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wave of the feminist movement was at its highest influence, but she was at the beginning of the wave and many of her stories focus on the feminine and the ways in which society views them and how they view themselves. The 1960 story, ³Tell Me a Riddle´ show how a woman views herself in later life in regards to the different relationships and events of her life (779). Eva is the main female character. She has been married to David for forty-seven years. The children are all gone and David wants to retire. This is the point in which the reader is shown the male dominated ideal of the woman. David wanted to sell the home and move to a retirement community call ³Haven,´ ³but she ± would not consider it´ (Olsen, 780). Eva wants to stay where she it at. She believes that she has earned the right to live in her own home without the noise and responsibility of being a mother and full-time wife. She went about her daily routine and did not want to leave, ³because I¶m use¶t´ (Olsen, 780). It was more than just the comfort level for Eva. She had spent her life doing, and now ³she would not exchange her solitude for anything´ (Olsen 781). She wanted to relax and live out her days in the home she had created for her family. David, however, refuses to listen. He shows the male attitude toward women of the time by the little names he is constantly calling her throughout the story. From the beginning he creates names for her such as ³Mrs. Word Miser´ (Olsen 781), ³Mrs. Enlightened´ (Olsen 782), ³Mrs. Take It Easy´ (Olsen 783) as well as ³Mrs. Live Alone´ (Olsen 800). There were many other names he used, but the connotation is the same for each. It is a sarcastic way of letting Eva know that her wants, needs, ideas are not important to him. Only his wants and needs are important. His need to be with others is more important than her need to ³being able at last to live within, and not move to the rhythms of others´ (Olsen 782). It is not until the end of the story, when Eva is dying does the true affect of her strength make him understand that she just wanted to spend the last years or months in her own home
as she wanted and as no one dictated her to be in relation to others. She wanted to be the individual who fought in the 1905 Revolution and held onto the independence she had as a young woman. It was through her memories of their youth in Russia that David understands a little as to what Eva gave up to be his wife and the mother of his children in the United States. It was more than she would have given up in Russia, but she came with him to America for a better life, at least for him and the children. ³Tell Me a Riddle´ is not just a story about lost independence, but the fact that the independence was oppressed. It is also a story about a mother wanted her children, her daughters to have a better life. She sees them doing as she did, giving up her independence for the children, but she also knows that it is what is expected and she just hopes they will not follow her by allowing oppression to rule their lives. For Eva, independence is regained with her dementia, and before death she is able to be free again.
Olsen, Tillie. "Tell Me a Riddle." The Longman Anthology of Women's Literature. Ed. Mary K. DeShazer. New York: Longman, 2001. 778-803.