Monday, October 15, 2012

Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy

First off, let me apologize for how long this review took. School is starting to get busy again so I don’t have as much time for leisure reading as I would like.  But better late than never.

Woman on the Edge of Time is a work of speculative fiction by Marge Piercy. A friend recommended this book to me, and I’m unsure why it never crossed my path before. It’s unusual but has “classic” written all over it. Woman on the Edge of Time is unlike any utopian/dystopian novel I have ever read. It doesn’t fit the “formula” I have come to expect from this type of literature. Most speculative fiction seems to be told through the eyes of a middle aged white male who could be described as middle class. The book begins by the man realizing his enslavement, continues with him fighting against it, and ends with him finally being destroyed by society. A 37-year-old Puerto Rican woman who is imprisoned in a mental hospital narrates Woman on the Edge of Time.

In Woman on the Edge of Time two possible futures are presented, one dystopian the other utopian. I’m going to focus on the utopia because it represents an ideal, and therefore holds the brunt of the social commentary.

Piercy’s utopia is set far in the future. The idea is after grueling civil war humanity reemerged to create an egalitarian, cooperative, self-sustaining society. Everyone works for the common good, saving nothing for themselves. Everyone is simultaneously wealthy and poor. Luxury items are traded throughout the counties, where they can be “checked out” and enjoyed again and again. Everyone has everything they need and everyone works towards the common good.

While this society has surpassed the need for most forms of punishment, I found it interesting that the death penalty is still practiced. The first time someone commits a violent crime that person is rehabilitated and filtered back into society with no jail time or seclusion. The second time a person commits a violent crime they are put to death. To me it seems like this society is more than willing to help people who help themselves. If you are willing to do your share you are accepted.

The second concept that caught my attention was the diversification of the society. Genetic diversity is evenly distributed among all counties and people. People no longer give birth but are created from a common gene pool. However, the society still prides its self on cultural diversity, but that diversity isn’t classified by race, ethnicity or gender. Instead of a culture sharing a common race, different villages practice different customs. Yet each village has an even number of people with dark skin, light skin, and all colors in between.

Perhaps most interesting is the complete demolition of gender roles. Men and women are both called “mothers,” and raise children with three other “co-mothers.” Women no longer naturally lactate, but men and women can both breast-feed children after being given a shot. They have even gone so far as to do away with masculine and feminine pronouns and descriptions. Instead of saying “she likes to eat apples” I would say, “person likes to eat apples.” Instead of saying, “that is his dog” I would say, “that is per dog.” The idea is that total equality will never exist as long as there are distinct gender differences in society.

Unlike most speculative fiction Piercy’s utopia is one that I truly long for. She describes a culture that combines the technological advances of the present and future with the hard work and good values of the past. I would gladly give up all I own to share true and clean prosperity with everyone. Reading Woman on the Edge of Time made me wish our society could stop arguing about things that don’t matter and work towards creating something good for everyone. 

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