Monday, February 23, 2009

Woman on the Edge of Time

Woman on the Edge of Time is a traditional utopian structure. Here Connie guides us through the future, which is set in Mattapoisett, MA, by intentionally juxtaposing the two worlds: "She gloried in breathing outdoor air, in seeing more than four walls, in smelling trees instead of medicine and diarrhea and disinfectant" (88). Libby Falk Jones, in "Gilman, Bradley, Piercy, and the Evolving Rhetoric of Feminist Utopias" sees her path between these two worlds as a method for the reader to follow - as a "path of acceptance" which allows us to see her metaphorical sacrifices: including her lost first daughter, the death of her beloved first husband (a blind jazz musician), and finally herself (though not without the retribution of killing her doctors by parathion and thus sealing Luciente's future.)

But as utopian as this work may be, Luciente is at war – though a worthy war – with the robots who are connected to the technology of brain control. This same technology is being used on Connie by her doctors at the institution she has been forced back into (in the most convoluted story) by her daughter’s pimp, and so she has a vested interest in this war, and it is hardly surprising that she finally takes on her power and enlists as a fighter in this war of the future, which ironically she turns into a war against the institution presently torturing her. So in one world she has power and in the other, she is being robbed of it.

Connie's visits to the future, as noted in Professor Spark’s article, “Woman on the Edge of Time” often “mirror or compensate for aspects of her past or events on the ward.” Thank goodness, because they give the reader an “out” to the horror of watching the medical community experiment without hesitation on the “Other." Clearly the marginal nature of both Connie and her family members (her prostitute daughter Dolly, Dolly’s aborted six month old child, the drugs and starvation, Dolly’s abandonment of Nita – which, under the circumstances, is the kindest thing to do) – what a mess, and after the beatings and abortion and intolerable cruelty to Connie, one has to have an alternate world to escape all of this reality. It is simply too much. I'd much rather see Connie fight her oppressors than be the victim. Also, aspects of this future travel reminded me of the Avatars in World of Warcraft - where women are just as powerful as men, and can fly through time.

One aspect of this 1976 book that I found fascinating was the prostitute Gildina who undergoes surgery and drug treatments to "attain the exaggerated female traits her culture sees as beauty"; she is under some contract that requires her to be attractive! And this is 33 years ahead of Hollywood's addiction to plastic surgery. Now, when plastic surgery becomes a necessary ingredient to being a successful prostitute, we’ll know we are in a Piercy future.

Things I'd like to stay away from: the gender-neutral language, with its strong kinetic verbs, as well as the biological reproduction techniques and hormone induced milk from 2-3 parents of either sex. I have to keep in mind that at the time of publication, women were fighting to have equal educational opportunities and a place in male-dominated companies, and much more. I just wish we could be mothers in feminist texts without needing to force men into the biological roles of women. I wish men and women could stop punishing each other for being what they are, but honor it and give it equal weight and value.

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