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Social Conventions of a Woman's Traditional Household Duties in the 1950s: Critical Analysis of Rita Dove’s Poem Daystar

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Rita Dove’s poem Daystar, written in the 1950s, illustrates the life of a woman who feels as though she is trapped in life due to her daily duties as a mother and a wife. The irony in the poem exists for the sole fact that from birth to adulthood the world's female population is brought up believing that their life will become fulfilled when they get married and have children. From past and present all over the world, women are expected to be mothers and care for their families and households while their husbands put money on the table. In the end, this should make women feel happy in life. Dove's poem demonstrates how women’s daily tasks such as marriage, children, and household duties are not as enjoyable as they seem. The definition of a housewife and motherhood have changed constantly over time and Rita Dove's poem Daystar challenges the social conventions of a woman's traditional household duties in the 1950s.

Women are made to feel that getting married and having children are a necessity in life. Our society makes it seem that a woman must get married and have kids to feel happy and successful. Marriage and motherhood are made out to seem wonderful because women are able to stay at home all day and only take care of the house and children, while not having to worry about supporting their family, which is what their husbands are for. The job of a housewife is made out to seem easy and always pleasurable, however, after reading Dove’s poem Daystar, this social norm is challenged. Readers can see that this is not always how women feel about these duties and these roles that women encounter can cause much stress and displeasure. Daystar takes place during the 1950s when women were encouraged to invest their lives to motherhood and stay home to care for their children, husband, and the house.

The mother in this poem feels as though she is significantly trapped by her family. She feels nothing exciting happens in her life except for her maternal duties, yet she receives no time for herself. Kelly J. Mays, states that “Nothing really happens except the daily events (washing diapers, picking up toys, looking at crickets and leaves, explaining the world to children, having sex) surround her brief private hour and make it precious” (Mays 763). During these times, it was not common for women to have a job and work to help support her family. We can see that motherhood is not as wonderful as society makes it out to be and to a woman who does nothing but commit her life to her family. Being expected to stay home and care for children and tend to the house can make women feel trapped and useless to her family.

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The mother in this poem feels her duties and life role make her seem as nothing. The only time the mother feels anything and can finally rest is when she hides away outside for an hour a day while her children take their daily naps. As you read deeper into the poem, you realize that it is not only motherhood that makes this mother feel stressed and trapped in her life, but even the main character's love life with her husband makes her feel like nothing, “Thomas rolled over and lurched into her, she would open her eyes and think of the place that was hers for an hour-where she was nothing, pure nothing, in the middle of the day” (Dove, lines 17-22). The mother here wants to feel what she feels when she is alone outside during the day. She wants to be nothing because she feels she is everything to her family considering she takes care of everyone and gets no help or praise, not even from her husband. One could interpret that the couple's love life seems bland and loveless due to the fact that the wife does not even enjoy laying next to her husband at night. All she can think about when she lays there is her one hour of alone time she gets a day. Caring immensely for your husband, no matter the cost was a traditional duty of the 1950s.

A mother and wife must tend to her husband to make sure her role as a “good wife” looks good for society. Caring for your husband was a common duty woman used to have to take on in her household. Dove’s poem Daystar shows the reader the lack of connection and intimacy between the main character and her husband. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan is a feminine piece of work that talks about false ideas on a woman's “role.” In chapter one of Friend's novels, The Problem That Has No Name, she states, “The problem was also, and finally, dismissed by shrugging that there are no solutions: this is what being a woman means, and what is wrong with American women…” (Friedan 24). In the early ’50s, women did not fight like they do today to have a voice and have equal rights when comparing themselves to men and their husbands. Women did as they were told and went above and beyond in their role of being a “housewives.” However, today the role and expectations society has on women roles of being a housewife and mothers have changed immensely over time, and for the better.

Today this social norm has undergone a serious change and is not as pushed and expected as it used to be. Today, it is encouraged and admired when a woman works hard to help support her family financially. In a research report called Motherhood, Multiple Roles, And Material Well-Being: Women of the 1950s, it is stated that motherhood over time has changed to a great extent; “Motherhood, as a role, has undergone a series of redefinitions throughout history, with the 1950s in the United State of particularly intense emphasis on traditional values of home and family” (Miller, Moen and Dempster-McClain 566). Today, the role of motherhood is to help support and take care of your family alongside your husband. Households should have equal partnerships which shows us family roles have reversed from the 1950s. In America today, it is very common that women work and have equal partnerships with their husbands when it comes to household, child, and life decisions. The expectations of equality in marriage and parenthood have changed in society. Today when trying to find a partner, people base their options off of common similarities such as similar education, similar likes and dislikes, and even similar job pay. This is why today people wait longer to get married and start a family, unlike couples in the 1950s because people want to be financially stable and have a good job before starting a life with someone. In the ’50s marriage was so pushed that people were getting married in their early ‘20s and getting married later in life was out of the ordinary.

In America, society today makes it a priority that individuals, especially women, go to college and start their education before starting a family, giving women more opportunities in the work field and the end making for a happier life. Today, women are not expected to commit their lives to motherhood right away. Rita Dove emphasizes the life of women in the 1950s who feel depressed, trapped, and unsatisfied with their roles as a mother and wives because during that era that was their only role in life. Women's roles in the ’50s were downplayed dramatically and not as appreciated as they should have been. Motherhood and marriage are not an easy or light jobs, especially when you take most of it on by yourself. Thankfully, society today has reversed these stereotypes and has overlooked the fact that women are more in life than a housewife and mothers. Women bear fewer children, pursue an education, maintain a career, and have more of a voice. The term “housewife” today does not just apply to women. Growing up, I was raised by my father during the day while my mother worked her full-time day job. My mother is the breadwinner in our house and never not had a voice. I was raised with the opportunity of having both of my parents raise my brother and I. We watched both of my parents respect each other's thoughts and wishes all while having an equal partnership. There was no decision made in our household that one of my parents did not have a say in. They trusted and worked off of each other to support and supply for our family, and coming from a community like Grosse Pointe, Michigan, this was not something you always saw. Relating back to the poem Daystar, most of the women in my hometown could be compared to the mother in the poem written by Rita Dove. The definition of a housewife and motherhood has changed constantly over time and the old norms of these terms are demonstrated through Dove's poem Daystar. This poem challenges the social conventions of a woman's traditional household duties in the 1950s. Dove's piece does a great job of showing how women in the 1950s felt about motherhood and being a wife. Motherhood and marriage are not easy and some days are not enjoyable. Women of the 1950s were not as appreciated and acknowledged as they should have been. Yet, today these norms have changed and women have equal roles within their households making them happier and not feel as trapped and alone as they once did. Dove's poem Daystar challenges these social conventions of a woman's traditional household duties in the 1950s.

Works Cited

  1. Dove, Rita. “Daystar .” The Norton Introduction To Literature.
  2. 12th ed., by Kelly J Mays, W.W Norton & Company, New York, London, (2016), p. 762.
  3. Friedan, Betty. 'The Feminine Mystique: The Problem That Has No Name.'
  4. W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York, (1963), p.
  5. 24. Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction To Literature.
  6. 12th ed., W.W Norton & Company Inc., (2016), p. 763.
  7. Miller, Melody L., Phyllis Moen, and Donna Dempster-McClain. '
  8. Motherhood, Multiple Roles, and Maternal Well-Being: Women of The 1950s.' Gender & Society 5.4 (1991), p. 566.
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Social Conventions of a Woman’s Traditional Household Duties in the 1950s: Critical Analysis of Rita Dove’s Poem Daystar. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from
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Social Conventions of a Woman’s Traditional Household Duties in the 1950s: Critical Analysis of Rita Dove’s Poem Daystar. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 Feb. 2024].
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