Seduced and abandoned in the New World: The Image of Woman in American Fiction

PART II Woman is made, not born

And the Lord God said unto the woman,
What is this that thou has done?
And the woman said,
the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat

Unto the woman he said, I will
greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception;
in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
and thy desire shall be to thy husband,         
and he shall rule over thee

Ever since Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple (1794) - the first American best-seller - heroines of America fiction have reenacted Eve's fall from grace and thereby inherited the legacy of Eden. As daughters of Eve, American heroines are destined to dependency and servitude as well as to painful and sorrowful childbirth because, like their predecessor, they have dared to disregard authority or tradition in the search for wisdom or happiness; like Eve. they are fallen women, eternally cursed for eating the apple of experience. Charlotte Temple, a Richardsonian tale of passion and its penalties, narrates the story of a naive young woman whose lover, Montraville, persuades her to accompany him on a military mission to the United States. Shortly after arriving in New York, he abandons her for a Wealthy socialite, whereupon grief-stricken, guilt-ridden Charlotte dies after giving birth to an illegitimate daughter. The American novel has never outgrown the sentimental and sensational plot of its first best-seller; heroines from Hester Prynne to Catherine Barkley have been condemned to variations upon Charlotte's fate.
Since the concept of the fallen woman is central to Christianity, it is not surprising that the fiction of a nation founded by Puritans, who were obsessed with salvation and the Scriptures, Should reflect this bias. The American novel has inherited the Puritan conviction that life is a continual moral struggle and that man, and especially woman, is a frail creature. Like the Puritan sermon, the eighteenth-century novel attempted to instruct by example, exhorting readers to lead virtuous lives:  sermons relied on homily and plain style to bring the message home; the sentimental novel used example and emotion to achieve the same result. The guilt and anguish that Charlotte experiences as a result of her transgressions are the same emotions evoked by Jonathan Edwards' sermon, »Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.« In American fiction women are perceived as morally inferior creatures Who, beguiled, by their own passions, are destined to tragic lives if they deviate from the laws of God and man.
In addition to reinforcing Puritan morality, American fiction conditions its readers to accept bourgeois economic values (demonstrably an outgrowth of Puritan morality); women are encouraged to be virtuous so that they can make a good - that is, a financially respectable - marriage. As Ian Watt argues in The Rise of the Novel,[1] the novel's moral values reinforce bourgeois economic reality in which women are totally dependent on marriage for economic survival (a woman's wage in the late eighteenth century was approximately a quarter of a man's wage, and a woman's property automatically became her husband's upon marriage). In this economic system, virtue is a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, and virginity relinquished before marriage inevitably means that a woman is less marketable, and therefore less likely to survive economically. The virtuous Pamela was rewarded with financial security in marriage; Charlotte Temple would have died of starvation had she not first died in childbirth.
The polarization of economic roles that occurred on a widespread scale in the eighteenth century was accompanied by a polarization of psychological roles, requiring women to be emotionally passive and weak as well as economically dependent. (The principle that man is the breadwinner and woman the helpmate and homemaker has biblical antecedents.) The myth provides a basis for the economic and social system of industrial society, which requires that men be strong in order to face the harsh world of the competitive marketplace, to be captains of industry, to steer the ship of state, and that woman, the weaker sex, withdraw from the rough world for which she is not suited in order to nurture children and preserve culture within the home. The novel reflects this social definition of woman as a private creature, reinforcing purity, piety, and submissiveness as the proper feminine virtues and punishing those women who fail to comply with a behavior code that is economically viable in addition to being Christian.
An analysis of the numerous ways in which many of the most important American novels from Charlotte Temple to Farewell to Arms perpetuate the archetype of the fallen woman, thereby conditioning women to accept their inferior status, reveals the extent to which a myth can influence behavior long after widespread belief in the formal religious or economic mythology that gave rise to it has ceased to exist. It also indicates that fiction not only reflects and expresses social values but transmits them to future generations. A thorough understanding of the conditioning process occurring in the American novel - which in turn represents an aspect of larger cultural conditioning - is necessary in order to sensitize readers to the often subtle but pervasive negative influence of destructive archetypes.
Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter (1850)[2] is one of the better known heiresses of Eve's legacy. She is doomed to wear the scarlet A - the sign of adultery - and her fall from grace is underscored by her apparent loss of beauty: »All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this red hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh outline which might have been repulsive, had she possessed friends or companions to be repelled by it« (pp. 157-158). Her diminished beauty is a source of yet greater pain when it is finally revealed as existing, stifled, beneath the burden of her cruel public punishment. Flinging away the scarlet letter, she is suddenly free:

  • The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit. O exquisite relief! She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom! By another impulse, she took off the formal cap that confined her hair; and down it fell upon her shoulders, dark and rich, with at once a shadow and a light in its abundance, and imparting the charm of softness to her features. There played around her mouth and beamed out of her eyes a radiant and tender smile, that seemed gushing from the very heart of womanhood. A crimson flush was glowing on her cheek, that had been long so pale. Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness of her beauty, came back from what men call the irrevocable past, and clustered themselves, with her maiden hope and a happiness before unknown, within the magic circle of this hour. [P. 192]

However, her efforts to free herself were useless and she was forced to forfeit her sexuality; she had to gather up »the heavy tresses of her hair, confined them beneath her cap... her beauty, the warmth and richness of her womanhood departed« (p. 200).
Hawthorne reminds his readers that independent thought and emotion, that is, self-reliance, can be dangerous for women. The scarlet letter had been Hester's »passport into regions where other women dared not tread: Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers -  stern and wild ones - and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss« (p. 190). This is ironic since self-reliance is an American virtue, and male protagonists in American fiction are praised for their courage in breaking out of the confines of traditional society. Hester, however, does harsh penance for her moment of passion and demonstrates her piety by spending the rest of her days counseling women »in the continuing trials of wounded, wronged, misplaced or erring and sinful passion« (pp. 245-246). Hawthorne further undermines Hester's position by concluding that »no mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with lifelong sorrow. The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman, indeed, but lofty, pure, and beautiful; and wise, moreover, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy« (p. 246). Yet, the questioning reader remembers the dramatic scene in the woods in which Hester flings the scarlet letter away and lets down her hair and cannot help wondering what authorial perversity prevents Hester from being the prophetess of »a whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness« (p. 246), why she must bear the burden of such a complicated set of spiritual values that she is ultimately denied her human portion of understanding and generosity.
The Blithedale Romance [3] is Hawthorne's secular version of The Scarlet Letter. A study of the activities of a commune similar to Brook Farm, the novel portrays two women, Zenobia and Priscilla, who represent passion and piety respectively. Zenobia, named after a queen who ruled Palmyra in 267-273 A.D., is stately and commanding; Priscilla, passive and pristine as her name suggests, is a »delicate instrument« with nerves like »fragile harp strings.« Many critics think Zenobia is based on Margaret Fuller, who was associated with Brook Farm and who knew Hawthorne. Like Margaret Fuller, Zenobia is a champion of women's right. She asks the narrator Cover-dale:

Did you ever see a happy woman in your life? Of course, I do not mean a girl, like Priscilla, and a thousand others, - for they are all alike, while on the sunny side of experience, - but a grown woman. How can she be happy, after discovering that fate has assigned her but one single event, which she must contrive to make the substance of her whole life? A man has his choice of innumerable events. [P. 82]

Hawthorne's descriptions of Zenobia's opulent beauty resemble his description of Hester in the woods - like Hester, Zenobia is depicted as being warm, generous, and above all passionate:

Zenobia had a rich, though varying color. It was, most of the while, a flame, and anon a sudden paleness. Her eyes glowed, so that their light sometimes flashed upward to me, as when the sun throws a dazzle from some bright object on the ground. Her gestures were free and strikingly impressive. The whole woman was alive with a passionate intensity, which I now perceived to be the phase in which her beauty culminated. Any passion would have become her well; and passionate love, perhaps, the best of all. [P. 121]
...her beauty was set off by all that dress and ornament could do for it. And they did much. Not, indeed, that they created or added anything to what Nature had lavishly done for Zenobia. But, those costly robes which she had on, those flaming jewels around her neck, served as lamps to display the personal advantages which required nothing less than such an illumination to be fully seen. [P. 176]

Ironically, instead of recognizing her own strength and beauty, Zenobia submits to Hollingsworth's egotism and capitulates to his very traditional definition of woman as man's subordinate:

She is the most admirable handiwork of God, in her true place and character. Her place is at man's side. Her office, that of sympathizer, the unreserved, unquestioning believer; the recognition, withheld in every other manner, but given, in pity, through woman's heart, lest man should utterly lose faith in himself... All the separate action of woman is, and ever has been, and always shall be, false, foolish, vain, destructive of her own best and holiest qualities, void of every good effect, and productive of intolerable mischiefs! Man is a wretch without woman; but woman is a monster - thank Heaven, an almost impossible and hitherto imaginary monster - without man as her acknowledged principal! ... if there were a chance of their attaining the end which these petticoated monstrosities have in view, I would call upon my own sex to use its Physical force, the unmistakable evidence of sovereignty, to scourge them back within their proper bounds! But it will not be needful. The heart of true womanhood knows where its own sphere is, and never seeks to stray beyond it [Pp. 139-140]

Coverdale observes that women always acquiesce to man's definition of them and wonders, somewhat patronizingly, if women are innately frail: »Women almost invariably behave thus... what does the fact mean? Is it their nature? or is it, at last, the result of ages of compelled degradation? And, in either case, will it be possible to redeem them?« (p. 141). Although Zenobia struggles against Hollingsworth's edict of women's dependency, denouncing his egotism - »It's all self! Nothing else; nothing but self, self, self« (p. 224) - she confides her despair and defeat to Coverdale: »In the battlefield of life, the downright stroke, that would only fall on a man's steel head-piece, is sure to light on a woman's heart, over which she wears no breastplate, and whose wisdom it is, therefore, to keep out of the conflict ... the woman who swerves one's hair's breadth,... that, with that one hair's breadth, she goes all astray, and never sees the world in its true aspect afterwards« (p. 229).
In a moment of self-abasement, Zenobia drowns herself, and Coverdale mourns, »It was a woeful thought, that a woman of Zenobia's diversified capacity should have fancied herself irretrievably defeated on the broad battlefield of life, and with no refuge, save to fall on her own sword, merely because Love had gone against her« (p. 245). Yet, in spite of his railing against male egotism which confines women to the sphere of emotions defining them as failures if they are not loved, Coverdale reveals his own chauvinism in the concluding sentence of the novel: »I - I myself - was in love - with Priscilla« (p. 259) - Priscilla, whom he had described earlier as a »gentle parasite, the soft reflection of a more powerful existence« (p. 140), who sat at Hollingsworth's feet in mute adoration while Zenobia struggled against him for her womanhood and recognition as a human being. In revealing his own preference for the »gentle parasite,« Priscilla, Coverdale was perhaps echoing Hawthorne himself, who had strong antifeminist predilections as revealed by his statement in 1855 that »America is now wholly given over to a damn mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash.«
Perhaps the »scribbling women« Hawthorne was referring to were women like Verena Tarrant and Olive Chancellor, the feminist heroines of Henry James' The Bostonians [4] (1886). Verena, an articulate and passionate public speaker for woman's rights, and Olive, a theoretician of the movement, both vow »to become great not to be obscure, and powerful, in order not to be useless« (p. 159). Convinced that »it is women in the end who had paid for everything« (p. 185), Olive, who is politically more sophisticated than Verena, rejects men as a class; but Verena takes a vow of celibacy simply to please Olive. It is suggested that Olive has a sexual interest in Verena, but Verena is sexually attracted to Basil Ransom, who insists that »the use of a truly amiable woman is to make some honest man happy« (p. 244); he despises feminists and paternalistically asserts that they are ineffectual in public life. His statements to Verena reveal his immense hostility to her values:

The whole generation is womanized; the masculine tone is passing out of the world; it's a feminine, a nervous, hysterical, chattering, canting age, an age of hollow phrases and false delicacy and exaggerated solicitudes and coddled sensibilities, which, if we don't look out will usher in a reign of mediocrity, of the feeblest, flattest and most pretentious that has ever been. The masculine character, the ability to dare and endure, to know and yet not fear reality, to look the world in the face and take it for what it is - a very queer and partly very base mixture - that is what I want to preserve, or rather, as I may say, to recover; and I must tell you that I don't in the least care what becomes of you ladies while I make the attempt [P. 343]

The novel's crisis occurs when Ransom attempts to convince Verena to give herself to a man rather than a movement, assuring her that »the dining-table itself shall be our platform« (p. 401). Olive entreats Verena to live her own life, devoting herself to the cause of women's rights rather than sitting at the feet of Ransom and thereby providing their adversaries »with consummate proof of the fickleness, the futility, the predestined servility of women« (p. 391). Verena despises Ransom's philosophy but confesses with anguish to Olive that she is irresistibly drawn to him: »I like him - I can't help it - I do like him. I don't want to marry him, I don't want to embrace his ideas, which are unspeakably false and horrible; but I like him better than any gentleman I have seen« (pp. 386-387).
In the tug of war between Olive Chancellor and Basil Ransom for Verena's allegiance, Ransom gets the upper hand, forcing the issue minutes before Verena is scheduled to speak on women's rights to a huge Boston audience. Paralyzed and unable to bring herself to address the crowd without Ransom's permission, Verena allows herself to be »wrenched away« by »muscular force« in a scene very much like the one in which Montraville abducts Charlotte Temple (it is interesting to note the frequent occurrence in fiction of women who faint at the crucial moment, thereby relinquishing conscious choice or, if they fail to cooperate by swooning, have men assert their physical strength over them). James reveals his own misgivings about Verena's fate by confiding that Ransom cannot redeem Verena: »He presently discovered that with the union, so far from brilliant, into which she was about to enter, those were not the last (tears) she was destined to shed« (p. 464). The conclusion of the novel reveals James' essential sympathy for Verena. Yet she is placed in a double bind, an either/ or situation no man would ever really face: Because she has to make a choice between a husband and her ideals, Verena is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't; in order to cut the Gordian knot, she must sacrifice an important part of herself, giving up her ability to function effectively in the world in order to play a supporting role in Ransom's domestic drama.
Isabel Archer in Henry James' Portrait of a Lady (1881)[5] is a much stronger person than Verena and one of the most interesting and engaging American heroines. Attractive, articulate, and intelligent, Isabel reveals her capacity for existential consciousness in her wish to actively shape her life:

She was intelligent and generous; it was a fine free nature; but what was she going to do with herself? This question was irregular, for with most women one had no occasion to ask it. Most women did with themselves nothing at all; they waited in attitudes more or less gracefully passive, for a man to come their way and furnish them with a destiny. Isabel's originality was that she gave one an impression of having intentions of her own. [P. 59]

Because she wants to see life for herself, she declines to marry her two most ardent suitors - Lord Warburton, a kind and gentle British aristocrat, and Casper Goodwood, a sturdy American industrialist. Although Isabel insists that she »doesn't want to begin life by marrying« (p. 139), she admits to herself that she likes Warburton »too much to marry him, that was the point, something told her that she should not be satisfied, and to inflict upon a man who offered so much, a tendency to criticize would be a particularly discreditable act« (p. 103). The reader is told that Isabel is really »frightened of herself (p. 103); yet it is difficult to imagine the cause of this fear unless she has internalized the conventional definition of wife and worries that her ego is too assertive to permit her to be pious, passive, and supportive. On the one hand, Isabel wishes to choose her fate, to know »something of human affairs beyond what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me« (p. 149) but, on the other hand, she is afraid of not being able to meet social expectations, and her newly inherited fortune simply compounds her fear and guilt: »I try to care more about the world than about myself - but I always come back to myself. It is because I am afraid.... A large fortune means freedom, and I am afraid of that. It's such a fine thing, and one should make such good use of it. If one shouldn't, one would be ashamed« (p. 206).
Encouraged and manipulated by Madam Merle, Isabel ignores the advice of her cousin Ralph and marries Gilbert Osmond, a sterile dilettante whom Isabel mistakes for a man of sensitivity. Isabel had hoped that her fortune could expand Osmond's life, but a year after her marriage, she admits to herself that »she had not read him right« (p. 393). Although her life as Mrs. Osmond is one in which »suffering is an active condition« (p. 390), she is committed to her marriage vow and remains with her husband in order to care for his daughter Pansy, whom she genuinely loves. Isabel is unwilling or afraid to act for her own happiness and becomes a martyr in marriage. Ironically, she too is imprisoned by her own sense of duty and - like many a woman before and after her - no longer dares to live her own life.
A decade later, Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin's The Awakening,[6] unlike Isabel, worries less about social convention and more about her own fulfillment. The Awakening is the first American novel to focus on the perceptions and experience of a woman who finds that her marriage damages her sense of self - Edna Pontellier's story begins where Isabel's left off. At twenty-eight she has been married for six years to a New Orleans financier and is the mother of two children; in the course of the novel, she is gradually awakened to her »position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within her and without her« (p. 214). From her youth, Edna has understood »the dual life - that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions« (p. 215); although she loves her husband and children, nevertheless an »indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her being with anguish« (pp. 205-206). from a stereotyped perception of herself as wife and mother to that of a knowing, feeling, self-aware person. The novel captures the flux of Edna's moods as she moves
As she becomes less and less repressed, her will asserts itself more strongly. Her first act of freedom is minor-^ she defiantly refuses to comply with her husband's request to come indoors at bedtime - then she fails to meet her social obligations to the wives of her husband's business associates; later, she begins to keep her own hours; finally, she moves into a small house of her own. Edna's yearning for independence confuses and frightens her at first, but as the novel progresses, she becomes more and more sure of her need for solitude - reflected by the increasingly more frequent appearance of bird and sea imagery - and her stature heightens.
Like Zenobia, Edna is characterized by her queenlike magnificence:

The golden shimmer of Edna's satin gown spread in rich folds on either side of her. There was a soft fall of lace encircling her shoulders. It was the color of her skin, without the glow, the myriad living tints that one may sometimes discover in vibrant flesh. There was something in her attitude, in her whole appearance when she leaned her head against the high-backed chair and spread her arms, which suggested the regal woman, the one who rules, who looks on, who stands alone. [P. 308]

Edna's appearance is in direct contrast to the madonna-like Madame Ratingnole with hair like »spun gold« and eyes »like nothing but sapphires; two lips that pouted, that were so red that one could only think of cherries or some other delicious fruit in looking at them.... Never were hands more exquisite than hers, and it was a joy to look at them when she threaded her needle or sewed away on little night drawers or fashioned a bodice or a bib« (p. 208).
Although Edna feels affection for her children, she asserts, »I would give my life for my children, but I wouldn't give myself« (p. 257). She resents being a victim of nature's »torture« (p. 334) and feels dread while witnessing Madame Ratingnole's labor pains. In spite of Edna's efforts to divest herself of the illusions that nature provides in order to »secure mothers for the race« (p. 335), she feels enmeshed by social pressures to meet her obligations as wife and mother. Madame Reiz had told her that »the bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings, bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to
earth,« (p. 301). However, in spite of Edna's yearning for the unconventional life, her wings are really not strong enough for the flight.
Like so many heroines in American fiction, she is not able to bear the rejection of the man she loves: »despondency had come upon her there in the wakeful night, and had never lifted. There was no one thing in the world that she desired. There was no human being whom she wanted near her except Robert; and she even realized that the day would come when he, too, and the thought of him would melt out of her existence, leaving her alone. The children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her, who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul's slavery for the rest of her days« (p. 339). Just before Edna drowns herself, she sees a bird with a »broken wing beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water« (p. 340). Perhaps Edna is foolish to look for freedom in solitude, but, after all, solitude is the essential basis for the profoundly American belief in self-reliance. In any case, the novel's significance lies in its depiction of Edna's desire to free herself from biological determinants - a necessary prerequisite to becoming a whole person rather than an extension of nature.
Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence (1920)[7] has both a dark and a fair heroine, but this time the protagonist Newland Archer prefers the exotic Ellen Olenska to his compliant, fair wife May. May is described as having the »vacant serenity of a young marble athlete« (p. 119), while Ellen looks very much like Zenobia or Edna Pontellier: »(she) sat half-reclined, her head propped on a hand and her wide sleeve leaving the arm bare to the elbow... heedless of tradition, (she) was attired in a long robe of red velvet bordered about the chin and down the front with glossy black fur« (p. 91).
Although his marriage to May is proclaimed »the most brilliant of the year« (p. 153), Archer feels himself sinking into a black abyss; he feels claustrophobic, »as though he were being buried alive by the future« (pp. 117-118). Because he knows that May will never surprise him »by an unexpected mood, by a weakness, a cruelty, or an emotion« (p. 235), he cannot avoid feeling that he has missed »the flower of life« (p. 275). However, like Isabel Archer, he resigns himself to honoring his marriage commitment: »it did not matter so much if marriage was a dull duty: lapsing from that, it became a battle of ugly appetites« (p. 275). Interestingly, Newland Archer, one of the few male protagonists in American fiction who appreciates women who are people rather than extensions of his ego, is a creation of a woman novelist; although Archer is a somewhat atypical protagonist, his appreciation and concern for Ellen Olenska reveal other possible dimensions in human relationships than those designated by the breadwinner-homemaker recipe.
While it is obvious that human relationships are complex, and that, as Edith Wharton's novel reveals, men as well as women suffer thwarted love, the happiness of American heroines is sacrificed more readily than that of their male counterparts. In order to meet the demands of a conventional marriage, most women must submerge their individual identities: Newland Archer may feel that he has »missed the flower of life,« but he has not lost his sense of self - his ego survives and his place in society is not questioned. Ellen Olenska, however, has a very uncertain future; she depends on family and friends for support, and it is clear that she will never have the financial, social, or professional freedom that Newland Archer has.
In Villa Cather's My Mortal Enemy (1925),[8] Myra Henshawe gives up an inheritance in order to marry for love. Myra is as dramatically beautiful as the women who precede her in the gallery of dark American heroines:

Her deep-set, flashing grey eyes seemed to be taking me in altogether - estimating me. For all that, she was no taller than I, I felt quite overpowered by her - and stupid, hopelessly clumsy and stupid. Her black hair was done high on her head, alia Pompadour, and there were curious zigzag, curly streaks of glistening white in it, which made it look like the fleece of a Persian goat or some animal that bore silky fur. I could not meet the playful curiosity of her eyes at all, so I fastened my gaze upon a necklace of carved amethysts she wore inside the square-cut neck of her dress. [P. 6]

In spite of her romantic disposition, Myra confides to the narrator Nellie that her marriage has not really been satisfying, that she has had to relinquish many of her own needs - a sacrifice she has bitterly regretted:

People can be lovers and enemies at the same time, you know. We were ... A man and a woman draw apart from that long embrace, and see what they have done to each other. Perhaps I can't forgive him for the harm I did him. Perhaps that's it. When there are children, that feeling goes through natural changes. But when it remains so personal... something gives way in one. In age we lose everything, even the power to love. [Pp. 88-89]

Convinced that she has permitted her romantic illusions to rob her of selfhood, Myra cries, »Why must I die like this, alone with my mortal enemy?« (p. 95). Her cry is sufficiently ambiguous so that the reader does not know if she considers her mortal enemy to be her husband or herself. The ambiguity is interesting because she made the decision to marry and therefore is responsible for the erosion of self she has experienced in marriage. Myra Henshawe Is very much like Edna Pontellier - dissatisfied with the limitations of her married life but without sufficient conviction and strength to create an alternative life for herself.
In Love and Death in the American Novel, Leslie Fiedler observes that the American heroine is bifurcated into »Fair Virgin and Dark Lady«; that is, into the good blonde girl and the evil dark woman. According to Fiedler, the male protagonist in American fiction is essentially anti-sexual; the dark heroines in American fiction represent the authors' masturbatory fantasies and must be destroyed because they are too threatening. The Priscilla-Zenobia, Olive-Verena, Edna Pontellier-Madame Ratingnole, Ellen Olenska-May Welland rivalries certainly corroborate Fiedler's perception of the schizophrenic split between good and evil or passion and frigidity that pervades American literature. As this essay argues, this duality also reveals the Puritan bias in our literature, characterized by the need to punish women for original sin as well as the imperative to reward those women who are content to be subservient to men's needs. This need indicates that the dual image of goddess and temptress manifests man's terrible fear of his own sexuality - in the shadow of this image most women have lived out their lives.
Twentieth-century novels such as Farewell to Arms and An American Dream reveal that the stigma of original sin still taints American heroines. Farewell to Arms (1929)[10] is a contemporary reenactment of Eden. Catherine Barkley is the subservient, compliant companion par excellence: as nurse-mistress to Frederic Henry, she is passive femininity incarnate. When they make love, she obsessively asks, »I'm good. Aren't I good ... I do what you want« (p. 106). Henry feels that the relationship is blissful, and it should be for him because there is only one ego - his. »Oh, Darling, I want you so much I want to be you too,« Catherine says. »You are,« Henry responds, »We're the same one« (p. 299). Although Catherine cleaves to Frederic, ironically, she cannot still escape pain and destruction: she experiences intense agony in labor and, like Charlotte Temple, dies of childbirth complications. The labor-room scene could be right out of a Puritan sermon, depicting the consequences of God's wrath on adulteresses. Catherine's pain is horrifying, and the pitiful moralizing of Frederic Henry does not diminish its terror: »Poor, poor dear Cat. And this was the price you paid for sleeping together« (p. 320). While Henry mouths platitudes, Catherine screams in agony because the gas is no longer sufficient to subdue the pain:

I'm just a fool, darling, Catherine said. But it (the gas) doesn't work anymore. She began to cry. Oh, I wanted so much to have this baby and not make trouble, and now I'm all done and gone to pieces and it doesn't work. Oh, darling, it doesn't work at all. I don't care if only it will stop. There it comes. Oh Oh Oh! She breathed sobbingly into the mask. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. Don't mind me darling. [P. 322]

Catherine dies, thereby expiating their sin, and Henry, keeping a stiff upper lip, leaves the hospital and walks back into the hotel in the rain.
In Norman Mailer's An American Dream (1965)[11] Stephen Richards Rojack echoes Frederic Henry's manly fortitude: »if one wished to be a lover, one could not find one's sanity in another, that was the iron law of romance: one took the vow to be brave« (p. 191). Obviously, this is one lesson American heroines have never learned. However, it appears that Rojack has not really learned it either because he makes such statements as »women must murder us unless we possess them altogether« (p. 16), and then proceeds to murder his wife because he feels possessed by her. Sex is a battle for Rojack in which wills meet »locked in an exchange of stares which goes on and on« (p. 122). Rojack decides he loves the night-club singer Cherry and prays for a romantic idyll much like Catherine and Frederic's: »let me love that girl, and become a father and try to be a good man« (p. 153), but because his courage fails him, she is killed as retribution for his cowardice and egotism. Again, the grief-stricken hero leaves, but this time he valiantly heads for Yucatan instead of resolutely returning to the hotel.
Perhaps the woman who comes closest to taking Ro-jack's vow of courage is the narrator of Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps (1942)[12] - a brilliant novel that has received little critical attention to date. This novel chronicles a twentieth-century woman's attempts to resist biblical strictures and to attain selfhood on her own terms. It begins with her divorce which she regards ironically and self-deprecatingly but which does permit her to begin to take responsibility for her own life. To prove her social emancipation, she becomes sexually aggressive but nevertheless worries about becoming a spinster; she experiences a strange combination of timidity and defiance and is alternately predatory and victimized. Her favorite quotation is from Chaucer's Criseyde »I am my owen woman, well at else«, but although she is sexually liberated, she continues to be psychologically enslaved because she persists in looking for her identity in a man. She remarries, this time to a successful architect, but the marriage does not create selfhood. Finally, with an analyst's help, she begins to make the transition from dependency to selfhood, realizing that she is her greatest enemy and that her failures are due to insufficient self-love to which both her childhood and cultural conditioning contribute:

Now for the first time she saw her own extremity, saw that it was some failure in self-love that obliged her to snatch blindly at the love of others, hoping to love herself through them, borrowing their feelings, as the moon borrowed light. She herself was a dead planet. [P. 303]

Yet, this new knowledge frightens her (her* fear is not surprising considering this is the first perception of its kind to be made by a woman in American fiction); she wonders and perhaps even hopes that it is a therapeutic lie: »There was no use talking. She knew. Only a man ... she was under a terrible enchantment, like the beleaguered princesses in the fairy tales« (p. 302). In spite of the emotional red herring with which she tries to distract herself, she realizes that no man can ever create self-love; she must do that for herself. The novel concludes ironically: her prayer for continued insight, »O dei reddite me hoc pro pietate mea« (p. 304), is belied by her unbelief in God.
The novel reveals how badly our culture needs a new mythology for women. Although psychoanalysis often confines women as much as Christianity, at least it has made us aware of the extent of psychic damage resulting from a failure of self-love. However, insufficient self-love continues to be the norm by which our culture measures adjustment for women, and self-abnegation is considered to be a form of feminine maturity.
The problem of self-doubt still plagues the American heroine, and unfortunately, not much progress has been made since The Company She Keeps. As has been pointed out, major social and economic change will have to take place before improvements in the female psyche can occur. However, fiction can contribute to changing female consciousness and men's concept of women by providing a vision of a new Eve, of a woman who is self-actualizing, strong, risk-taking, independent, but also capable of loving and being loved. Women like this have existed in real life - consider Anne Bradstreet, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Fuller, Frances Wright, Frances Bloomer, Amelia Earhart. Why have our novelists persisted in ignoring these examples of strong women, reinforcing instead the image of women as forlorn, helpless creatures, who are certain to be destroyed or hopelessly embittered unless they devote themselves exclusively to their domestic lives and duties as wives and mothers? Why have novelists persisted (consciously or unconsciously) in perpetuating the tradition of the fallen woman consistently punished for her frailty? Why have novelists insisted that heroines can redeem themselves only if they forego sexuality? Furthermore, why have women internalized cultural concepts of themselves defining them as inferior or potentially evil creatures when their own experience often tells them otherwise? These are not easy questions to answer, but it is time to attempt to reverse the effects of centuries of conditioning which have reinforced the biblical perception of women as fallen creatures who must do penance for original sin. Unfortunately, most women as well as most men unquestioningly accept this myth which renders one-half of the race less than human. Sacrificing the humanity of slightly more than 50 percent of the species is a pretty high price to pay for eating an apple - and it was probably a rotten apple at that.