The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Female Man has little plot: What action occurs flows directly from the four main characters, who perhaps illustrate different facets of the same personality. Again, as suggested above, they may be considered the same “person,” the same bundle of genetic potential, shaped by four radically different environments.

Jeannine lives in a world in which sexual roles are a parody of American ones, a world in which boys and girls graduating from high school are given blue and pink books, respectively, entitled What to Do in Every Situation. The sexual relations recommended therein sound like early Playboy magazine. Janet comes from a world where mothers receive a five-year sabbatical to rear their daughters, after which the children are sent off to communal schools and taught to be independent, capable, outgoing, and happy. In that world, women learn how to do every job there is to be done by the time they are twenty-two. There is no war, no pollution, no class strife, no poverty.

Joanna hovers between the two, comparing a childhood that was unhappy because of sexual stereotyping to Jeannine’s existence, looking with envy at Janet’s freedom from domination and general self-confidence, and, at the end, deciding that she would like best of all to be like Jael: Jael the powerful, Jael the dangerous, Jael the female Genghis Khan.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Joanna, a writer who frequently is the first-person narrator. She struggles to make a career for herself as a single, liberated woman. Her characteristics of independence, assertiveness, and self-reliance have caused others to label her as masculine when, in fact, she is simply a strong, capable person. Despite her liberated mind-set, Joanna is not comfortable when confronted by the lesbian relationship between Janet and Laura. Joanna is what her configuration of genes produces, given the environment of the United States in the late 1960’s. She realizes that to succeed in her culture, she must become a female man, because all the traits that are rewarded are those that are traditionally applied to, and lauded in, men. Joanna believes that she is invisible in her world because all the positions of power, influence, and authority are held by men. Joanna is searching for a way to bring meaning to her life without effacing herself in her male-dominated culture.

Jeannine Dadier

Jeannine Dadier, a twenty-nine-year-old unmarried librarian who desperately wants to find the “right” man and get married. She, like the other “J” characters, has the same set of genes as Joanna. In her world’s version of reality, World War II did not occur and the Great Depression has continued to the present (1969). She has an unhappily conventional relationship with a thickheaded man named Cal. She spends her time catering to his needs and picking up his dirty underwear. She...

(The entire section is 619 words.)

Characters / Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

At the end of The Female Man the reader is likely to realize that there is really only one "character" in the novel — the...

(The entire section is 416 words.)