Youngest Doll Explicated through Feminist Theory & Derrida’s Postmodern Theory
Over the years, women have taken a back seat, and they have watched as the different men in their lives control them and determine the direction that their lives should take. Women have often felt helpless because they do not see any way out of their situation. They have lived in societies that have largely condone and encouraged men’s behavior, while it has silenced them and placed them in an enclosed place, giving them no opportunity to express themselves. This has denied the women a chance to exploit their potential and talent. It has denied them the opportunity to make their lives better, as they explore the opportunities available to them. The rise of women empowerment and feminism is different around the world. While many women in the western world are given similar opportunities to men, some of the women in other parts of the world continue to seek and fight for those opportunities. Rosario Ferre has explored the different roles and situation of women, in a largely patriarchal society. Women can find creative ways of changing their status within the society, as they challenge the accepted norms that only serve to exploit them and to continue suppressing them.
Ferre’s work, “The Youngest Doll” is a reflection of the unfair and exploitative nature of male power, and the creative nature of one woman to seek revenge. The story describes how a trusted male doctor took advantage of a woman’s situation and refused to heal her so that he could exploit her financially. The woman used her creative abilities to take her revenge on the doctor. The various stories in the collection have different themes, but they seek to deconstruct the society’s position and perspective about women. The society has placed women in a position where it can manipulate them. Some women have accepted their fate and they have continued to live in silence and subjugation to men. Other women have however dared to speak out and they have sought to improve their status in the society. Ferre’s work rests on feminist theory.
Feminist theories recognize the supremacy of the males within the society, and they criticize this perception, in an attempt to empower women, and to change men’s attitude. Ferre’s story, The Youngest Doll shows how men think that they are supreme above women. The doctor in the story had the opportunity of treating the maiden aunt, after the prawn had entered her calf. However, he capitalized on the aunt’s ignorance because she did not know that it was possible to remove the prawn. The doctor was greedy, and he told his son bluntly that he had taken advantage of the aunt so that he could pay for his education. “…but I just wanted you to come and see the prawn that has been paying for your education these twenty years” (Ferre 3). The doctor’s son is greedy, and he shows this when he pawns the dolls diamond eyes. The men in the society have the perception that they are entitled to do what they want, irrespective of the consequences.
The feminist theory asserts that women should have similar opportunities to men (Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman 105). Women are important in different capacities, and not just in the home. Women are not merely dolls that are to be played with and admired. When the doctor marries the youngest niece, she makes her sit outside, so that other people can see his wife, and recognize that he has married into society. This view illustrates how lowly the men treat their women. They have an important responsibility, for even in the home, they manage to raise their families and take care of the household. In the past, women have taken a back seat as they have submitted to the men. Feminist theory seeks to change this perspective by showing that women have the same capabilities as men.
In the story, the youngest niece submits to her husband demands, and she agrees to sit in the cubicle all day so that other people can admire her. However, once she realizes that her husband does not care about her in any way, she comes up with a plan. With the help of her aunt who made the doll, the girl exchanges her place with the doll. The doll is lifelike, but it oozes a smell similar to that of the prawn. Despite the length of time passed since his marriage, the doctor does not realize that his wife does not change her physical appearance. In the end, the doctor discovers that he has been living with the doll and not his wife. Ferre shows that women are as capable of being creative and applying their ingenuity, just like men are, and in some situations, they are even better at it. The youngest niece was able to escape an otherwise abusive marriage, and the aunt was able to seek her revenge without raising any suspicion. Therefore, they are entitled to share in the public resources and get equal opportunities.
There are different forms of feminist theories and they have some conflicts in opinion. Liberal feminist theories have some differences of opinion with social feminist theories (Madsen 36). This is also clear in life because women have different ideas concerning their empowerment and role in society. Ferre has noted this in her work, and it is especially evident in the way she represents different women. Sometimes women can be their own enemies, in the way they fail to support each other, and they end up opposing each other. While some women are active in pursuing their freedom and opportunities in life, others are content in receiving whatever comes to them. This is the case with Marina, who does not want to do anything to change her situation in life, although she has dreams and aspirations in life. On the other hand, the youngest niece takes the initiative of changing her life, when she exchanges her role as a wife with the real life doll.
Postmodern theories explore the relationship of power and knowledge, which develop between different social groups. Ferre’s stories contrast between men and women, the rich and the poor, and the noble and the unaccepted in the society. The patriarchal society in Ferre’s work has divided women and classified them according to different standards. Many of the women are not comfortable being grouped and placed in categories, which denies them the opportunity to explore other alternatives in their life choices. The women feel that they have to abide by the rules placed upon them by the society. In some cases, failure to abide by these rules lead to negative consequences. There are marginalized women in the society, and this includes the prostitutes and the mistresses. Some of the women are mothers, while others are hosts. The value and position of the women in the Ferre’s society largely depends on the family’s socioeconomic status.
The upper class world is different, and the women in this class live different lives. Many of them do not like their lifestyle, despite the many benefits they get. This is because the women live like dolls. They know that they can have a better future, but they do not know if their dreams can ever become a reality. This is the case of Marina, in “Marina and the Lion”. She seems trapped in a doll’s house, within the social status of her society. She says that her whole life is glimmering and distant. Although she envisions a better future for herself, she cannot seem to reach her dreams. She dresses herself as a doll because that is how she sees herself. She belongs to the marginalized, seeing that she is a mistress. The men try to cage these women in the home, as they try to protect them from the outside influences. This does not work because the women find different ways to interact with the outside world, especially by interacting with the servants in their households.
There is a deep contrast between the rich and the poor in the society, and all of them seem to have accepted their fate. The servants understand their role in the household, and they take it upon themselves to gossip about their employers, as they seem to know more about their lives. The society seems to have a distinct place for the poor, the middle class, and the upper class in the society. Those who are not as advantaged economically feel that they want to be associated with the rich. For instance, in the youngest doll, the people are willing to pay exorbitant fees for their health, so that they can go to the young doctor, and come close to a member of the upper class. The author illustrates how easy it is for people to change their economic status, and thus change the way that other people perceive them. One of the ways is through education and hard work, while another way is by greed. The doctor uses his greed to change his fortunes. He pawns part of his wife’s doll although he knows that it has sentimental value to her. His father is no better because he refuses to treat the maiden aunt because he knows that continuous visits to her home mean more money for him, and he is able to educate his son by doing this. The distinction between the rich and the poor is also evident in the story “Mercedes Benz 22SL”. In this story, a man and a woman kill someone using their car, but they feel that they are now protected because of their enhanced economic status.
Jacques Derrida focuses on deconstruction, which encourages the scrutiny of a text in finding alternative meaning (Duvall and Abadie 20). The author does not reveal all the facts in the story of the youngest doll. She instead leaves it to the reader to discern the meaning from her description. She gives the reader, the chance to develop meaning. The never changing skin of the dolls skin, the lack of remnants after the youngest niece claims that the ants have taken the doll and the smell like prawn of the doll are some of the clues that the reader needs to realize that the young doctor has a doll for a wife. Derrida’s postmodern theory incorporates experimentation as a way of complicating the reader’s experience (Payne and Barbera 571). This is evident in Ferre’s work. In some cases, the reader cannot understand the content of the reading, if he reads for the sake of it. This is because the author has used experiments in writing forms, to engage the reader in a different way. This is clear in the content of the stories, the themes covered in different stories, and even the writing style of some stories. For instance, in the story “The Poisoned Story” it is not immediately clear who is speaking in the story. The story is told from the main character’s perspective. However, Rosa is reading what someone else has written about her, and she gives her thoughts about what she is reading. The reader reads with her, as she reads about her life from another person’s perspective. The reader sees as Rosa disagrees with some of the contents that the writer has included about her life.
By experimenting with this form of writing, the reader gets to have a clearer understanding of the story, and to know more about the main character. Experimenting also leads to having differences in opinion from what the society expects. A conservative society does not expect a person to dwell on taboo topics such as sexuality, yet this is the case in Ferre’s collection. In “Amalia”, the author deals with topics such as incest, which should not be included so bluntly from the perspective of the reader in that society. This form of experimenting also deals with observing situations from a different perspective. It involves lack of conformity to societal standards (Turner 152). Such is the case, with the gay butler, who ends up having sex with his employer’s daughter, in the story, “The Other Side of Paradise”. In many cases, such situation would not escalate to that point, and one of the characters would emerge a hero for standing his ground. However, this story tells how a virgin daughter ends up losing her virginity and committing adultery at the hands of a gay man. Experimenting with this forms and themes complicates the reading experiences. It gives the reader a chance to have new experiences and explore other alternative forms of reading, resulting in a rewarding experience.
Ferre looks at women’s issues from different perspectives. Her work shows how women can be creative and how they can apply their knowledge and abilities to secure more opportunities, and hence have a better future. Men do not always have to control women’s lives, and neither do the women have to conform to the standards of the society. However, some women are too reluctant to do anything about their situation, although they might be suffering and living in misery. Such women lack the courage to change their situation. On the other hand, some are content with the kind of life they lead, and they do not see any need of changing it.
Duvall, N John and Ann J. Abadie. Faulkner and Postmodernism. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2009. Print
Ferre, Rosario. The Youngest Doll. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. Print
Madsen, L. Deborah. Feminist Theory and Literary Practice. Sterling: Pluto Press, 2000. Print
Payne, Michael, and Jessica R. Barbera. A Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print
Turner, H. Jonathan. Handbook of Sociological Theory. New York: Springer, 2006. Print
Zastrow, Charles, and Karen K. Kirst-Ashman. Understanding Human Behavior and the Social Environment. New York: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print