(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Dworkin opens the discussion with “Intercourse in a Man-made World,” examining men’s repulsion at sex with women. Using Leo Tolstoy’s short novel Kreutserova sonata (1890; The Kreutzer Sonata, 1891), she contrasts the male protagonist’s killing of his wife with Tolstoy’s behavior. The man in the novel kills his wife not only by stabbing her but also by having intercourse with her, resulting in many pregnancies which drain her youth and energy. Tolstoy uses his wife for sexual release for which he in turn “blames and hates” her; she gives birth to thirteen children. Dworkin uses Tolstoy to argue that celibacy would help establish equality between the sexes.

In “Skinless,” Dworkin examines novels by Kb Abe, including Suna no onne (1962; The Woman in the Dunes, 1964) and Tanin no kao (1964; The Face of Another, 1966). The metaphor for sexual intercourse that Dworkin draws from these works is the need for people to touch, not merely skin to skin but with that below the skin as well. She describes the difficulties that Abe’s male characters have in achieving this touch without violence.

In Tennessee Williams’ plays, Dworkin explores the stigma for women attached to intercourse and sexual desire. In The Rose Tattoo (1951), a wife is mystically marked by her husband’s tattoo when she becomes pregnant. Stanley Kowalski’s animalistic rape of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) drives her insane and destroys her relationship with her sister Stella, Stanley’s wife. In Summer and Smoke (1947), Alma loses her aspirations for the ethereal communion of souls and ends her life addicted to pills and meaningless sex with strangers.

In “Communion,” Dworkin uses James Baldwin to support the need to examine whether sex is good. Baldwin’s male characters in Giovanni’s Room (1956) and other works want to experience “not doing it, but being the beloved.” In attempting to attain this state, they cause their sexual partners and themselves great pain; by the time that they are ready, they have destroyed those whom they desire.


(The entire section is 894 words.)