Lois Duncan (Steinmetz Arquette)

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Jan M. Goodman

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

Daughters of Eve is a suspenseful novel that invalidates legitimate problems by presenting misdirected solutions. The author raises such feminist issues as wife-beating, inequality on the job, unfairness in high school athletics and the sexist dimension of male/female relationships, but the violence of her solutions implies that it may be dangerous to even recognize the issues.

Daughters of Eve is an elite high school group; its ten members are dedicated to sisterhood and sworn to secrecy. The book chronicles the lives of the young women and their new advisor. Irene Stark. (p. 17)

Irene encourages the club members to assert themselves and fight their oppression. At first, the Daughters' actions are reasonable…. However, as the novel progresses, Irene stands by as the Daughters get angrier and their solutions become more violent…. When Fran's [science] project is rejected in favor of a male student's, the Daughters destroy the science lab, after Irene symbolically provides the key….

The book implies that the Daughters have gone too far and that Irene's personal bitterness has caused her to misrepresent matters and incited the violence. For example, after the science lab is destroyed, it is revealed that Fran's project was rejected not because she was female but because her experiment violated state rules. The author clearly places a harsh value judgment on violent solutions, and because she provides no alternative solutions, she leaves the impression that fighting for women's rights leads to uncontrollable anger and senseless destruction.

In addition, the book contains many negative stereotypes. It is anti-fat in its description of Laura, who is too "ugly" to "get a man" and is loved only by her mother who overlooks her daughter's "weight problem" because she is overweight herself! The club is elitist in that only the "choicest of the choice" can join. An anti-gay reference is made by Ruth's father, who refuses to let his sons do household work because he's afraid they'll turn into "fags."

The book suggests that Irene is an angry woman, not because she is justified, but because she is "empty" (note the symbolism of her last name, Stark). The book also implies that Irene is not a complete, or "normal" woman—she has an "unappetizing" appearance, a low voice, a harsh face and a trace of a mustache! The author subtly distorts Irene's potentially strong feminist character into that of a vindictive fanatic who manipulates and co-opts vulnerable young minds to achieve her sick revenge.

In summary, the book's deceptive interpretation of feminism plus its dangerous stereotypes make it a harmful distortion of reality. However, the book could be sensitively used to raise feminist issues as they affect the lives of adolescents. But the issues must be presented as real to women everywhere, and not as obsessions of fanatics like Irene Stark. If the book is used, it must be followed by a discussion of alternate solutions to violence, all the while stressing the validity of oppressed peoples' anger and frustration. Readers must be asked to consider what they would do when all "rational" solutions to their problems don't work. (p. 18)

Jan M. Goodman, in her review of "Daughters of Eve," in Interracial Books for Children Bulletin (reprinted by permission of Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, 1841 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10023), Vol. 11, No. 6, 1980, pp. 17-18.

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