Nancy, Rose, and Womanhood

By looking at the parallels between the characters of Nancy and Rose, the complexity of Dickens’ representation of “goodness” in women, most importantly Nancy’s complexity, can be further analyzed. Both women were orphaned, but ultimately ended up on two entirely different ends of society. Rose reveals what a possible outcome could have been for Nancy if she had been raised in the same environment that Rose had, and also highlights the virtues of good that Nancy might still have and could have grown further if given more time.

Nancy, despite her poor upbringing, is also capable of love. Dickens places a lot of importance on the idea of love in the ending of the first meeting between Nancy and Rose.

“When ladies as young, and good, and beautiful as you are…give you’re hearts, love will carry you all lengths…Pity us, lady—Pity us for only having one feeling of the woman left, and for having that turned, by a heavy judgment, from a comfort and pride, into a new means of violence and suffering,” Nancy tells Rose (Dickens 229).

Nancy of course is no longer a virgin, so that “feeling of woman” is gone. She is also no longer “good,” as she has been hardened to a life of crime. The only “feeling of the woman left” that she claims to have is her devotion to the character of Sikes. While Rose had turned away her love of Harry, Nancy clings onto her love for Sikes despite his brutality because she believes her love is her last shred of womanhood and perhaps pure femininity. While this continued devotion to Sikes can be seen as simply a continuation of her life of crime, analyzing Nancy’s change in character and demeanor because of her passion for Sikes could reveal another layer to her supposed last bit of womanhood.

“But the girl, being really weak and exhausted, dropped her head over the back of the chair, and fainted… (Sikes) Not knowing very well what to do, in this uncommon emergency; for Miss Nancy’s hysterics were usually of that violent kind which the patient fights and struggles out of, without much assistance.” (Dickens 216)

As demonstrated in this passage, Nancy’s character becomes increasingly less argumentative and more feverish and delicate. After being “savagely” talked to by Sikes, instead of wittily defending herself like in past circumstances, she faints. Sikes notices this change, contrasting her reaction to the “fights and struggles” that would have usually resulted. She also talks to Sikes differently, and Dickens clearly specifies that she tries to quell him in another passage “with a touch of woman’s tenderness.” (Dickens 215) The specification of it being a woman’s tenderness expands the notion that her nursing of and care for Sikes is an aspect of her true womanhood, formerly suppressed. These new kind of reactions by Nancy are paralleled by Rose, who “sank into a chair, and endeavored to collect her wandering thoughts” (Dickens 229) after speaking to Nancy, and even becomes gravely sick in earlier chapters after going on a walk that is too long, showing how easily a woman of virtue becomes lightheaded. Nancy, through her last womanly virtue of her love for Sikes, seems to be transforming in ways that draw her closer towards Rose, who is represented as the epitome of womanly purity and virtue.

One thought on “Nancy, Rose, and Womanhood”

  1. I love your comparison between Nancy and Rose’s way of love. Rose turns down Harry’s proposal because her love is generous and selfless; she doesn’t need someone to cling to in order to maintain her self-image. But Nancy’s love is out of despair; like you said, she has no other way to convince herself of being capable of loving, being a complete woman, without projecting her love onto Sikes. That being said, I think Nancy’s love is rather self-centered. A complete, confident self-image, or in this case, womanhood, is another thing that the society takes away from people at the bottom of the social hierarchy, along with money, status and safety.

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