Persian Letters

Quasi-Hopelessness and Martyrdom in Persian Letters College

Persian Letters seems like a hopeless account lobbying against female empowerment. Starting from each of the wives’ opening letters to Usbek and continuing to Roxana’s death by suicide at the end of the novel, at first glance, these letters reek of despair and cyclical dread for womankind during this time period. However, while these epistles might seem to speak to insurmountable irreparability and impossibility for gender equality, deeper inspection reveals a heavily feminist manifesto circumventing this society. These feminist undertones are largely seen in Roxana’s sacrificial death, as well as the writings about the Female Paradise. But even aside from these plot points, there is a consistent tone of female rights providing an underpinning throughout all of the novel. This alternate, empowering reading encourages unique sources of power for these women; they may not be able to fully escape the hell they are subjected to in an optimal manner, but time and time again, their writings and actions remind readers that female agency is possible, depending on how they look for it.

The wives in The Persian Letters portray a prime example of protofeminity. Usbek’s wives are submissive in every way, but oftentimes, this behavior is...

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