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Woman on the Edge of Time
Novel, 1976
American Writer ( 1936 -)
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 347. Detroit, MI: Gale. From Literature Resource Center.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning

WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:

  • Breaking Camp: Poems (poetry) 1968
  • Going Down Fast (novel) 1969
  • Dance the Eagle to Sleep (novel) 1970
  • Small Changes (novel) 1973
  • To Be of Use (poetry) 1973
  • Woman on the Edge of Time (novel) 1976
  • The High Cost of Living (novel) 1978
  • Vida: A Novel (novel) 1979
  • Braided Lives (novel) 1982
  • Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt (nonfiction) 1982
  • Fly Away Home (novel) 1984
  • Gone to Soldiers (novel) 1987
  • Summer People (novel) 1989
  • He, She, and It (novel) 1991
  • City of Darkness, City of Light (novel) 1996
  • Early Grrrl: The Early Poems of Marge Piercy (poetry) 1999
  • Three Women (novel) 1999
  • Sleeping with Cats: A Memoir (memoir) 2002
  • Sex Wars (novel) 2005
  • The Crooked Inheritance: Poems (poetry) 2006
  • The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2010 (poetry) 2011

Introduction

Piercy is recognized as a leading feminist writer whose politically charged works focus on individuals struggling to escape restrictive social roles to realize personal potential. Informed by her experiences as a radical political activist during the 1960s and 1970s, Piercy's direct, highly personal fiction condemns the victimization of women and other marginalized individuals under the patriarchal, capitalist ideologies of mainstream American society. Her breakthrough novel, Woman on the Edge of Time, utilizes and consciously manipulates the science fiction genre to create an incisive commentary on inequality and oppression in the modern world.

Plot and Major Characters

Woman on the Edge of Time is the story of Connie Ramos, a poor Mexican American who feels defeated and discarded by society. After her husband, Claud, is killed, and her daughter, Angelina, is taken away from her by child welfare services, Connie is incarcerated in a bleak mental hospital where she is subjected to a mind-control experiment involving electronic implantations in the brain. The experiment is designed to facilitate her reinstatement into a homogenized, servile society.

However, Connie's torturous experience leads to her discovery that she is able to mentally travel outside of time. Through this skill, she comes into contact with Luciente, an ambiguously gendered citizen of a possible future utopia called Mattapoissett. In Mattapoissett, Claud and Angelina live on in a world of social and ecological harmony where class and gender roles have been dissolved. In Mattapoissett, sexual relationships and the nuclear family have been replaced by a collectivism that respects and preserves the individual self. Children are born from incubators and raised by sets of parents that are not determined by gender. Rather, each parent has an equal role, and both are capable of breastfeeding. In short, Mattapoissett reverses the values of the world that oppresses Connie in the present.

At the same time, Connie becomes aware that Mattapoissett is not the only possible future. She also sees a glimpse of a society in which inequality and corporate greed have grown to monstrous proportions. Realizing that her present actions will help decide the type of society that will come to pass, Connie takes violent action against the mental hospital, the results of which are left unclear at the novel's conclusion.

Major Themes

Woman on the Edge of Time uses the utopianism of Mattapoissett to accentuate the harsh realities of Connie's world. Although the novel makes it clear that Mattapoissett is not a perfect world, the utopia demonstrates the ideals of progress and social change. At the same time, readers are forced to determine whether or not Mattapoissett and its gender-neutral citizens are merely the delusions of a mentally ill woman. By couching the reality of Connie's visions in ambiguity, the text questions the idealism of utopian thinking while showing that social change nevertheless starts in the realm of ideas. The fact that Connie achieves visionary transcendence by mind travel means that she literally escapes the confines of the physicality of race and gender, an idea that can be interpreted as either a refutation of individuality or an embracing of essential humanism. Finally, Connie's decision to revolt at the end of the novel suggests that idealism must be coupled with action to activate social progress.

Critical Reception

Piercy's novel is often grouped with other feminist utopian or dystopian fantasies like Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1975). Specifically, critics have asserted that Woman on the Edge of Time draws from the tradition of moral realism while The Female Man presents a dialectical view of society. Others have noted the importance of technology to the utopian scenarios in Piercy's novel and The Left Hand of Darkness. According to commentator Kathy Rudy, "The novels of Piercy and Le Guin can be viewed as instruction manuals whose purpose is to teach us how to think about our future and indeed how to interpret the advances in technology reported in our news today. They help us familiarize ourselves with the possibilities of the future so that we might examine ... our current unchecked assumptions about reproduction and gender." Furthermore, critics have praised Woman on the Edge of Time for questioning the binary notion of gender that underlies preconceived notions of motherhood. Reviewers have suggested that the novel imagines motherhood as a duty to be shared equally by each parent, regardless of gender.

In addition, critics have treated the novel as an allegory for the conflict in academia between dogmatic feminism and the commitment to motherhood. Scholars have also analyzed Piercy's depiction of patriarchal capitalism as an extrapolation on traditional concepts of hell. Moreover, reviewers have lauded Woman on the Edge of Time for promoting passion and desire as tools of subversion as well as crucial components of a struggle for utopia, highlighting Piercy's emphasis on the importance of the struggle itself. As critic Kerstin W. Shands contended, "For Piercy, it suffices to point to the process toward harmony, equality, balance between humans and nature, union without unity: a process that entails struggle and effort."

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Woman on the Edge of Time." Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter, vol. 347, Gale, 2014. Literature Resource Center, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FH1139840000%2FGLS%3Fu%3Dric_main%26sid%3DGLS%26xid%3Dbe285556. Accessed 17 Nov. 2018.

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1139840000