Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315
The most prevalent theme in Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion is the idea of power, particularly as it relates to gender. At the beginning of the novel, we see Greer as a passive character in her own life. She cannot attend her dream school due to her parents' mistake and is drifting around her college without a clear path. By sharp contrast, her boyfriend, Cory, has seemingly infinite power. He is thriving at an Ivy League university, has bright career prospects, and finds comfort and pleasure in both his relationship with Greer and an on again/off again affair with a classmate.
Wolitzer then leads the reader to truly examine gender and power dynamics by entirely flipping these two characters' situations. Due to a family tragedy, Cory is brought to do the very domestic cleaning work his mother once did. He seemingly loses all control over his life, career, and prospects. Meanwhile, Greer thrives professionally and starts her own self-sufficient life in New York. This juxtaposition is one of the key points of the book.
The irony of Faith Frank's complex relationship with Emmett Schrader also adds to this theme, as her power as a feminist is made largely possible by the wealth of a man she met through an illicit sexual encounter.
Another theme of the novel is mentorship. Greer's experience as a mentee of Faith Frank is the central thread of the story. The reader is able to explore their relationship from the point of view of both the mentor and mentee. We see the deep meaning Greer takes from her interactions with Faith, only to see how trivial they may actually have been for Faith later. By the conclusion of the novel, the old adage "The student has become the master" is realized when Greer publishes a successful book that exactly parallels the former success of her mentor's book, The Female Persuasion.
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