Slaves of New York Essay - Critical Essays

Tama Janowitz


Slavery can take many forms. In “Case History #4: Fred,” Fred takes women shopping at Tiffany’s, telling them that he expects nothing in return. It is difficult to believe that he is not trying to buy them; ironically, he never consummates a purchase. In New York, control over real estate gives one control over people. Career choices also involve slavery. Artist are slaves to the whims of collectors, buyers, and art dealers, and anyone who grants a career-enhancing favor. To fall in love is to become dependent, to put control over one’s happiness in the hands of another. Women, Janowitz implies, are far more likely to be slaves than slavemasters, because men take their relationships far more casually.

Artists are considered to be free spirits. Ironically, without exception the characters in this book are slaves of one sort or another. Further irony comes from the protection offered by slavery. One character owns a dog that she lets off its leash twice. On the first occasion, the dog is injured; on the second, it is killed. Characters recognize the hierarchy and strive to be owners rather than owned. Marley Mantello, for example, specifically dreams about what he will do when he is rich enough to have slaves.

Throughout these stories, women are subservient to or dependent on men. Their self-esteem is lower than that of men, even men of far less obvious merit. An example is Marley, who is sure that he is a genius even though he has difficulty selling his work. Eleanor’s jewelry designs sound as creative as anything the male artists conceive, but Stash denigrates them as derivative and she believes him. Stash encourages her to make friends but becomes jealous when she does so, treating her as his property. Even as they are subjected to this type of treatment, the female characters do not always envy men. The prostitute narrator of “Modern Saint #271” ruminates about the many types of penises she has encountered...

(The entire section is 795 words.)