Madeleine Hanna and Jackie Stacey’s Discourses on Feminism

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.

A Secret History by Donna Tartt – A Psychoanalytical Approach

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a mind-boggling novel about 6 students studying Greek at a college in Vermont where two of the students actually die. There is a lot going on from a mental standpoint in these characters, which Freud’s theory can help with. Despite how horrific the events that happen are, a psychoanalytical approach to the novel allows the reader to really understand the characters presented because it helps one to see into the mind of the characters. The best place to start analyzing would be around the end of chapter 4.

Henry, Francis, and the twins performed a bacchanal party where they went into a “Dionysiac frenzy” (Tartt, 163) and Henry admitted to killing someone after Richard guessed at it. As for why, Henry says that being able “to escape the cognitive mode of experience, to transcend the accident of one’s moment of being” (Tartt, 164) was good enough to attempt the endeavor. Using Freud’s theory, one can asses that this “obsess[ion] with the idea” (Tartt, 164) could potentially be due to an unconscious desire to perform the deed. Henry, throughout the novel, is a quiet gentleman that Richard seems to be able to read well. Given that information of his character, it seems almost as though Henry would be the last person to partake in such an act, giving the sense that it was an unconscious desire that even Henry did not know about.

The novel also contains a good amount of foreshadowing to Henry’s admission of killing someone. Throughout the novel, Richard remarks about how certain things would make sense in the future and how “it is easy to see things in retrospect” (Tartt, 93). This leads one to see how Richard may have repressed some of the events he witnessed. He never quite dwelled on anything until the admission. He would dismiss the events indifferently but his future self would mention how he had wished he knew what was to come. With how fond of the group Richard was, it isn’t difficult to understand why he may have repressed anything questionable or why he tried to keep himself out of issues, such as when Richard witnessed Julian and Henry talking discretely and Richard decided to leave and never mention it (Tartt, 71-72).

Talking about the killing of the man during the bacchanal, Henry discusses how “duality ceases to exist; there is no ego, no ‘I’” (Tartt, 167). In regards to ego, Freud describes it as the way we, as humanity, are most tied down to reality. With Henry’s apparent lack of ego in that moment, it raises the question of how we could even begin to function without ego. In accordance with Henry, we could lose all sense of morals and realities of the world and people around us. Henry describes that losing ego and himself altogether was “like being a baby” (Tartt, 167), which would confirm that it would be like having no moral compass whatsoever.

With all of this in mind, there was really none of the defense mechanisms Freud describes in either Henry, Francis or the twins regarding the bacchanal. All four of them didn’t remember what lead up to the event but very much understood that they had killed a random man somehow. There was no repression or denial of it, except when dealing with Bunny for obvious reasons. None of them presented any projection or displacement of any kind. They simply understood what they had done and didn’t take it out on anyone else. They only wanted to move past it without facing consequences, so they decided to take care of Bunny.

Continuing on with the novel in chapter 5, the group decide to kill Bunny off and stage it as an accident when Bunny begins to blackmail the others. In figuring out how to carry out this plan of killing their friend, Henry’s demeanor begins to change in front of the readers’ eyes. He begins to care less about his own life, which is apparent when Henry mentions how “the more I hear about luxury barges, the less terrible death begins to seem” (Tartt, 235). These subtle things Henry mentions can give the reader a sense of foreshadowing to Henry’s suicide.

Leading up to the suicide was the arrest of Charles for drunk driving. While Richard was attempting to diffuse everything, they started talking about Henry and Richard posed the question of “not why he tells us what to do. But why we always do what he says” (Tartt, 447). It creates the idea that the other characters depend on Henry much more than they let on, especially when Charles can’t come up with a reason why. However, Charles starts to display an example of defense mechanisms onto Henry for why they’re currently in that situation. “I blame every bit of this on him” (Tartt, 447) Charles has said, showing how he has started to use Freud’s defense mechanism of projection.

In conclusion, The Secret History by Donna Tartt displays many instances of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory in regards to the models of the mind and also defense mechanisms. I realize that there are many more just in his psychoanalytic theory along with different theories, but these were the ones I most noticed throughout the novel. It was an overall interesting novel that shows how important the mind and its processes can be in all types of situations.