(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Fear of Flying, Erica Jong presents the journey of a woman who moves from dependence on men to reliance on herself for feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. Isadora embodies the new female consciousness of the early days of feminism, or women’s liberation, as it was then called. Isadora is in touch with her own sexual nature. She makes no secret about the fact that she is strongly attracted to men and strongly aroused by sex. She is candid about her own sexual past, detailing the sexual history of her youth: her first “phallos,” encountered at thirteen with her first boyfriend; the affairs that she had in Europe after her first marriage broke up, and her use of masturbation. She discloses her sexual fantasies, especially that of the ultimate sexual experience: It must be both spontaneous and momentary, and the two parties must not get to know each other well. It is clear that such an experience is completely a fantasy, but it is a fantasy born of the frustrations of marriage (as that institution has evolved in a patriarchal society) and the result of the ideology of romantic love of twentieth century America. Isadora longs for a fulfilling marriage such as she imagines that of novelist Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard, to have been. Bennett’s only response to her wish for a closer relationship is to send her to an analyst.

Having grown up female in the United States has encumbered Isadora with considerable emotional and psychological baggage. Like other young women, Isadora has been bombarded with commercial messages that articulate the ideology that if one perfects oneself by following all the advice of the cosmetic advertisements, one will be rewarded with total romantic fulfillment. Isadora’s marriage, however, has become predictable and her lovemaking with Bennett a matter of routine (“as bland as Velveeta cheese”).

Isadora cannot imagine herself without a man, even though she has other aspirations that have nothing to do with men. When she is with a man, she has a tendency to act the toady. Men make her turn soft and mushy, but at the same time, she knows that feeling to be the enemy. Isadora has what she calls a “hunger thump”: a powerful desire to get the most out of life. Nevertheless, she has found no way to reconcile her sexual needs with her intellectual...

(The entire section is 954 words.)