Term Paper: Feminism/Humanities Love and the Developing

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[. . .] But that "new memory" is forced upon the girl, not by her own willed remembering, but by seeing her physical acts in the eyes of her brother and in society's eyes as an outrage.

The memories recounted by Duras in fact support a kind of loss or lack of will. Her mother, Duras states, when she suspects the daughter's sexual transgression "falls on me, locks me up in my room, punches me, undresses me, comes up to me and smells my body, my underwear, says she can smell the Chinese's scent, goes even further, looks for suspect stains on my underwear..." (58)

Here, Duras' young self is again tested, as she is as a much older woman at the beginning of her novel, tested to see whom and what she is in relationship a male body, and through the eyes of conventional morality. Here, she is what is not-Chinese, what is not her lover, when she is seen in the eyes of her mother, yet she becomes another entity entirely when under the touch and gaze of her lover, and in the eyes of her brother as well. Her mother attempts a cleaning of her daughter through violent force, much as the home was cleaned with water, and examines the daughter as if the girl's physical trappings could provide evidence of her deflowering and her impure penetration.

In such a world, the self and the female identity mutates and changes, is entirely dependant upon its relationship with others and can be completely changed as well in relation to the desires of others who relate to the young protagonist. The girl's memory and articulated desire, for good or for ill matters less than the evidence provided by the protagonist's underwear, the evidence of her body. Later, the protagonist's mother will use her relationship for her own enrichment, an experience that again underlines to the young girl that a woman never owns her sexuality, nor her body, but that it is owned and transformed by the outer workings of others.

This lacking or inability to affect the world is also seen in Love in a Small Town. Although a conventional romantic work of trade fiction, there are striking similarities between Duras' young self and the middle-aged heroine. In Love in a Small Town, the protagonist Molly has so little physical impact upon her surroundings she leaves her own bed virtually untouched and undisturbed. "Molly was a quiet sleeper, didn't hardly mess up a bed at all, whereas Tommy Lee always left the covers looking like he'd wrestled them all night." (1) The woman's sense of self is underdeveloped, even sleeping in bed, much less in sexual behavior, she leaves no trace.

Even sleeping chastely requires the female protagonist to be crowded by the male body, by Molly's husband.

Tommy "couldn't stand his feet to be cramped, so he tugged the sheet out at the bottom, and he shifted his body so hard that he got the fitted sheet all bunched up. Sometimes he got so rambunctious he would throw his pillow on the floor and then snatch Molly's right out from beneath her head, and the whole time he never woke from a sound sleep." (1-2)

Molly's body is too much, even too much in the construct of the marital bed for her husband to tolerate, a physical parallel with her emotional condition in the marriage. Likewise, the protagonist of The Lover is too much for her engaged Chinese lover to fully accept into his already 'crowded' life, and her body is weighted and judged and rendered alien to her own sense of identity and self, as the physical expressions she enjoys with her older lover become denigrated in the eyes of others.

The narrative voice does not recognize the tragic aspects of her relationship at first in Duras' novel, embracing the beauty, in the narrator's eyes, of a full, sensual awakening. But the passivity of the young girl mirrors the passivity of the older woman in the more conventional Love in a Small Town. Although Duras may claim the 'I' of narration, in contrast to Molly, this claim is still expressed in a relatively passive form of narration that captures sensual and sensuous experience in a camera-like fashion, rather than in an explicit, concrete and reflective manner. She is, thus, not so unlike the protagonist of Love in a Small Town, whom eventually and rather justifiably, in the reader's mind, enters into an extramarital affair. Molly cannot even see that her husband's physical kicking her out of the marital bed illustrates the emotional crowding she is experiencing in the relationship. Molly's careful tolerance of this, and her ginger manner around physical objects suggest a dissociation from her own body, gleaned from years of marriage. For Molly, even breaking a plate is a transgressive act of satisfaction, one of the few material act of destruction she is allowed in her physically confined world.

Molly eventually finds her identity through an affair with a man who is not her husband. The Lover's protagonist finds identity through physical expression with another individual from another cultural and national life. But both identities are constructed in relation to the male gaze and the male touch. One identity is the birth of a young girl's sensuality, the other the birth of a middle-aged woman's sense of self. But both are essentially identities constructed only in relation to what is male, in the male gaze and the mirror of the male eyes, and are ultimately unstable because they cannot be recognized in public, in a permanent fashion with the male. Because the reason for woman's existence, as articulated by Byron two centuries ago, is forbidden for these two heroines, they remain incomplete -- but only slightly more incomplete than the woman in a conventional relationship, one might add, whom exists only in relation to a permanent male fixture, as Duras' mother does with her son, and Molly at the beginning of Love in a Small Town to Tommy Lee.

Works Cited

Duras, Marguerite. The Lover. New York: Pantheon, 1998

Matlock, Curtiss Ann. Love in a Small Town. New York: Avon, 1997

Hill, Leslie. Marguerite Duras: Apocalyptic Desires. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Hoffman, Carol. Forgetting and Marguerite Duras. Boulder:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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