The Girl

by Meridel Le Sueur

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 647

Although on the surface the story of The Girl seems uncomplicated and straightforward, further consideration reveals mythic patterns and poetic rhythms that resonate beneath the story of a group of patrons of a speakeasy, a bank robbery, and a girl’s pregnancy. Le Sueur envisions the narrative of The Girl as “cyclical,” embodying the enfolding of the human spirit and destiny. She believes that a linear narrative denotes death (beginning, middle, and end), whereas a cyclical narrative embodies continuity. Thus at the end of The Girl, Clara’s death juxtaposed with the birth of the Girl’s baby represents the birth-life cycle. The stories of the women and men culminate in a circular movement toward this “end,” out of which also comes a beginning.

The cyclical movement in the novel is twofold: interwoven from the course of the seasons, the gestation of the baby paralleling the Girl’s maturation; and, from the men’s and women’s needs and desires, a dialectic circling through sex, love, death, and life. Other circular movements occur within the larger cycles. The Girl leaves the country for the city, leaving innocence and inexperience for growth and experience. Amelia lives in the word—she distributes leaflets for the Workers Alliance and is passionate about recording others’ lives—but she also lives in action. Her acts, from the seemingly trivial to the significant, are made with a commitment to the community: She peels carrots for Belle’s stew; helps the cat, Susybelly, which is having a difficult time giving birth to a first litter of kittens; organizes a milk drive for starving women such as Clara; and is midwife to the Girl’s child. All is significant, and all is life; “glory,” she says, is remembering it all.

The myth of Demeter and Persephone, an undercurrent in many of Le Sueur’s writings, is present in The Girl. Through the seasons and through the search for the daughter (or the search for the mother), the women “write their stories.” When the daughter, the Girl, leaves her mother after the father’s funeral, she enters into the “underground” of criminality through her desire for sex and through her loyalty to the man who initiates her into both worlds. The bank robbery, planned by the gangster and rapist Ganz, takes place in the middle of winter. It is the time of Butch’s death, but it is also the moment when the Girl announces that she has not had the abortion that Butch demanded: “I had to smile. I had already robbed the bank. I had stolen the seed. I had it on deposit. It was cached. It was safe.” By the time that she makes her way back into the world of women and motherhood, it is summer. Thus the Girl, like Persephone, returns with seed from the underground for her time of fruition in the sun.

Not all the women in the novel follow this mythic pattern. Clara, the Girl’s friend and guide in the city, ironically loses her way in its underground, as the Girl finds her way back. Through Clara, Le Sueur limns the antimyth, the Persephone whose mother fails to call her back. Clara’s symbolic “mother” is a society that lives off the bodies of its young women and men. It is a society that promotes pandering for goods and dreams. Clara tells the Girl that she will meet “nice men, too, that’ll give you lace tablecloths and peasant pottery.” People such as Clara and Butch sell themselves for dreams of “two-bedroom homes in Florida” and lace tablecloths, or, in Butch’s case, for a lease on a service station; in short, they sell themselves for the middle-class dream. In the stories of Clara and Butch, Le Sueur opens up another aspect of The Girl: the theme of class analysis, a political dialectic bridging gender and class.

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