I think I went into this short story with the expectation that there would be more of a fantasy element to it because of the introduction of the wings as being important very early on. But in reality, it’s one of those kinds of short stories where a fantastical element is placed within the real world to represent something deeper and more complex.
I think of a lot of Gothic stories when I think of this where something very heightened and fantastical is placed in a realistic setting that is symbolic and overly exaggerated to explain something deeper inside. It’s a visual representation of something that is usually a lot more complex to explain like an emotion or something key to Human Nature.
Wings and FEMININITY
So we’re going to have to talk about the wings.
While reading the story a lot focuses on the wings and the main character’s relationship with them. There’s also a mystery element because the story is told backwards; it begins at the end and ends at the beginning. So deconstructing what the wings mean is something that only is made clear once you have experienced the main character’s relationship getting her wings and why she wanted wings to begin with.
So what do they represent?
In my opinion, they represent femininity. I’m sure they represent a lot of other more complex things too but it’s the relationship I see between the wings and femininity that I was drawn to in the story.
As someone who has a complicated relationship with their femininity and occasionally wants to reject that femininity all together it’s a very complex issue to wrap up in a single short story. However, in this case, I think it is done in a very artful and specific way.
A Mother Stands Up to Her Son
Part of what drew me to this conclusion was that we start at the end with a mother’s interaction with her son, specifically her taking ownership of her wings. So her son has a habit of tugging on her wings and it causes her a lot of pain but she chooses to ignore it. In a lot of ways that has to do with femininity too.
A lot of the time we forgive children for acting the way that they do because we justify they’re just children and they don’t know any better. But they can’t know any better unless we correct them.
So her telling her son that he is not allowed to pull out her wings anymore in this moment is very important to her claiming her femininity as her own. It’s not something to be played with and it’s not separate from her, it is part of her and when it is treated like a plaything or as if it’s insubstantial it causes her pain and she is voicing that can pain out loud.
As we go farther back into the story we see how she is admired for her wings when she gets them.
People think of her as an angel. People look up to her as something to be admired. She gets classified as something important because of the wings. In a lot of ways, she is her wings and the person who is attached to them is less substantial.
She even goes as far as saying that the reason she fell in love with her husband is that when they first met he didn’t look at her wings, he looked at her. And she knew that he was going to be important to her because he looked at her eyes–he looked at her face, he looked at who she was as a person and not as a pair of wings, as a beautiful object to be admired.
Sacrifice and Pain
After this point, a lot of what the story circles around is the pain and sacrifice that comes with her getting her wings.
It should be warned that there are a lot of graphic things and implications to what happens when she gets her wings so if that kind of thing isn’t something that you can deal with keep that in mind before you read the story or don’t read it at all because it is an upsetting description.
She talks a lot about justifying her decision to get her wings.
So if her wings are her femininity it’s about claiming the fact that she is feminine and embracing what that means and utilizing it. So her having to give other things up in exchange for it is something that translates to the real world.
The more feminine a person, is especially if they have a female gender, can determine a lot about what they can do with their life and their career. Truth is they are not going to be taken as seriously as someone more masculine. This is why women in business wear suits or have shorter hair or tend to be more masculine with the way that they present themselves physically.
It’s also the reason that things like a vocal fry are permeated throughout female culture. Adding that rasp into their voice means that they can lower it and if they have a lower voice their seen as less feminine and taken more seriously.
She becomes successful after she has her wings but it’s because of her wings and not despite them. She gravitates people towards her because she has this beauty and not because she is seen as intelligent or resourceful. The wings themselves, we discover, aren’t even good at being wings. She can’t fly with her wings–they are simply for show.
Learning to Worship Beauty at a Young Age
What I think is one of the most intriguing scenes throughout the story is the one that comes at the end.
She’s watching television with her father while she’s a young girl and a commercial comes on. It’s a car commercial with a woman lounging on the hood of the car with beautiful wings.
This is an image that we can probably all conjure in our heads because it’s something that happens all the time. Using an attractive person in an advertisement to sell a product. You don’t see unattractive people on giant billboards because that doesn’t sell as well as putting beautiful people on them.
So she’s seeing this beautiful woman with the wings and she’s drawn to the beauty of this woman.
But more importantly, her father is drawn to this woman. She sees a male, an influential male in her life, regarding a person as being important and worth noticing because of their beauty, because of their wings. This shows that behaviours have a huge impression on children and what they end up doing later in their life.
If we go back to the beginning of the story where she is allowing her son to pull on her wings, we see that she is taking her experience back from when she was a child and translating it into her being a parent. And this case choosing to show that respect is due towards her wings.
They are not simply an object separate from herself or the sum of her being. They are part of who she is but they are not all that she is. She strove so hard to gain something that didn’t end up being all that she was told it would be. She can’t go back from her decisions now but that doesn’t mean that she can’t change the decisions that are made by younger people in her life.
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