Conformity in “The Secret Woman” and “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”

The short stories “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” and “The Secret Woman” both have one thing in common: the theme of conformity. The short story “The Secret Woman” deals with female expectations of sexuality. For context, “The Secret Woman” was written in the first half of the 1900s. In the short story, a man who attends a sex party on his own accord is shocked when his wife, Irene, sneaks off to a sex party. The husband uses the term “Imprisoned” to describe the arms of the men engaged with Irene at the party, suggesting a possessiveness to her sexuality. Furthermore, Irene’s hands are described as demonic by her husband, displaying that he views her sexuality as “sinful”, which reflects on puritanical views of women at the time that the story was written. While the husband goes to the sex party for his own enjoyment, he only sees a fault in his wife being there, displaying the double standards in female and male sexuality and how they are able to be expressed. Irene defying conformity exposes the harsh reality of how women’s sexuality was viewed at the time, and how it is in many ways, viewed now. 

Likewise, the short story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” shares the common theme of conformity. Dina, the main character, is a black woman at Yale. Throughout the story, Dina is shown to isolate herself, even from Heidi, who is portrayed as her only friend. She isolates herself by stocking up on ramen in order to avoid talking to others, denying her own sexuality, and describing herself as a revolver when asked the question of an object that she would be. These examples of her trying to stray away from her peers reflect her refusal to conform at Yale, a place where, throughout the story, it is evident that she feels isolated at. Her race, sexuality, and backround all contribute to this. She is one of the few black people at the PWI and faces a crisis of identity due to her sexuality that causes her to go through self-loathing. Her family life, with her dead mother, invertedly caused her to be harsh to Heidi, following the death of Heidi’s mother. Her isolation causes her to not conform to the other students at Yale, resulting in her moving back to Baltimore with an Aunt that she barely knew. 

Both “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” and “The Secret Woman” deal with non-conformity as a result of identity, whether that be gender, race, or sexuality. 

2 thoughts on “Conformity in “The Secret Woman” and “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”

  1. Isabella K.

    I didn’t read “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” but can totally see the similarities and parallel between the two just by your post. I think as you addressed, the “Secret Woman” really presents the idea of double standards within our society.

    Like

  2. VICTORIA H

    I really like the way you connected both stories and showed that even if the premises are different, there are a lot of greater human truths that can be drawn from the stories we read.

    Like

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