March 4, 2008

Woman on the Edge of Time

Woman on the Edge of TimeCalvin gave me Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy, for a birthday gift. It was written in 1976 and features a world set at that time, seen through the eyes of a poor disenchanted Hispanic woman living in the slums of New York City. Consuelo, the narrator of this novel, wonders if she is going crazy because she begins seeing and talking to a man who claims to be from the future. She ends up in a psychiatric ward for other reasons, and comes to believe that there is a utopian future that runs a risk of not happening, depending on what she can do in the present day.

There are several layers to this book. At one level, this is a book that looks at and criticizes the treatment of and attitudes towards people who have been deemed by the rest of society as crazy. Piercy depicts a situation, based on reality, where these psychiatric patients are treated more like laboratory animals and sub-human creatures undeserving of consideration. This is also seen in the racial segregation between Caucasians and Hispanics. Consuelo lives in a world where she is ugly, poor, and must suffer the whims of those in power. Those in power are the white men and women who run the world and they are rich and beautiful, living with control over their own lives.

Another layer is brought out in the presentation of this utopia that Consuelo learns of and begins to love. In this future, her child is reborn carefree and loved instead of poor and stolen away. People live close to the earth, as large extended families who share material goods and love freely. It is a world where anyone can do what they wish, and both physical and mental illness are completely understood and easily cured. No one is wanting, although at the same time no one wants. It's both attractive and at the same time does not seem right. Idealistic but not at all realistic. But then they've figured out how to breed out the qualities they consider harmful.

Lastly there is a question of belief. It's never clear whether or not Consuelo is actually imagining things, or if she really is able to travel through her mind to the future and live there among those people as if she were there in physical form. The copy on the back of my book implies her experiences are real, but in truth the novel does not. If it is the truth, then calling her crazy and locking her up could be the worst thing for all of us. If it isn't the truth, then she really is crazy and probably needs to be there. How can you ever know?

Posted by josuah at March 4, 2008 4:25 AM UTC+00:00

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