Woman on the Edge of Time Essay - Critical Essays

Marge Piercy

Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy Woman on the Edge of Time Analysis

Marge Piercy is a novelist and poet who has never seen a conflict between the demands of art and the realities of politics. Woman on the Edge of Time, like many of her other, more mainstream works, addresses most of the burning issues of the 1970’s: racism, poverty, war, ecology, and, most emphatically, men’s and women’s roles in American society. What is intriguing about Piercy’s novel is the ambiguity of presentation that allows for two interpretations of Connie’s experience. If Connie is insane, then the novel is, like Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), a mainstream novel of social commentary. If, however, Connie is truly time traveling, a view easily supported by the text, then the novel is, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), a feminist work of science fiction.

What is certain in the novel is that the village of Mattapoisett is a perfectly constructed antidote of the injustices that Connie has suffered in the present. Whether Luciente actually exists or is a Thorazine-induced fantasy, she offers Connie a vision of the way things should be that enables her to fight the way things are. The macho ideal that brutalizes both Connie and the men in her life is replaced in Mattapoisett with an androgynous ethos that allows women to be strong and men to be caring. The racism that oppresses Connie at every turn is erased by a few generations of genetic engineering. Connie’s “insanity” is viewed by Luciente as a gift, and Connie’s passive receptivity makes her an honored “catcher” in the eyes of the future. This is clearly a utopia tailor-made to correct the ills of Connie’s present life.

In the same way, Gildina’s world is a natural and frightening extension of modern bureaucratic society, with its exaggerated sexual differences, its reliance on machines and gadgets, its obsession with consumerism, and its complete lack of sensitivity to the earth. In addition, Gildina’s world is an effective parody of much of modern science fiction, which often seems to argue that the answers to human problems lie in quick and painless technological fixes. Woman on the Edge of Time argues, instead, that the modern world is at a critical crossroads; it also suggests that the answers for the future may not come from the self-important doctors but from the suffering patients.