During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

by Joan Chase
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Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 687

Chase articulates a consistent difference between the men and women in this book: Men are lonely and isolated, and women fit into a group. Dan, Libby’s husband, is, at the beginning and ending of the novel, the only male in a house with ten women. He chooses to set up a handyman space in the basement and work there, his company the rats and mice that scurry through. Grandad also chooses to isolate himself when he is in the house, napping in a living room chair or sleeping in a bedroom near the back stairs. He spends most of his time in the barn. The food that Grandad eats also isolates him from the rest of the family; he eats strange combinations of food that offend his wife, such as pouring coffee in a bowl on top of his pie and eating them together, leading Lil to tell him that he eats like the hogs. His death further illustrates his separation from his family. Several hours after his death, he is discovered by Ross, Rachel’s son, in the small bathroom in the back of the house, a direct contrast with Grace’s death in bed attended by loving sisters, mother, and nurse.

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Female solidarity determines much of the action in the novel, both comic and poignant. Lil took Celia with her on a trip to Hawaii, later calling the trip Celia’s wedding present. As the narrators recall: “Uncle Dan said it was just like her to think up a wedding gift that left out the husband entirely, but then again he couldn’t think of a more appropriate introduction to the family.” Lil’s daughters, in another comic scene, took revenge on Neil’s hiding their clothes while they swam by moving his car and letting the air out of its tires. Neil left their house angrily after his car was found, with the narrative voice providing a telling comment: “The women—what did they care? They had each other.” The daughters, more seriously, were also unified against their father, “set against Jacob. . . . The more crude and brutal he became, the more they locked against him.”

The cousins have also incorporated female unity, knowing they are free to do almost anything except fight with one another. A scene from Celia and Phillip’s courtship vividly illustrates the cousins’ solidarity: When Phillip reached for Celia’s hand, the cousins “could have stabbed him.” The cousins celebrate their lives together, all four playing poker in the barn and dancing naked in the rain, and they comfort one another after Grace’s death: “The four of us got into one bed, and in that closeness, pushed against each other, we forgot about the aloneness of sleeping the unbroken night of eternity.” Women depend on one another in Chase’s novel.

The narrative voice itself evidences the sense of community among the women in this novel. Told from several first-person points of view, the novel shifts fluidly among the four cousins as the story unfolds. At times the voice is identifiably Jenny and Celia, the daughters of Libby, because the other two cousins, Anne and Katie, are with their father or mother, but separate perspectives are not accomplished. Chase instead affirms the community of women in this book by failing to individuate the perspective.

Chase writes about female passion and female attractiveness to men in two generations using Celia and Grace. Among the many parallels between them, each is described to be the one who works uncomplainingly; Celia is Gram’s favorite granddaughter because of her willingness to work, and Grace is the daughter on whom Gram can depend, the one who can make pie crusts nearly as fast as Gram can. Each one’s dating was marked by betrayals and crises. After each one married, young men who had not heard about the marriages called seeking dates. Celia’s courtship and marriage parallel Grace’s suffering and death, as suggested by the physical transformation of both women. Celia loses her beauty before she accepts Jimmy’s marriage proposal, and Grace loses her beauty before she accepts death.

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