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“Where Had That Girl Gone?”: Feminine Identity in The Mermaid Chair.

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Presentation on theme: "“Where Had That Girl Gone?”: Feminine Identity in The Mermaid Chair."— Presentation transcript:

1 “Where Had That Girl Gone?”: Feminine Identity in The Mermaid Chair

2 Lacanian Psychoanalysis The self/ego is constructed through language (unlike Freud’s chaotic unconscious) Language is inherently metaphoric and dominated by absence

3 Formation of the Subject Mirror Stage: Child sees itself in the mirror and identifies with the image Child assumes signifiers from the speech of the parents for identity (ex: “you look just like your father”) A mother telling her son “what a bad boy you are!” will either end up with a felon or a saint. The child’s identity depends on how he integrates the words of the parents into his conception of himself

4 Assuming her Father’s Signifiers “…what I loved best about this ritual was the part where he called me his Whirly Girl, how I imagined myself one of his perfect creations, the apple skins in my window a strange still frame of self- portraits” (45)

5 Her Father’s Death & Initiation into the Adult World “I closed my eyes, wanting to tell him how much of a daddy’s girl I’d been, how when my father died, it was as if my whole childhood collapsed.” (150) “Watching [the boards] burn had been the first time I’d felt the deep crevice his dying was to make in my life.” (237)

6 Estrangement from her Mother “It was after the boat fire that Mother had turned into Joan of Arc – but without an army or a war, just the queer religious compulsions.” (19) “She let her fingers brush against my arm and stay there with the tips resting near my elbow. It was about the tenderest gesture she’d made toward me since I left home for college.” (158)

7 Fictional Identity Models Her mother as Joan of Arc Called Rapunzel by her daughter, Dee Hester Prynne: “the knowledge was somehow posted all over me for him to read, little scarlet A ’s popping out like freckles in the sun.” (253) “I feel like that woman in the Gauguin painting…That exotic island woman” (190) Lot’s Wife: “When I reached the edge of the marsh, just before stepping into the silence of the trees, I looked back.” (155) Mary: “she was on such a high and impossible pedestal – Consummate Mother, Good Wife, All-Around Paragon of Perfect Womanhood.


9 Hugh & Jessie’s Identity “… I was above all Hugh’s wife and Dee’s mother, one of those unambiguous women with no desire to disturb the universe” (1) “My life had been beautifully contained within Hugh’s, like one of those Russian nesting dolls, encompassed in wifeness, in a cocoon of domesticity.” (171) “[At my wake] people would stand around talking about how outstanding it was that I still had a complete twelve-piece set [of china] after all these years.” (127)

10 Hugh and Jessie’s Father To Dee, about why she left Hugh: “…my life had started to feel so stagnant, like it was atrophied. Everything shrunk down to the roles I played.” (309) On idealizing her father: “…what I didn’t quite get until the painting was the sadness of all that trying. I hadn’t understood the small, powerless places it had taken me. But even more than this, I had never completely realized how this same thing had gone on with Hugh.” (308)

11 Hugh as a Socially Acceptable Substitute for her Father “I would sit cross- legged on the bed staring at the painting and listening to my tapes on the Walkman, thinking what an ideal father Hugh had been, not just to Dee but to me.” (308)

12 Jessie and Whit “It was not just the man who excited me – it was the sky in him, things in him that I did not know, had never tasted, might never taste perhaps.” (131) “I was afraid…I might embarrass myself by crying, and I didn’t even know why I felt the urge. It had been so long since I’d had a conversation like this.” (149)

13 Constructing Love (On their first meeting): “Later I would revisit that encounter again and again. I would tell myself that when I met him, all the dark little wicks in the cells of my body lifted up in the knowledge that here he was – the one you wait for, but I don’t know if that was really true, or if I only came to believe that it was. I’m sure I’ve burdened our first meeting with too much imagining.” (67)

14 Hugh’s Analysis “…when a person was in need of a cataclysmic change, of a whole new center in the personality, for instance, his or her psyche would induce an infatuation, an erotic attachment, an intense falling-in- love. “He knew this. Every analyst knew it. Falling in love was the oldest, most ruthless catalyst on earth.” (279)

15 Jessie’s Analysis “Worst of all, I could feel myself giving over to all of this, to whatever was coming. To a Great Ecstasy and a Great Catastrophe. “The realization frightened me, which is too mild a way of saying it. I’d not thought I was capable of falling in love again. “Earlier, when Thomas had asked me about myself, I’d not been able to speak, and I wondered now if that was because my sense of myself had been coming apart.” (114)

16 “The Beautiful Enduring” At the end of the novel, Jessie ties a knot to signify her commitment to herself, and goes back to her marriage to Hugh. Has her character changed by the end of the novel? To what extent is her “love” for Whit a parallel attempt at filling the void left by the loss of her father? To what extent is “the beautiful enduring” that she says she is pursuing in going back to Hugh, really just more of the same?

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