Imagery of Locked Women

Corey Binns '00 English 27, 1997

Locks regulate the rising feminized rivers of the fens in Waterland, controlling the natural with powerful man-made tools. Metaphors of locked women appear in all three novels, threading the commonly bound woman to inaccessibility. The roles of motherhood lock women into the responsibility and duty of caring for their children. In Shame, the three mothers chose to lock themselves away from the outside by ordering a padlock requiring the strength of three men to place it on their front door. The size of the lock defined the magnitude of their desire to be safe, to shield their child from the incredible force of the outside from which they wish to hide. Curiosity forced the locksmith to inquire why the mothers needed to hide behind the enormous lock; for, he reasons, the "invasion has already occurred," (Rushdie, 9). Although the locksmith referred to the invasion of colonizers, more indiscreet invasions on the mothers have also taken place. Their ornate party brought with it an invasion of well dressed suitors, one of which the three sisters chose to father their first born. This suitor invades the body of a sister, which in turn produces an invasion into her womb. A similar yet more controversial invasion takes place within the body of Helen Atkinson Crick by her father, believing his sperm would supplant the future Savior of the World into his daughter. The invasion succeeds because Helen mothers her father's son, yet fails miserably as a saving grace for the planet; the Savior is born a "potato head". These stories of procreation lead us to define motherhood as a consequence of the male invasion, abandoning women with both the rubble and loot of warfare -- children.

So often, society and tradition lock up the female "empty vessel", suggesting the privacy of her genitalia remain secured until she partakes in sexual intercourse.Contrary to societal pressures which lock the doors of the female body, insinuating female genitalia are filthy and not worthy of investigation, Swift and Suleri describe young female characters choosing to follow their instinctive curiosities. Swift's Mary, overwhelmed by sexual curiosity, opens the doors to her "hole" and further investigates her vagina's possibilities by inviting Tom and Dick Crick to join in her discovery.

When Suleri's young niece announces the discovery of her vagina, she gives her aunt hope of an unlocked future. "It made me glad for her that she had had such introspective courage to knock at the door of her body and insist it let her in." (Suleri, 42). We relate to Suleri's promising discovery of her curious niece, her innocence and straight forward breakthrough reminds the reader of the beauty of untainted exploration . Suleri's niece gives us all hope that perhaps doors will unlock for women, their bodies and especially their mother-making machinery.

After Mary's abortion she uncharacteristically locks herself away "hermit-fashion, for over three years in that stark farmhouse." (Swift, 117). Years later she is once again behind bars, having lost another child. Believing she acted on God's orders, Mary steals a baby-- enacting her own version of the immaculate conception. Representing a classic scene of a woman falling into pieces of hysteria, her husband escorts her to a mental institution. "She doesn't lift an eye or a hand as I give a last look through the wire-strengthened glass of the ward doors. She doesn't stare forlornly from behind protective bars as I walk across wet institutional asphalt towards the gates." (Swift, 328). Although Suleri's niece offers us optimism that the locks of women's bodies may perhaps open, Swift slams shut our hopes. He confirms that the lock of insanity continues to hold fast to women and their uteri.

Indian Subcontinent Gender OV Meatless Days Shame OV Waterland OV