by comparing her attitudes to those of the men, highlighting her interest in the outside world, and revealing her obsession toward the vicar.
Early on in the passage, Lawrence contrasts the woman’s attitudes toward her lifestyle with those held by the men in her family. Particularly, he uses the imagery of staring into the distance. Both the woman and the men, each drawn to certain lifestyles, engage in this action. However, the men stare toward “the sun […] the source of generation,” whereas she faces “toward where men moved dominant and creative.” Interestingly, both the men and the woman are seeking something similar. They are interested in “generation,” and she in creativity, both of which deal explicitly with creation and invention. However, by having them be physically turned in different directions, the author shows us that the woman wants to achieve her desire for creation elsewhere, somewhere where she is not burdened by her obligation to them as a wife and homemaker. Again, this disparity is given a physical description, with the men “faced inwards,” and her “faced outwards.” The repetition of this shared language, modified only slightly by a few letters at the beginning of the second word, helps to establish both the shared desires of the woman and the men, as well as their differences in approach. She seeks to find this “[creativity]” in the outside world, while they are already able to find it within themselves. Interestingly, this language suggests that, on some personal level, the woman is not satisfied with herself, or else she should, supposedly, find strength and meaning internally. Perhaps the problem exists within and cannot be solved by the outside world at all.
Lawrence also characterizes the woman’s dissatisfaction with fanciful language to describe the way that she views the outside world. The author uses the metaphor of a battle, saying that men have “[fought] outwards to knowledge” and that woman wants to be “of the fighting host.” The metaphor of physical conflict is so strong that it shows the extent to which the woman feels trapped in her life, as she is literally being subdued and kept at bay by malevolent enemy forces, rather than by where her family happens to live. For her, living in the city is not just a dream, but a noble fight against all the social norms that keep her down and bound to these men. Furthermore, the repetition of the word “outwards,” already used to interesting effect much earlier in the piece, reinforces the woman’s desperation to find this satisfaction in something outside of herself, something larger and more significant. She has constructed the image of this battle in order to justify that thinking, despite the fact that her desire and feeling of being trapped is something in which she is, as a result of being trapped in the country, utterly alone.
Finally, the author uses the woman’s obsession with the vicar to reveal just how dissatisfied she is with her life and her husband. Observing the vicar, she notes that he is “little and frail,” whereas her husband is like a “bull.” None of these words have especially positive connotations, but “bull” is still much harsher. “Little and frail” have to do with physical observation alone, whereas the word “bull” is very much tied to the imagery of destruction and physical power over intellectual power, such as in the idiom of “a bull in a china shop.” This word alone reveals much about her thoughts toward her husband, whom she also describes as seeming “dull and local” compared to the vicar. Throughout the piece, her husband has been described as having similar, though differently oriented, desires as her, but now we see just how much she has come to resent the situation in which she lives—so much so that her resentment has turned toward people. Yet with the vicar, she observes that he has “power” over her husband, despite his size and physical strength, or lack thereof. She is entranced by this notion, probably because she is envious of him. She, too, wishes to have some power of her husband, as she feels that he represents her trapped state in a rural area. Being a woman, it makes that she herself would also be “little and frail” compared to her husband, and she is astonished that someone like the vicar can be so powerful, in spite of his relative physical weakness. Although she does not make this connection explicitly, it is obvious that her obsession with the vicar comes from a desire to, like him, have such freedom and power that has been denied to her as a result of her gender.
Through the use of comparison between the woman and the men, fanciful language in the woman’s description of the city, and her obsession with the vicar, D. H. Lawrence creates a complicated and nuanced character, struggling to find a place for herself in a world where, isolated from other women, she is forced to become subservient, her opinions not a factor in her own life. The piece is a fascinating look into a time long gone, set almost 200 years in the past. And yet, much of the reality of that time still exists today, with women across the world, irrespective of all other factors, still not granted the same privileges as those given to men. In this way, “The Rainbow” is not simply a spyglass from which to view history, but a mirror to hold up to our own time, even in a world as different from the woman’s as ours today.