The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Masculism is a school of thought which has a prepossession with the female as a sex object, believes in the superiority of the male, and the subjection of the female. One may argue that “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was authored by Milan Kundera, a man who had male chauvinist sympathies.
On the other hand, Feminism stood for the liberation of the woman from male control, the validation of her personhood, and the de-glamourization of femininity and motherhood. Merce Rodoreda in her novel “The Time of Doves” is an argument for feminism as she intersperses messages which convey feminist ideals. Hence both novels show the polarization of masculism and feminism in the perpetual battle of the sexes and touch on gender roles in European society.
The Masculism of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is manifest in three components: the objectification of the woman, the subjectivity of the woman, and the authoritarian control of the male. Objectification of the woman arises in many instances in the novel, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” through several mentions of the pornography industry, private male fantasies, and the sexual relationships among the protagonists.
Women are often depicted naked while the male’s eye fixates on them. They become objects of desire and sex toys instead of being validated as individuals with penetration of thought, and independent minds. Tereza submits some nude photographs of herself to a magazine which portrays scantily clad or naked women, Tereza’s mother constantly flaunts her nude body in the house, Tereza’s nightmare of naked women, singing and marching around a pool before a man resurges repeatedly (18).
She has other nightmares which haunt her memory of dead, female, naked bodies in a pool and in the trunk of a hearse. Tereza also fantasizes about having sex with her husband, Tomas, in front of the cameras in a studio. Her rival, Sabina, parades her naked body before Tomas to seduce him at her home.
As a waitress, a stereotypical female job with sexual desire and objectification, Tereza “had an irresistible desire to expose her body” (142). Women corporate with men in fulfilling sexual desires and they delight to cater to their every whim and fancy. The subjectivity of the woman is her preferred role in the novel since she is at the beck and call of the male. Tereza has a nightmare of Tomas giving orders to women to sing and walk around a pool (18) while Sabina and Tereza are joined by Tomas’ command “Strip!” (66).
Tereza loves Tomas so much that “she was constitutionally unable to disobey Tomas” (147). Kundera says that “in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by man’s body” (5), thus in the sex act she is the subject. In the relationship with his wife, Tereza, Tomas would “issue a command, softly yet firmly and authoritatively” (66). Before the man, a woman has no will of her own.
She is deprived of an opinion contrary to her male partner. The tradition of paterfamilias is a Greco-Roman tradition that dictated that the woman always belonged to a male member. In childhood and youth, the girl belongs to her father and in adulthood, the authoritative right is transferred to her husband. There is a reflection of paterfamilias in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” where Tomas envisions his relationship with his wife, Tereza, “as a child whom he had taken from a bulrush basket” (7).
He sees himself as a father rescuer who saves Tereza. The father-daughter metaphor is rightly suited to the relationship that Tomas and Tereza share for he commands and she obeys, he leads and she follows. Also, in his extramarital relationships with his mistresses, he subjects them to “the rule of threes in the erotic friendship” (12).
Tomas again lays down the rules where maximum benefit redounds to him and the women are controlled by his desires. Sabina is conscious of this paternal restriction in her own life and she rebels against the whole patriarchal system by being promiscuous and willful. There is a “longing to betray her father…a father equally strict and limited, a father who forbade her love” (91).
The Feminism of “The Time of the Doves” by Merce Rodoreda is subtle since the events unfold in pre-Civil War Spain; however, there are embedded feminist messages of female independence and the duality of motherhood. The novel traces the journey of an imprisoned, passive woman to one who relishes her new freedom and also paints some portraits of some independent women.
First of all, Rita was a powerless, subdued woman who is not sure of her own self. Despite numerous putdowns from her domineering husband, she continues to do her duty to her family by supporting them as a faithful wife and mother. Quimet persists in calling Natalia a false name, Colombia – a name which both imprisons and transforms her into a humanized dove.
Hence, Rodoreda splits the woman into two personalities – her true identity, Natalia, which liberates and to a certain extent deifies her, Natalia, and the other which ties her to her husband. Nathalie means Christ’s birthday, gift of God, or born on Christmas (the male Hebrew version is Nathaniel). One knows that Christmas is celebrated as the day the Saviour of the world, the Christ child is born hence Natalia liberates, delivers, and rescues. Other variations of the same name are Natalia, Nathalie, and Natalie. One may look at the two identities, from a psycho-aesthetic, spiritual, and maternal angle.
The expulsion of Colombia from Natalia’s being is represented artistically as a cathartic purgation. With a knife, Natalia engraves the name given by her husband upon the doors of the home she shared with Quimet. She “carved ‘Colometa’ on it in big, deep letters.” (197). Only after Natalia writes down the name, Colombia on the door frame of her old home does she begin to eject the foreign body, Colombia, from inside of her.
“I let out a hellish scream, a scream I must have been carrying around inside me for many years, so thick was hard for it to get through my throat, and with that scream, a little bit of nothing trickled out of my mouth, like a cockroach made of spit…and that bit of nothing that had lived so long trapped inside me was my youth and it flew off with a scream of I don’t know what…letting go?” (197).
In the spiritual light, one can view Natalie’s abandonment of the identity of Colombia as an exorcism: not until Natalia exorcizes the spirit of Colombia that she begins to experience true freedom. Also, since the main theme of the book is motherhood, Natalia is demonstrated as giving a perverse birth where she expels Colometa from her body.
Female liberation is seen through the characters of Rita and Senyora Enriqueta. They are stubborn and do not allow males to control them. As Natalia complains of her domestic woes and Quimet’s behavior toward Senyora Enriqueta, she says that she “would have put an end to it by now and she’d never let anyone do something like that to her” (101).
In Spanish society, rebellion against one’s husband was a rarity. Rita demonstrates a great reluctance to get married and her courtship was “like a war” (184). Rita struggles between two decisions: being independent of a family and following her dream career or being under the charge of her husband at home but she continues to put up resistance: “she told him that she didn’t want to get married, she wanted to travel and she had other things to worry about” (182).
What Rodoreda masters in this novel is her portrayal of the darker side of maternity. Motherhood is not only roses and honey, laughing children and smiling husband – it could be rough. Because of overwork and self-neglect, Natalia begins to get sick:“I couldn’t tell her I had no one to complain to, that it was my own private sickness and if I ever complained at home Quimet would start telling me his leg hurt. I couldn’t tell her my children were like wildflowers no one took care of and my apartment which used to be a heaven, had turned into a hell.” (101).
This passage captures very well the trials of motherhood. At home, she gets stressed out to such a level that she begins to lapse into carelessness in consideration for her family when she says, “the hell with them!” (113). Natalia begins to destroy the doves’ eggs and in the future, she begins to contemplate murdering her own young.
This depression resembles very closely an illness peculiar to mothers called postpartum depression. Natalia’s infanticide is the climax of the novel where the accumulation of domestic pressure tempts her to end her own life and the life of her children. The demands of work outside of the home also cause Natalia to forget her children and she ceases to play that nurturing role that is so associated with motherhood.
What Rodoreda does is paint the realities of the life of the average mother and take the glamour from domesticity. Natalie is only one unhappy mother among many others. To conclude, Masculism and Feminism occupy diametrically opposite poles and are both represented in Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and Rodoreda’s “The Time of the Doves” respectively. According to the novels, masculist ideas include patriarchy, female objectification, woman’s submission, and male control while feminist concepts encompass female independence, male resistance, and the real representation of womanhood and motherhood.