(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel’s ironic title, Small Changes, indicates the nature of the action—small but often significant change taking place in the lives of most of the major characters. Although Piercy provides commentary on almost all the social and political concerns of the 1960’s and the 1970’s, she parallels the development of the two protagonists, Beth and Miriam, with the similarly erratic and often painful progress of the women’s movement.

The novel opens with the marriage of Beth Phail, a shy and seemingly conventional girl, to her high school sweetheart, Jim Walker. What society perceives as a beginning seems a dead end to Beth, so she runs away to find a more independent life in Boston. Although she must take unskilled and unsatisfying jobs, she slowly gains self-confidence and expands her network of friends. One of these friends is Miriam Berg, who eventually gets Beth a job as a keypunch operator at the computer corporation, Logical Systems Development, Inc., where Miriam works as a member of the technical staff.

Piercy then takes the reader back to another beginning in “The Book of Miriam,” which recounts Miriam’s unhappy childhood in Flatbush, Brooklyn, where she grew up feeling unloved and ugly. At college, however, she loses weight and gains her health. Her new sensuality is revealed and refined by a young poet named Phil, who is delighted to find her a virgin and “sexually, a tabula rasa.” Miriam’s connection to...

(The entire section is 590 words.)

Small Changes Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Small Changes is a novel about two women, Miriam and Beth, and the men in their lives. The men are lovers, teachers of life, and models of the patriarchal philosophy that has dominated the women’s lives and culture. The women’s movement became the messenger of this oppression and pointed out the ramifications of that oppression for half of the human race. Jackson was one of the men in Miriam’s life during her college days. “He taught her to wear funky colors and bold colors and cloth with an interesting texture. He taught her to look first at how the cloth lay against her body; how it lay when she stood, when she sat, when she moved.”

The novel begins as Beth is preparing for her wedding, and as her life expands into the women’s movement she realizes that heterosexuality is a social construction for women. She falls in love with a woman, and she learns to identify herself as lesbian. “Why not come out of the closet? The first step in our liberation is being able to love each other, to give each other that love and support and tenderness we’ve given men. Men don’t have to be gentle and nurturing because they can find a woman to do it for them. But all women are starved for tenderness.”

Marge Piercy uses dialogue as metaphor and spins a compelling story of the small changes that women are making in relation to the men and other women in their lives. Miriam is the free spirit and has several affairs with men while in...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Small Changes Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Piercy, Marge. “A Harsh Day’s Light: An Interview with Marge Piercy.” Interview by John Rodden. Kenyon Review 20 (Spring, 1998): 132-143. Piercy discusses her insistence on the role of politics in poetry, her relationship with other female relatives, and her attempt to write science-fiction novels. Offers interesting insight into her life and work.

Piercy, Marge. “Marge Piercy: A Class Act.” Interview by Dawn Gifford. Off Our Backs 24 (June, 1994): 14-16. Piercy offers her assessment of the problems faced by the feminist movement in the United States, stating that she believes that the situation has improved between 1993 and 1994. She discusses works by other authors that most influenced her writing, including those of James Joyce and Simone de Beauvoir.

Shands, Kerstin W. The Repair of the World: The Novels of Marge Piercy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Provides biographical information as well as criticism and interpretation of Piercy’s novels. Includes bibliographical references and an index. A valuable resource offering a solid overview of Piercy’s works.

Walker, Sue, and Eugenie Hamner, eds. Ways of Knowing: Critical Essays on Marge Piercy. Mobile, Ala.: Negative Capability Press, 1991.