The Coquette

A Woman’s Damnation College

‘The Coquette’ by by Hannah W. Foster is about a young woman, Eliza Wharton, who has an inclination towards coquettish behaviors. The story is a series of letters that warns Eliza about the danger of her life choices, which is primarily a choice between two men, Reverend Boyer and Major Sanford, to court and possibly soon to marry. Both men have very polarized characteristics – the former is a reputable, serious Reverend and the other is openly known as a libertine. Eliza’s life is pressured by the expectations from the women in her life. The main theme revolves around the contemporary American society and the freedom of female choices within a confined selection; anything outside the selection is deemed as morally depriving by society. Eliza’s life is a clash between competing ideas, the vertical versus the horizontal social construct. At the end, Foster justifies the destruction of coquetry through Eliza’s death. ‘The Coquette’ is clearly a cautionary tale. However, there are aspects of the book that critiques the impossible expectation of women by society. The main question Foster poses is that whether the story, to what extent, endorse the prevailing social morality?

Foster articulates the expected social morality of a...

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