Monday, October 18, 2010

Unravelling the Mystery in _Woman's World_

I must admit that before I came to class today, I did NOT know that Norma and Roy were the same person. Oops. I was aware, however, that the characterization of Norma was a bit on the strange side, and I knew that some of her actions and how other characters responded to her stemmed from mysterious roots.

A characterization point that I found important is in Chapter Five, during the confrontation between Mary and Norma/Roy: “‘I knew you’d gone dressed like that when I saw your suit still hanging up,’ she said. I was ready to try and explain why I had chosen the particular outfit I had, but she seemed reluctant to listen, and, besides, I suddenly felt horribly conspicuous in it” (77). From this, it seems likely that Mary and Norma share a close relationship, because Norma says she is actually moved by Mary’s feelings. Unlike during the job interview, where she is adamant about her role and her rights as a woman, here she reveals vulnerability and unsureness. Did you, like me, see Mary as an especially important character, one who we readers can trust more in figuring out Norma/Roy’s actual situation and personality?

Also - a semi-related yet very important question: how does it seem like form is playing into this developing mystery? If, like we were establishing in class, we don't exactly trust the narrator’s voice... why? Is it through direct plot action, through the form itself, or a combination of the two?


  1. I do think that Mary is an important character, and that it is through her we are better able to understand the relationship between Roy/Norma. I think it is more particularly through her than other characters that we find out that Norma is Roy and vice versa. To be exact, I think that Mary is Roy’s mother, and that Norma just calls her the housekeeper to distance herself from what Mary is truly upset about. I cannot say when I first started thinking that Mary was Roy’s mother, but I know that I took particular notice when Norma decided to help Mary dust. I do not think that if someone hired a housekeeper they would be very likely to just help out when they are paying somebody to do it—but if their mother was cleaning they would feel more obliged to. My assumption was also reinforced when Roy said he lived with his mother and sister. I know that this could possibly be argued against because Norma is not his sister—but honestly—how else can he refer to her? I also think that Mary’s distress and the fact that Roy does not come back for a week shows that this is more than a simple cross-dressing matter—and points to a mental disorder and as such I cannot trust the narrator. I think this is reinforced by the fact that the story is told through magazine clippings—like a ransom note in which you do not know who the sender is—and there is no hint of identity—not even handwriting.

  2. Mary plays a significant role throughout the text in that she helps to shape our understanding of the interrelationship between Roy and Norma. Without Mary, it might have been significantly more difficult to discern that Norma and Roy are in fact the same person. The expression of the reactions Norma anticipates from Mary are what begin to give away her secret. Norma is constantly concerned about Mary finding out when she leaves the house or answers the door, when she sees Norma in her clothing. The relationship becomes even more essential to deducing this point when we find out that Mary avoids physical contact with Norma and refuses to take her picture, both of which are common interactions between mother and daughter.
    My favorite aspect of Mary’s character however is the complication of sympathetic loyalties that she creates. At first, I found myself sympathizing heavily with Roy because he is clearly distressed; some most likely tragic, disturbing event from his past has caused him to assume this alternative identity and during the first section, Mary seems almost calloused towards it, therefore denying a clearly distraught son that which mothers are expected to give unconditionally: comfort and support. However, during the second section that we’ve read, Mary’s feelings regarding the matter are further revealed and I found my sympathies yielding her direction as well. I cannot imagine watching someone you love switch between two identities unknowingly, especially since one of them seriously compromises Roy’s success. The fact that Mary tries to relate to Norma (during the dress-making scene) reveals a huge effort on her part. Sympathy falls from Norma when she leaves her mom to have her pictures taken, but at the same time, how can one blame her for wanting to since her identity is constantly hidden within the confines of her house? Who do we sympathize with? This complication makes the reading experience that much more exciting.