Two Short Stories and Their Symbolism … Essay
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Carlos Fuentes's short story "The Doll Queen" uses rich symbolism and a sentimental tone to draw attention to problems related to sexism and prejudice. The narrator recalls a delightful girl from his childhood when he finds a map she drew him. On a whim and with the desire to recreate an idealized past, the narrator follows the instructions on the map to the girl's childhood home. Amilamia's parents answer the door and speak about their daughter as if she is dead. Then, a doll fashioned after Amilamia becomes a macabre sort of "idolatry" that makes the narrator uncomfortable (Fuentes 304). Although the narrator has certainly idealized the memory of Amilamia, the parents have allowed their memories to become morbid. The narrator later returns to the house and meets Amilamia, alive but confined to her home like a prisoner. She has clearly been physically and mentally abused. The hope of reconnecting with his childhood friend dissolves in the face of the tremendous cruelty exhibited by Amilamia's parents. "The Doll Queen" symbolizes prejudices against women, and against disabled women in particular.
The narrator is a twenty-nine-year-old bachelor who has a good career and is a working professional. However, he remains unmarried. Although his life is pleasant, he feels that it is missing companionship. He therefore yearns for excitement and the thrill of a quest, which leads to him being curious about a woman he once loved when he was a teenager: Amilamia. Amilamia was younger than the narrator and therefore retains the aura of innocence about her. The two never had a sexual relationship. She will always remain doll-like to the narrator. Dolls symbolize innocence of childhood, prior to the sexual yearnings of adolescence. A doll also symbolizes the way females are prevented from growing up.
Therefore, "The Doll Queen" opens with reminiscence and sentimentality. Byt the end of the story, the sentimentality fades into stark reality. The narrator had been living in the past, evidenced by his being fixated on the memory of Amilamia. Yet the narrator had no idea how unhealthy such a high degree of sentimentality can bring until he shows up at Amilamia's house. The narrator had been used to living in a fantasy world, and has done so since he was a student who skipped school to read books. In fact, the narrator had once believed he was as good as any author in print, which parallels his rich fantasy life. Amilamia becomes "fixed forever in time," or "frozen" because he can only see what he wants to see from the crystallized forms of his memories (Fuentes 295). Nothing, however, could come close to the level of "freezing" that takes place with the parents who treat their daughter as if she is dead and worship a doll in her image instead.
When the narrator first meets Amilamia's parents, he feels instantly sad and disconnected from them. Whereas the parents could have been happy to converse with someone who loved their daughter, they instead implore the young man to describe Amilamia for them in a macabre way. The parents are engaged in the reconstruction of a holographic image of Amilamia, rather than acknowledge that their daughter is still alive. When the parents admit to beating Amilamia at the end of the story, the narrator faces the stark reality of her imprisonment. The narrator is sad and disappointed, yet he remains innocent. Unlike the parents, the narrator is shocked back to reality. The parents ironically view Amilamia as the "Devil's spawn," when in fact, the parents themselves are the Devils in question. They have imprisoned their own daughter and readily beat her.
The narrator eventually returns to rationality after meeting the parents. He comes to the decision that his memory of Amilamia before her fall was just that, a memory. Seeing Amilamia as she is now forces the narrator to reckon with the truth. He needs to move on and let go of the past. The map that Amilamia drew him gave the narrator a sense of purpose in life. Now he can create new memories and life paths because otherwise he would risk ending up like the sick parents. "Suddenly the ogres of my imagination are two solitary, abandoned, wounded old people, scarcely able to console themselves in the shuddering clasp of hands that fills me with shame," (Fuentes 302). The narrator is thankful to have had Amilamia's map, because had he not visited her house, he never would have realized that the path of living in the past only leads to continual sorrow and self-destruction. Living in the past can bring about great cruelty, too, as witnessed in the terrible treatment of Amilamia.
With "The Doll Queen," Fuentes makes a powerful statement about gender and sexuality. Just as the narrator freezes the memory of Amilamia, so too is the notion of the "quintessentially female" something that is frozen, fixed, and immutable in a patriarchal society (Fuentes 295). Amilamia's parents believe that their daughter is a "Devil's spawn" because she is disabled and far from the ideal of feminine beauty. They refuse to accept Amilamia for who she is because she has no role or value to the family as a female who is unmarried. The parents view Amilamia as a great burden. On the other hand, the narrator had come to love Amilamia regardless of who she was or what her body was capable of. The narrator might have crystallized memories of his friend, but those memories are harmless compared to the way the parents have turned Amilamia into a "false cadaver," or a "sad impotent memory" at best (Fuentes 302-303). Meeting the parents awakens the narrator to the realization that living in the past can be psychologically harmful. As Ibsen accomplished in "A Doll's House," Fuentes shows that a patriarchal society views women as dolls and not as human beings. As the narrator is part of a younger generation, though, there is some hope that his encounter with Amilamia at the end of the story will end the destructive cycle of patriarchal power.
Dolls also symbolize religion and idolatry, and Fuentes seems to be making a comment both about sexism and religion in "The Doll Queen." The doll represents the ways women are prevented from growing up and expressing their sexuality, and also the ways women are not accepted in society unless they conform to the doll-like ideals of feminine beauty. More than that, dolls symbolize the ways people become fixated on thoughts and ideas. The way the parents worship their daughter in doll form, even while hating their real daughter, reveals a sickness at the heart of all human idolatry. Religious icons, which would have been commonplace in Mexico City where "The Doll Queen" is set, distract worshippers from the realities of daily life. Fuentes makes the connection between religious idolatry and the sick treatment of Amilamia in doll form through the fact that the parents use a rosary, which the narrator views as anachronistic. He states, "I haven't seen one of those old-fashioned rosaries since my childhood," (Fuentes 299). Religion does not give the parents any solace or happiness. In fact, Fuentes uses the story to show how religion only serves to distract people from reality. Focusing on the doll instead of their daughter, the parents also focus on the rosary instead of solving their problems rationally.
Therefore, Fuentes uses the symbol of the doll to draw attention to multiple facets of human existence. The doll first seems to represent the innocence of childhood, which all people naturally seek in some ways. The narrator has a healthy relationship with the past, as even when it seems he thinks too much about the past, he does come back to the present when he sees what excessive reminiscence can do to a person. Second, the doll symbolizes the restriction of women's rights in a patriarchal society. Women are supposed to look like dolls, be quiet and docile like dolls, and remain sexually immature like dolls too. Also, women are supposed to be physically perfect like dolls and if they are not perfect, girls may be beaten by their parents. Finally, in "The Doll Queen," the doll represents religious idolatry and the psychological harm that can come from that too.
In "The Chosen Husband," Mavis Gallant paints a picture of life in Montreal. The story reveals the differences between generations of women, but also between different women of the same generation as Marie and Berthe are sisters not too far apart in age but who are very different from one another. Berthe is the older sister who Marie often looks up to, and yet Marie seems far more traditional than her older sister. Berthe does not seem overly interested in marriage and has a string of affairs with unavailable men. Marie, on the other hand, seems to relish the idea of a traditional marriage and eventually does find one of the most eligible bachelors in town. Marriage often takes center stage in a woman's life, especially in… [END OF PREVIEW]
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