Analyze the character of Roberta Muldoon.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Roberta Muldoon helps to explore the idea that "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."  Her characterization is meant to illuminate the complexities and nuances that lie at the source of all the characters in the novel. On one hand, Robert Muldoon was the prototypical male.  A tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League, Roberta ends up recognizing her true identity as a woman.  After a procedure and recognition, Roberta represents a force of healing to many around her.  Her grounded sense of self despite being so very liminal can be seen in how she perceives consciousness in the world:  "All men are liars' said Roberta Muldoon, who knew this was true because she had once been a man."

Roberta's characterization also shows how political affirmation does not need to take the form of silence and negation.  This becomes significant because the "terminal cases" that form the world are usually ones immersed in political activity.  The Ellen Jamesians are one such example.  Seeking to bring voice by denying their own and others', the Ellen Jamesians are zealots who are incapable of synthesizing other voices into their own.  On the other side of this political spectrum would be the voices such as Kenny Truckenmiller, Jenny's eventual assassin.  In a world in which people are reduced to either/ or binary associations, Roberta represents a transformational possibility of what can be. Roberta seeks to heal others and bring community to more people through her limitless capacity to love.  While she experiences pain and heartache herself, she never allows it to temper her judgement and attitudes towards men and women.  Roberta is a character who embraces Garp's idea of needing to "have a life" before death. 

It is deliberate that Roberta as a transsexual is one of the most self- actualized characters in the novel.  In a world of hurt where so many are "terminal cases," Roberta provides some temporary feeling of relief.  She provides the needed solidarity and community in which one can find sanctuary from a condition of being where there is so much hurt and pain. It is here in which her characterization becomes essential and vital to the narrative's development.

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