After reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides and reading the Gender and Sexuality section of our textbook, I feel as though Jackie Stacey’s arguments on escapism, identification, and consumption play an important role in Madeleine’s life. While Stacey argues on how these factors play an important role in why women go to the cinema, I also feel as though these factors can be seen through Madeleine, a graduate who majored in English. There were a few key events that stuck out to me while reading that seemed to correspond with these ideas.
One of the discourses Stacey claims to be a huge factor is escapism. Escapism, in The Marriage Plot, can be seen in a few ways by watching Madeleine. As an example, we can see how Madeleine uses Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse as a way of escapism. In one section of the book, she uses it as a way to escape her feelings about Leonard, yet the book forces her to face those feelings instead despite her trying to do the opposite. If we look on page 49, we can see how the scene is set with her trying to enjoy a typical college student’s night in by reading yet finds “a sign that she wasn’t alone” (Eugenides 49) within her book. She, after reading, realizes that what she had read “had to do with Leonard” (Eugenides 49), which defeats the purpose of her trying to escape her own thoughts.
However, escapism is also shown through her own relationship with Leonard. Madeleine hadn’t been as excited as her peers to graduate since her breakup with Leonard. Once she finds out from Auerbach about Leonard being in the hospital for his mental health, she uses Leonard as a way to escape her own graduation. One could argue that it was because she cares for Leonard and misses him, which is true. However, taking into account that she wasn’t thrilled to be around her parents and Mitchell also struck some chords with her earlier, one can see why she would take Leonard’s hospitalization as a way to escape her own graduation. Madeleine also uses Leonard in another way to escape.
Rather than just simply using him to escape her own graduation, Madeleine used Leonard to escape the reality of her life: she was a college graduate who was denied access to the Yale Graduate Program in English and didn’t have a job. To be specific, “neither of them had a job” (Eugenides 170), which left Madeleine to nurse Leonard back to health and escape the realities of her life even further. By Madeleine nursing him back to his former self, Madeleine shows the second discourse of Stacey’s theory, which is identification.
According to Stacey, identification can occur when women “become complicit in their own oppression” (Storey 156). Madeleine, as a woman, went and got herself a higher education and even a college degree yet is being a doting housewife for her boyfriend Leonard. While staying at his place, Madeleine gets to a point where she is “unable to bear with the filth any longer” (Eugenides 167) and cleans his entire place and even puts up new curtains and sheets. She’s even allowed to water his ficus tree which, earlier, Leonard had put up a fight about. Madeleine conforming to what is the typical doting housewife shows the idea of identification has developed in her, since she seems content with the standard “womanly duties” of taking care of the house and “having her big Saint Bernard all to herself” (Eugenides 170).
The last discourse Stacey mentions is consumption, which analyzes exactly what the modern woman takes in and how that affects her through a feminist perspective. Throughout the novel, we see Madeleine describe what type of man she refuses to date. For example, “Madeleine made a point of going out only with guys who liked their parents” (Eugenides 52) and how she doesn’t date guys who have any sort of mental illness. Madeleine also mentions how “guys weren’t supposed to be the talkers” (Eugenides 63) which really made me as a reader realized how accustomed she had gotten to what her expectations for men were. She seemed so hesitant in the beginning because of this; because her only consumption with men had been the complete opposite of Leonard. By breaking that “Hannesque” consumption of partners, I find that Madeleine had taken her first steps into becoming who she truly was outside of her parents’ expectations and society’s expectations of her.
To sum everything up, I find that taking Jackie Stacey’s theory on discourses in cinematics and applying it to the life of fictional Madeleine Hanna can explain more of who exactly Madeleine is as a character and as a concept. We can see how she develops as a character even from the beginning through baby steps as she breaks out of the cookie cutter woman that is expected of her and into an educated young woman who isn’t afraid to step outside of her comfort zone. She shows examples of Stacey’s discourses of escapism, identification, and consumption throughout the novel, even in her early pages.