What is the significance of the title of Daughter of Fortune?

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In the case of Eliza Sommers, the heroine of the novel Daughter of Fortune, the title can be taken quite literally, since Eliza was born into comparatively wealthy circumstances. However, I believe that the title is compelling for other reasons.

It is ironic that in a novel with this...

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In the case of Eliza Sommers, the heroine of the novel Daughter of Fortune, the title can be taken quite literally, since Eliza was born into comparatively wealthy circumstances. However, I believe that the title is compelling for other reasons.

It is ironic that in a novel with this title, Eliza is forced to dress as a man twice. The first time is when she is on the ship from Chile to California - having just miscarried - and her friend Tao Chi'en helps disguise her as a Chinese boy. The second occurrence is when Eliza sets off from San Francisco in search of Joaquin while dressed as a cowboy named Elias Andieta (Joaquin's supposed brother). In both of these cases, Eliza would be in terrible danger were her true identity to be known. I believe that many men in this novel are threatened by smart, strong women like Eliza. It seems she has to mask her womanhood to be heard.

Near the end of the novel, Tao Chi'en and Eliza begin trying to eradicate prostitution and save young Chinese women from this fate. Eliza is no longer pretending to be a man and is happy being her own person with her own freedoms.

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In Allende’s novel, Eliza Sommers has enjoyed little good fortune, and she hopes to change that. Fortune as destiny or as luck is essentially neutral. We have no control over our destiny, but can only encounter it wherever we happen to go. Fortune is abstract, impartial, and even uncaring.

Eliza is fortune’s daughter because she does not know her own father’s identity. Because Eliza lacks family connections, she feels free to take off and seek her fortune. She senses that her destiny is not in the home where she was raised, in Chile. Hearing that wealth can be found—that fortunes are to be made—in California, she makes that her destination. There she finds kinship in other women who are, like her, the daughters of fortune more than their own families.

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There are two interesting aspects to the title of this incredible novel that can both be related to one of the key themes, which is that of gender and how Allende presents us with a world that is dominated by men. Let us consider the first element. Firstly, Eliza, the protagonist of the story, is a "daughter." This immediately stresses her position as a dependent and as an inferior woman in a man's world, as she is not only defined by her relationship to her father, but her gender is also emphasised. Secondly, she is a daughter "of fortune," which of course has two meanings. Firstly, she is due to inherit wealth from her parents, which again reinforces her subordinate position as a rich prize to any man out there, and secondly, she is fortunate, or lucky, in the way that her life turns out.

You might like to consider the way in which the theme of patriarchy is related to the title through the action of the novel. Let us remember that later on in the story, Eliza, as part of her rebellion against the forces of patriarchy, becomes a man by dressing herself in men's clothing. However, it is only when she wears female clothing again that she is able to be at peace with her identity as a woman and gain a measure of self-respect and confidence. She is therefore wealthy, metaphorically speaking, when she is able to accept her gendered identity.

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