Can Elfriede Jelinek's novel Women as Lovers be seen as problematic, perhaps in the way it depicts society's shortcomings or any other concern? Overall, what can be seen as a major problem within...

Can Elfriede Jelinek's novel Women as Lovers be seen as problematic, perhaps in the way it depicts society's shortcomings or any other concern? Overall, what can be seen as a major problem within this novel?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It can be considered that one major problem seen in Elfriede Jelinek's novel Women as Lovers is the way in which women are portrayed. The novel presents a social truth for the time period it was written in, 1975: Women were not as able as men to secure their own financial futures and thus needed to rely on men and marriage for financial security. However, the novel even goes farther than that in treating women as sex objects.

Both female characters, Brigitte from town and Paula from the village, are desperate for ways out of their situations. Brigitte works at an undergarment factory and is only paid per price of clothing she makes, while Paula has no job and dreams of becoming a dressmaker instead of the homemaker her mother insists she become. We see Paula proclaim her desire to become a dressmaker early on in the book:

... but mother i don't want to [become a homemaker], i want to learn dressmaking. and when i've finished learning to be a dressmaker, i want to have something of my life [sic] ... . (p. 17)

Brigitte sets her sights on marrying Heinz, an electrician, as her means out of poverty, while Paula puts aside the idea of becoming a dressmaker and sets her sights on marrying Erich, a woodcutter. However, sadly, both women use sexual enticement as their means of wooing their choices, showing us that the author portrays women as being thought of, even by themselves, as nothing more than sex objects, which is a significantly problematic way to present society for any time period. Naturally, the two men resist the idea of marriage because, why should they marry since they're already being given sex? Eventually, the two women do win their husbands due to pregnancy but at the cost of deciding they hate their men. Regardless, the novel poses a significant problem in presenting the idea that women can only accomplish their goals through sex, which is a false notion for any time period. Chastity was prized in earlier time periods, even if women were treated as property that is only useful for sex and appropriation, and even today it's quite socially clear that sex accomplishes nothing other than fulfilling the goal of having sex. It's socially clear that sex does not lead to marriage but instead, as Brigitte and Paula both discover, prolongs fulfillment of the goal of marriage.

Another problematic view of society the novel presents is the fact that, once married, Paula, because she has no education or skills to use in trade, must still find a way to make money that her alcoholic husband won't waste on liquor. As a result of still needing money, Paula turns to prostitution. However, why should the author have Paula turn to prostitution when Paula at first desired to become a dressmaker? Is she suddenly completely without the means of learning the trade of dressmaking? It seems to still be an option her village presents her with; therefore, it seems problematic and unrealistic for the author to again turn Paula into nothing but a sex object for the sake of earning money.

Hence, all in all, the novel poses a significant problem by turning women into only sex objects by using sex as their only means of capturing love and marriage and by using sex as their only means of earning money. Both are extreme means of presenting women for any time period.

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