Medea Versus the Domestic Sphere | Teen Ink

Medea Versus the Domestic Sphere

February 20, 2021
By maavistar BRONZE, Santa Clara, California
maavistar BRONZE, Santa Clara, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

In ancient Greece, women were responsible for their important yet submissive role to men in a household. They were also expected to stay in and be in charge of the domestic sphere, which was what allowed men to have an heir to their power. As a result, the widely believed inferiority of women socially restricted them from shattering the domestic sphere and ruining any chances of their husbands gaining a successor. When the Nurse says, “No household exists anymore” (Line 139), there is an enhancement of the idea that Medea kills her sons to rebel against the domestic space and the oppressive men in her life.

Medea, like many other Greek women at the time, was usually confined mostly by her husband because of her role as a mother. In turn, she gives herself a strong justification for a rebellion against the domestic space. When Medea says, “They, men, allege that we enjoy a life secure from danger safe at home, while they confront the thrusting spears of war. That’s nonsense: I would rather join the battle rank of shields three times than undergo birth-labor once” (Lines 247-52), she is seen to emphasize how the duty of a man possesses much more honor than the duty of a woman in ancient Greece since a woman’s purpose is only understood to be giving birth to a male heir. Using “allege” to describe the actions of men towards women, Medea invokes a sense of strong authority given unjustly to men. Her tone indicates that women are obliged to be safe at home just to benefit men by producing a child. Meanwhile, the men are expected to fight for their country against the “thrusting spears of war” and can still die gloriously as women are not even given the same chance to prove their stature. Just the thought that Medea would “rather join the battle rank of shields three times than undergo birth-labor once” continues to intensify not only the tension between a man and a woman but also the tension between a mother and a child since the children are the outcomes of the discriminatory restrictions a man has placed on a woman. Destroying the results of her confinement, her sons, eventually becomes the only key for her to overcome oppressive men.

Medea is often shown to believe that Jason’s dominance in society is the reason for her murder of her children and, thus, a violation of the domestic space. When Medea says, “May you fare well, but over there: your father has despoiled what there is here. Your lovely touch, your silken skin, and such sweet children’s breath...but it’s my anger dominates my resolution—anger, the cause of all the greatest troubles for humanity” (Lines 1073-84, 1079-80), her main point here always revolves around the representation of the condition of an average Greek woman married to a supposedly superior husband. As she says “your father has despoiled what there is here,” she identifies yet another problem with the domestic space where not only do men get all the glory, but they also “despoil” the children from their mother by giving them power and status that men like Jason value over love. This deepens Medea’s struggle with the idea of the domestic sphere and gives her more of an incentive to shatter it. However, destroying the sphere also inflicts a feeling of grief in her because the only way for her to accomplish her goal would be to kill her children. She also emphasizes the expression of anger as “the cause of all the greatest troubles for humanity,” which strengthens her emotions to overcome oppressive men. Throughout the play, Medea often refers back to her anger and her rejection of the status of women, and she was only able to restrain herself from unleashing all of that pent up anger for so long. Not even her pure love as a mother was able to control how badly she wanted a change in her life filled with the orthodox ideas of oppressive men and the domestic sphere.

As Medea finally reaches her objective of shattering the domestic space, she also seeks a solution to the male-dominant society she lives in and is eventually able to achieve that solution for herself. Medea says [to Jason], “Why rattle these doors, and try to force them open? Searching for the bodies and for me the one who did it? Then abandon all this effort. And if you have some need of me, then speak up if you wish. But you shall never lay your hands on me” (Lines 1316-21). Even though Jason is being literal in rattling the doors and trying to force them open, Euripides references the time when Medea herself tried to make Jason open to her and love her when he left her. By going back to this idea, he wants the reader to recollect all of Medea’s years of suffering and staying in line with the domestic sphere, but now she is ultimately able to overcome that orthodox concept. Euripides’ writing also highlights the irony of how Jason is the one now actually trying to get a hold on Medea and hunt her down for what she has done. Quickly, Medea then changes her tone to be much more independent when she says “if you have some need of me” and “but you shall never lay your hands on me.” After she lets go of her experiences of the past with Jason (what she wants to get back), Medea gains the ability to overcome the oppressor who has been limiting her actions right from the very beginning. 

By the end of the play, the Chorus addresses the thoughts that “the endings expected do not come to pass” (Line 1417). Ultimately, Medea started by seeking to disintegrate the domestic sphere, which seemed to her as the only barrier between her and freedom from the oppression of men in society. Although she reached her goal, readers are still left with the intriguing idea of how the gods only slightly intervened in the play, which only involved references to the gods’ names and prayers to them despite the actions of Helios, Medea’s grandfather. Overall, the play was widely and primarily based on human actions and choices. Therefore, it can be juxtaposed to the Odyssey, in which the excitement of Odysseus’ journey came almost purely from the involvement of the gods and the men’s reaction to the involvement of the gods.    

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