Though the duties of a wife have changed in the forty years since “I Want a Wife” was written by Judy Brady, the voice of the essay maintains the same rebellious energy that makes modern day women want to raise a fist to the man or, rather, men. America has come far in those forty years, replacing the idea of a nuclear family and quiet, obedient wife with that of single parent households often comprised of a parent and one or two dependent children. The majority of women seem to have rightfully come to the conclusion that the love of a man does not equate to happiness, and the idea of feminism has become increasingly relevant. That is what makes “I Want a Wife” such an effective work. If one did not give the audience an indication of when the piece was written, it would easily be applicable to today’s feminist movement. Brady ensnares her audience with the use of rhetorical appeals, satirical tone, and parallelism, creating an atmosphere of indignation that beckons both genders to come forward and confess their faults.
The author makes a point of opening by appealing to ethos, establishing herself as a wife and mother, so that fellow women can know she is writing from a perspective of experience and trust her knowledge of the feminine role in the family. The very first statement she makes establishes this respect with the careful diction, “I belong,” and from that moment the idea of a wife includes all women who belong to that “classification” (Brady p. 1). After all, they are not independent women, but rather indentured to their spouse. She makes further appeals, subtly to pathos, and more obviously to logos throughout the piece.
Brady states her case by building a logical though satirical argument, each responsibility that is expected of wives forming another brick to add to the foundation of the dispute over gender roles. Though the essay is only two pages in length, the listing of responsibilities intentionally seems to stretch on forever, the author mentioning extensive duties such as scheduling, cooking, cleaning, and physically caring for every member of the household except herself (Brady p 2-3). The audience is able to follow along with this logical appeal and visualize the absurdity of the duties wives are expected of. Readers of every gender, sexuality, and financial standing recognize that one human being is not capable of performing such tasks on their own and thus the roles that have always applied to females are unrealistic and out of touch.
The third appeal that the author targets is more subtle, but because it is an emotional appeal it is potentially the strongest and most effective. Pathos causes the reader to feel something, and Brady is particularly able to cause such feelings in the women who read this article, whether it be back then in 1971 or present day in 2015. The voice of the essay speaks with increasingly heated language, bringing to mind the volatile tenor of an angry husband standing over his cowering wife rather than the calm, ladylike soprano heard in the introduction. One feels the transition from the feminine “I was ironing one evening” to the masculine speaker begging for peace from all those “rambling complaints” (Brady p. 2, 5). Audience members who are in long term relationships begin to question who the ‘wife’ is in their situation and a fire slowly builds inside them. The essay compels readers to feel rebellious, guilty, or insulted, and it has been invoking these emotions for forty years. These appeals pair nicely with the next effective tactic Judy Brady utilizes – her tone.
The composer of this piece presides as royalty over the kingdom of satire. She tells her story coyly at first, and though she has twisted her argument into something much darker by the conclusion, it never loses its wit and sarcasm. The pitiful husband preaching Brady’s words just cannot seem to get what he wants in life – what a shame! Each satirical quip is like an additional stab wound to the wives’ oppressors, their guilt oozing out onto the freshly scrubbed tile floor, until we finally reach the cause of death. The final line, “my god, who wouldn’t want a wife”, is dripping in sarcasm, as well as something thicker and darker, because the tone with which it is read is absolutely lethal (Brady p. 10). The author crafts her tone with such delicacy that it leaves the reader awestruck and craving more, a technique which is aided by her consistent use of the literary technique parallelism.
If one were to skim “I Want a Wife”, as people often do rather than immersing themselves in the prose, the use of repetition and parallelism is blatantly obvious. The title of the piece is more than an introduction of the topic, but a chant that grows slowly louder the further one reads. Nearly every sentence of the essay begins in the same way, “I want a wife…,” and rather than getting monotonous with this repetition like a pop song overplayed on the radio, Brady is capable of making these parallel phrases more meaningful with each utterance (Brady p. 1-10). This needy desire for an automaton-like spouse spirals downward from the role of receptionist to sex slave within a matter of ten paragraphs, hitting the reader with such candidness they are left reeling and in need of something to cleanse their minds from such brutal thoughts – which is exactly what the author wants. Her goal is make people feel dirty about the roles given to women in society, and for them to want to change the way the female population is viewed. With every repetition of the essay’s title, the author draws the audience further in. Every time they hear the phrase “I want a wife” followed by some obligatory chore, another person commits themselves to aiding the feminists’ cause (Brady p. 1-10).
Judy Brady wrote this piece in 1971, as a woman in a strange time in the United States. Equality was being fought for on all fronts, and it is difficult to realize that four decades later that war has not been won. “I Want a Wife” is so effective because it is unfortunately still relevant to society, and the fire of rebellion and change has not yet reached its highest heat (Brady). The author’s honesty is pertinent to the thoughts of women all across America. Aided by her use of literary techniques like rhetorical appeals, satirical tone, and parallelism, Brady crafted a timeless piece of art that stokes the fire of change, a nearly impossible feat for most people. The essay makes the reader want to get up and do something to change the world, and any work capable of inflicting such energy is impossible to argue against.
Brady, Judy. “I Want a Wife.” 1971. Essay. January 2015.