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Kerima Polotan Tuvera’s The Virgin: The Feminist Approach "The Quest of Being a Woman"
“The Quest of Being a Woman” from Kerima Polotan Tuvera’s The Virgin is a perfect title that shows the same meaning of feminist criticism. Feminist perspective defines the manifestation of women’s true desires and struggles in society. Its purpose is to reveal the patriarchal premises resulting from the prejudices and discoveries of the story or any literary piece using character analysis. This paper will give readers a clear view of how feminist criticism applies its features to a well-known short story called The Virgin.
Encapsulation of the author’s background and story
Kerima Polotan Tuvera was a famous Filipino writer. His works have achieved some of the highest literary recognition in the Philippines, his short story ‘The Virgin’ being one of his most notable literary works. The word “virgin” he mentions in his story refers to someone who is pure and unblemished. According to society’s dictates, in order to gain respect and status, a woman must be pure and virgin because it is said that a woman’s virginity equates to her status. Society dictates that a woman must preserve her virginity until she marries, as Miss Miseres did with herself. She was not able to express her feelings to men because she had to protect her virginity/dignity. Hence, the story presents Miss Miseres’ struggle caused by societal dictates on her personality that prevent her from finding her own identity as a person and a woman through feminist perspectives.
Discussion (applying feminist approach)
Miss Miseres, the main character in the short story titled The Virgin, expressed her desire through her metaphors and symbols in her writing as a writer and as a woman. Although she is a responsible daughter of her family, she also wants to be loved by others, especially, she has always dreamed of having a man in her life. But her responsibilities as a girl and as a member of society stand in the way of her dreams. The following lines show his desire to become a man:
“But neither love nor glory stood behind him, only lurking, empty shadows, and nine years passed, nine years. In his last dying room, he held out his hand to the light, noting the thick, durable fingers, thinking of shame, bitterness, and guilt. in the mixture that they never touched a man.”
There was also a scene in the story that showed her romantic feelings when she was angry to find out that the carpenter had a son and thought he was married. But after the carpenter admitted that he was not married to the mother of his son, he felt relieved. After that event, it suddenly started raining and the atmosphere became unpleasant. The scene reveals Miss Miseres’ passion for the carpenter. It was depicted that he was emotionally affected by Carpenter’s revelations. Rain and weather as metaphors for his feelings; This proves her hidden passion with men.
There was also a symbolic expression about his longing for love. The paperweight which was made by the carpenter in the shape of a dove is a symbol of union to fly. The carpenter offered it to her, which showed that the carpenter was offering something to Miss Miseres. Miss Miseres laughed at this showing that she liked the proposition. Thus, it confirms that Miss Miseres is attracted to Carpenter as implied by her acceptance and fondness with the flying object that symbolizes love making in the psychoanalytic approach.
All of Miss Miseres’ life was spent completing her responsibilities such as finishing college, sending her niece to school, and taking care of her mother. That was her duty as a woman, to nurture her family unconditionally. This role that was dictated by society and perhaps her own family made her a woman for other people and not a woman with herself. Society dictates that women should protect their virginity which equates to their dignity which Miss Miseres accepted with respect. Miss Miseres is portrayed not only as a woman who wants to go beyond her role but also as a woman who wants to build her own life.
Moreover, Tuvera shows the inner struggle of a woman in the story. The struggle of a woman in Miss Miseres to stick to societal expectations and hide her self was exposed and retold. His struggle was symbolized by his encounter with the unfamiliar place and the diversion of the jeepney. It symbolizes her loss of self because she cannot be herself and has to be the woman society dictates her to be.
In society, women are responsible for taking care of family members. This was the case with Miss Miseres, when she was the only one left to care for her sick and aged mother. He forgot his own life and performed all duties. Miss Miseres can be identified as the old maid in the story. At 34, she has yet to touch a man. Her description in the story and her life really fit her as the archetype of the old maid who is still untouchable.
Three phases of women’s history, the women’s phase, the feminist phase and the woman’s life of Miss Miserables can be identified. According to Showalter’s theory the feminine stage is the stage that involves imitation of the dominant tradition’s conventional methods and internalization of its values. In fact, Miss Miseres has gone to the point at the very beginning where she has allowed the dictates of society to rule her life. She took care of her mother dutifully and she protected her virginity for a long time. However, as the story develops, her character gradually develops to the point that she has already reached the stage of feminism. Feminist phase can be described as a stage of protest against minority rights.
Miss Miseres did not protest openly or politically but there was an internal protest within her. His experiences of being lost and rainy days symbolize his inner protest that he must go beyond what is expected of him. This symbolic protest actually caused confusion within him, as he was torn between social orders and himself. The last phase was what can be described as the female phase of self-discovery, a search for identity. The last part of the short story shows that Miss Miseres has gone through a womanly phase. The lines of progress really imply that he is freed from the social roles that surround him:
“In her secret heart, the young dreams of Miss Miseres flickered dimly to life, seeming terrible in the rain, to this man—seeming monstrous but sweet and irresistible. I must get away, she thought wildly, but he moved and against her. jumped. Her, and where his touch fell, her flesh leapt, and she remembered how her hand had been the first day, lying tenderly on the edge of her desk, and the wooden bird (which looked like a moving, shiny, dove) and she turned to him: his ruffs were wet and dry, in the darkness he turned to him.”
The last paragraph proves that in his heart, he has passed the protest stage and now, he is able to express himself, his own feelings and his own desires. This shows that she is now able to step outside of her social role as she reveals that she is ready to surrender her virginity. Her virginity is indeed a symbol of dignity; However, it is part of a woman’s purpose to have a man who will be able to swallow that long-kept virginity.
The short story depicts the success of women in overcoming the stereotypical world of men. The main character was able to defy society’s dictates and establish herself in her quest to become a woman.
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