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Throughout time people have been questioning their society. Many wonder if the beliefs and customs of their culture are actually what is in the interest of themselves or even the masses. Times of hardship can create strong and powerful people to bring about change; however the means to achieve such is relevant to ones morals or ethics. For many would agree utilitarianism is the best route to take when trying to appease most individuals; however what can be the consequences of such “happiness”? Marge Piercy attempts to create a utopian society that practices this idea, but to achieve such a success many present social beliefs must be annihilated.
Mothering plays a major theme in Piercy’s novel Woman on the Edge of Time. She not only uses a mother as the main character, but creates a whole utopian society based on the mother. Piercy contributes this novel as a political statement to address the hardships and social injustices of the powerless.
Woman on the Edge of Time is a story of a middle aged Chicano woman who has been denied the right to live with the socially prudent. According to Kevstin Shands, Piercy says: “It is primarily a novel about Connie. There’s a lot about social injustice in it, and about how a woman stops hating herself and becomes able to love herself enough to fight for her own survival” (66). In Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time the motif of mothering is the basis of the story; she uses a mother as the protagonist and creates a utopian society based on the strength of the nurturing.
To see how the mother theme is woven throughout the story one must observe how Connie is in the present, as well as the future. In the present Connie is considered a degenerate. She has grown to be a woman that is rejected by society because she is uneducated, Hispanic, poor, and more importantly female. The future world is one that contradicts the present. It is the utopia that embraces Connies’ passive and submissive qualities; intern causing Connie to break free from the oppression of the modern times by giving her a feeling of self worth.
In the beginning chapter Piercy establishes the character Connie Ramos as a very sensitive nurturer. With the entrance of Dolly, Connie’s niece, we see Connie play the role as mother to the distraught and beaten niece. “Awkwardly Connie embraced her [Dolly’s] shoulders, her hands slipping on the satin of her blouse” ( 9). Piercy’s description here causes the reader to view this scene as soothing; her use of the sensual words like embrace and slipping on the satin bring a feeling of relief; for Dolly is now safe from harm. Piercy further describes Connie’s care to Dolly as follows: “She undressed Dolly tenderly as a baby, but her niece groaned and cursed and wept more” (11). This is a very important line. The nurturing act is not received as positive. This negativity is not only due to the pain Dolly is feeling, but is representative of Connie being rejected as a mother in the modern time. When Geraldo arrives Dolly and her unborn child are threatened. His plans to abort the baby encourage the nurturing mother instinct within Connie to protect her helpless niece. Elaine Hansen describes the scene:
The instrument of violence she chooses-presumably because it is nearest to hand-carries marked symbolic weight. As we learn a little later, the bottle, one of the few decorations in Connie’s bleak two-room flat, contained dried flowers and grasses gathered on a rare family outing, a picnic with her estranged brother, Luis, her niece Dolly, and Dolly’s baby daughter Nita. What Connie remembers most about this picnic is that Nita, just learning to walk, fell asleep in her arms, and that she was allowed to hold her: “She had sat on the blanket burning, transfigured with holding that small sweet-breathing flush-faced morsel” (WET 34). It is the erotic, sensual, “transfiguring” possibility of holding an infant that Connie unwittingly throws away, in effect, when she scatters the “nostalgic grasses” (WET 16) and breaks the wine jug over Geraldo’s nose. At the same time, in committing this act she takes the offensive as a mother and on behalf of mothers and mothering. (24)
The bottle is used as a symbol of birth and power, but represents an unnatural way to feed ones child. For the woman is a vessel which carries life. We also see the bottle used as the destructive force that claims victory over Connie’s oppressive doctors by it being used as the instrument to carry Connie’s poison. One further discovers the symbolic vessel used in Piercy’s future utopia. The “Brooder”, which refers to a machine that bottles babies again is reinforcing this idea. Piercy continues to represent the bottle or the lack there of by having the future mothers or “Coms”, feed their child with their own breast instead of the extraneous bottle. After Connie has committed the motherly act of protecting “her almost child [Dolly)” (20); she is within the clutches of the vile modern system. Connie no longer has the rights given to the free individual. The war has begun; she will no longer tolerate the abuse that has been dealt to her throughout her life. The patriarch society has interfered too long to sufficiently achieve happiness within Connie. For her whole life Connie has been pushed around as a women. “All my life been pushed around by my father, by my brother Luis, by schools, by bosses, by cops, by doctors and lawyers and caseworkers and pimps and landlords. By everybody who could push” (99). The present society continues to subdue Connie by placing her within the confines of a mental institution; where the patriarchal system attempts to rid her of her nurturing affliction. “You have a recurrent disease, like someone who has a recurrent malaria” (373). Locked up and fed with many tranquilizers she starts to reflect upon her situation. In a despondent state of self-pity and self-hatred, Piercy has Connie venture to past agonizing events. “As a mother, your actions are disgraceful and uncontrolled.” (60). This statement best sums up the present society’s view of Connie’s mothering ability.
Connie’s time traveling friend Luciente is Piercy’s way to introduce Connie and the reader to her (Piercy’s) utopian vision, Mattapoisett. “Indeed, Connie is chosen for the visitation project because of her extraordinary capacity for empathy” (Orr 62). Libby Jones writes: “Interacting with the future allows Connie to rescue her present as well as preserve and even reinvent her past. Rather than establish past, present, as a logical continuum, the novel blends them in Connie’s consciousness” (123). In defiance of the patriarchal society Piercy has her protagonist’s imprisoning characteristic be the qualifying factor that causes Connie to travel into the future. While locked in seclusion in her despondent state Connie is visited by Luciente. This scene is reflective of the previously discussed scene with Dolly. Now finding herself (Connie) in the abused state Dolly was, Connie is offered the same nurturing that she offered Dolly earlier: “Luciente came over and cautiously put an arm around her [Connie’s], shoulder” (67). Piercy simulates these two episodes to foreshadow the embracing of Connie’s own self. The idea is that Connie, a mother, must be nurtured herself by society to be a self-loving and sufficient mother. Here Connie ventures with Luciente to the magnificent town of Mattapoisett. Piercy’s description is very sensual to again stress the nurturing theme. Connie has arrived at the pinnacle of freedom. This futuristic place is one in which the mother is respected and considered the most vital and important asset. “.She [Connie] smelled salt in the air, a marsh tang. A breeze ruffled the loose rag of dress, chilling her calves . [Luciente states] look how pretty it is!” (68). Piercy has created a society that is not patriarchal, but matriarchal. Piercy even uses the character’s names as a pun to the different societies. Luis and Luciente are obviously both derivatives of the same root name Lue. She uses this subtle writing tactic to convey the idea of the two extremely opposite cultures. Luis the oppressor and brother of Connie is used to represent the oppression by the present culture, for he is the one that commits Connie to the mental institution, and the one that permits the doctors to experiment on her. Luciente the liberator, is the one that not only physically frees Connie from her seclusion, but mentally frees her as well. Luciente is the driving factor that encourages Connie to become self loving and self-respecting. Mattapoisett is full of many intriguing things. When Connie arrives, she is surprised to see that the residents live in what she refers, “Way out in the sticks.” Luciente replies by stating: “We don’t have big cities-they didn’t work” (68).
According to Patrricia Huckle, Piercy’s Utopian future fits the feminist mold. Huckle writes:
Piercy.follow[s] the ideological issues outlined by Firestone: …the first demand for any alternative system must be: 1) the freeing of woman from the tyranny of their reproductive biology by every means available, and the diffusion of the childbearing role to the society as a whole2) the full self-determination, including economic independence, of both women and children3) the total integration of women and children into all aspects of the larger society, [and] 4) the freedom of all women and children to do whatever they wish to do sexually. (131)
Piercy manages to fulfill all of the requirements. In Mattapoisett biological birthing is no longer the accepted norm of society. All humans are born from a machine called the “Brooder”. “All in a sluggish row, babies bobbed. Mother the machine.Languidly they drifted in a blind school.” While viewing the mother machine Connie sees, “One dark female was kicking” (102). This scene reflects to a statement Connie makes earlier in the novel when she is watching children play on a playground. “Yes, the girl who kicks herself would be mine” (40)! The reoccurring idea of a kicking child causes the reader to associate it as a symbol of Connie. The idea behind the kicking child represents the growing revolutionary conception Connie is conceiving. While in the future utopia Connie discovers many differences among the present and future culture. They (citizens of Mattapoisett) have decided to make mothering a child a community affair; however there are three mothers or “Coms” that serve as the child’s main source of nurturing. It does not matter though if one is male. He is still able to mother and even able to breast feed if he chooses. In present society the idea of the adoptive “family” is considered to have a negative dogma. Charlene Miall states, “.attitudes within the larger community toward adoption contributes to a sense of stigma.which influences [the] perception of [the] families as real or genuine” (34). “The community [Mattapoisett] feels that mothering should not get mixed up with sexual love because a child might become caught in the disagreements that are prone to occur in a love situation. For this reason, comothers.are not sexually involved with one another” (Adams 41). Because of the matriarchal society all member either male or female are able to benefit their culture without being restricted to the stereo typical sexual roles. “Everybody takes turns [completing a required task]” (100). The children are considered adults at the age of twelve. All youths go through ritual passage where they wander into the wilderness and stay for a week in seclusion. They do this to relieve their coms as their mother duties and to achieve a sense of self. After being exposed to this paradise Connie is equipped with self-worth and respect giving her the ability to conquer the oppressive doctors. “I killed them. Because it is war” (375). Judith Gardiner writes: “Deprived of her own daughter, Connie dedicates her assassination to you who will be born from my best hopes”( 75). This statement truly exemplifies Connie Ramos as a heroic nurturing mother.
To question one’s society is the only way to bring about necessary change. The present offers many differing view points on our cultures customs and beliefs. Piercy’s character Connie Ramos is a strong individual that protects society from the menacing of future oppressive technologies. Piercy’s utopian civilization allows the reader to see a completely free community without the restraint of stereo-typical sexual roles to prevent happiness and success. Piercy believes the key to a blissful utopia lies with the ability to nurture as the mother does.
Adams, Karen C. “The Utopian Vision Of Marge Piercy in Woman on the Edge of Time. “Way of Knowing: Essays on Marge Piercy. Ed. Sue Walker and Eugene Hammer. Mobile: Negative Capability, 1991: 39-49.
Gardiner, Judith Kegan. “Evil, Apocalypse, and Feminist Fiction.” Frontiers 7.2 (1983): 74-80.
Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. “Mothers Tomorrow and Mothers Yesterday, But Never Mothers Today: Woman on the Edge of Time and The Handmaid’s Tale. Ed. Brenda O. Maurrent Riddy. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P., 1991: 21-43.
Huckle, Patricia. “Women in Utopias.” The Utopian Vision. Ed. Sullivan. San Diego State UP, 1983: 115-136.
Jones, Falk Libby. “Gilman, Bradley, Piercy, and the Evolving Rhetoric of Feminist Utopias.” Feminism, Utopia, and Narrative. Knoxville: Tennessee UP, 1990: 116-126.
Miall, Charlene F. “The Stigma of Adoptive Parent Status: Perceptions of Community Attitudes Toward Adoption and he Experience of Informal Social Sanctioning.” Family Relations. 36.1 (1987): 34-39.
Orr, Elaine. “Mothering as a Good Fiction: Instance from Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time.” The Journal of Narrative Technique. 23.2 (1993): 61-77.
Piercy, Marge. Woman on the Edge of Time.” New York: Fawcett Crest 1976.
Shands, Kerstin. “Woman on the Edge of Time.” The Repair of the World: The Novels of Marge Piercy.” Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994: 65-82.
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