Marge Piercy Piercy, Marge (Vol. 128) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Marge Piercy 1936-

American novelist, poet, essayist, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Piercy's career through 1998. For further information on Piercy's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 3, 6, 14, 18, 27, and 62.

Among the most distinguished contemporary feminist writers, Marge Piercy is recognized as a trenchant poet and novelist whose work is infused with explicit political statement and social critique. Her direct, highly personal writing, informed by her experiences as a radical political activist during the 1960s and 1970s, condemns the victimization—both physical and psychological—of women and other marginalized individuals under the patriarchal, capitalist ideologies of mainstream American society. Piercy's best known novels, including Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Braided Lives (1982), and Gone to Soldiers (1987), reveal her ability to convey such themes in genres ranging from science fiction to social realism and historical fiction. An outspoken feminist and humanitarian, Piercy emphasizes the utilitarian aspect of her work as a vehicle for effective communication, evident in the colloquial, polemical tone of her fiction and free verse.

Biographical Information

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Piercy was raised by her Welsh father, a machinist, and Jewish mother in a working-class neighborhood of the city; Piercy also had an older half-brother, her mother's child from a previous marriage. While Piercy's creativity was inspired by her mother's curiosity and maternal grandmother's storytelling, her political consciousness was forged by the repressive social climate and economic disparities she experienced during her formative years. Piercy won a scholarship to attend the University of Michigan, becoming the first member of her family to receive a college education. While at Michigan she won Hopwood Awards in poetry and fiction and became involved in radical politics. She traveled to France after completing her A.B. in 1957, then enrolled at Northwestern University where she earned her M.A. degree in 1958. While living in Chicago, Piercy worked odd jobs to support her writing and taught at the Gary extension of Indiana University from 1960-62. Her first marriage to a French-Jewish physicist was short-lived; she remarried in 1962, though this unconventional, open relationship deteriorated by the mid-1970s.

During the 1960s, Piercy became active in the civil rights and antiwar movements as an organizer for the left-wing political organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), though shifted her allegiance to the women's movement by the end of the decade. She published her first volume of poetry, Breaking Camp (1968), and first novel, Going Down Fast (1969), during this period. Piercy won the Borestone Mountain Poetry award in 1968 and 1974. She worked as a writer-in-residence and visiting lecturer at various colleges during the 1970s, and held professorships at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and the University of Cincinnati. After moving between Boston, San Francisco, and New York, Piercy finally settled in rural Cape Cod, where she has made her home since 1971. Piercy married writer Ira Wood, her third husband, in 1982, with whom she has collaborated on several works. She won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and many additional honors, including the Orion Scott Award in the Humanities, the Carolyn Kizer Poetry Prize in 1986 and 1990, a Shaeffer Eaton-PEN New England award in 1989, the Golden Rose Poetry Prize in 1990, the May Sarton Award in 1991, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1993 for He, She, and It (1991).

Major Works

Piercy's fiction and poetry is a direct expression of her feminist and leftist political commitments. In language that is alternately realistic, didactic, and poetic, Piercy repeatedly draws attention to the suffering of the socially persecuted—women, the poor, racial minorities, lesbians—and the mercenary ethics of their oppressors—the government, corporations, technocrats, abusive men, repressive gender roles—often incorporating multiple narrators to this end. Her first novel, Going Down Fast, exposes the injustice of urban gentrification as callous city planners move to raze an existing low-income neighborhood to build upscale residences. Drawing upon her experiences as an SDS activist, Dance the Eagle to Sleep (1971) involves a small band of young political agitators and idealists who abandon the city to organize an alternative, utopian community based on Native American culture. Small Changes (1973), set in Boston during the 1960s, relates the parallel struggles of two young women—a middle-class Jew and working-class lesbian—whose experiences reveal the effects of female subjugation across class lines. Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) portrays the state's manipulation and control of the individual through the horrific experiences of a young Chicano woman who is institutionalized in an insane asylum. There she is anesthetized, stripped of her identity, sterilized, and detained against her will, prompting her to experience hallucinatory leaps into an egalitarian future world where, in stark contrast to the dystopic near present, there are no class, race, or gender divisions among its inhabitants.

The High Cost of Living (1978) relates the dilemmas faced by a lesbian graduate student in Detroit who struggles to reconcile her literary aspirations, financial needs, and self-respect within the demoralizing structure of the academic establishment. Vida (1980), also based on Piercy's involvement with the SDS, features protagonist Davida Asch, a beautiful, renegade political radical whose revolutionary activities during the 1960s have forced her underground. Through flashbacks Vida's recollections document the rise and fall of the “Network,” the militant antiwar faction that she once headed, her long period of hiding and desolation, and newfound love with another fugitive. Braided Lives (1982), Piercy's most autobiographic novel, portrays the cultural oppression of women during the 1950s. The protagonist, a scholarship student and aspiring writer from humble origins in Detroit, struggles to define herself against the social humiliations of her milieu—particularly those surrounding sexuality, marriage, abortion, and rape—while she watches her friends succumb to the conventional roles of their mothers. Fly Away Home (1984), set amid the exclusionary prosperity of Reaganomics, traces the growing awareness of protagonist Daria Walker, a traditional wife who becomes liberated and politically engaged after discovering her husband's dark dealings as a white-collar slum lord and arsonist who victimizes the poor. Gone to Soldiers (1987), a work of historical fiction, follows the lives of ten main characters—six women, four men—on the home front and abroad during the Second World War. Their various experiences as civilians, soldiers, Resistance fighters, and refugees illustrate the personal disruptions, despair, and harrowing realities of the war, especially among women.

Returning to small-scale interpersonal drama in her next novel, Summer People (1989) revolves around real estate dealings on Cape Cod and the deterioration of a long-term love triangle involving a married couple and their female neighbor. He, She, and It, a work of science fiction that borrows from the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson, involves a Jewish woman's relationship with an illegal cyborg, Yod, in a dystopic twenty-first century world. Yod, like a golem of the Hebrew folklore, is designed to protect her Jewish community from danger—in this case, the evils of the corporate state and criminal underworld—raising ethical questions about the creation and destructive potential of technology. The Longings of Women (1994) juxtaposes the precarious lives of three very different women—a sixty-one-year-old homeless housekeeper, an unhappily married college professor, and a young wife accused of murdering her husband—each of whom seek, on their own separate terms, the keys to emotional and physical security. City of Darkness, City of Light (1996), an extensively researched work of historical fiction, is a reinterpretation of events surrounding the French Revolution that parallels the vicissitudes of American leftist politics during the 1960s and 1970s. Presented through the perspective of six historical personages, both male and female, Piercy traces the formative events in each characters' life and their involvement in the radical politics, murderous rampages, and fractious alliances of their time.

In Storm Tide (1998), written in collaboration with husband Ira Wood, Piercy returns to a Cape Cod setting where the protagonist, a divorced, former professional baseball player, becomes entangled in a web of sexual intrigue, small-town politics, and guilt over a deadly accident. Three Women (1999), which centers upon strained mother-daughter relationships, involves a successful lawyer whose midlife contentment is suddenly shattered when she must take in her unemployed, emotionally scarred daughter and demanding, stroke-afflicted mother. As in her novels, Piercy's poetry reveals her effort to merge literature and political engagement. Her socially and ecologically conscious verse, influenced by the poetry of Walt Whitman and Muriel Rukeyser, is characterized by its informality, autobiographic content, striking imagery, depiction of everyday life and objects, and political message. Her first several volumes, Breaking Camp, Hard Loving (1969), and To Be of Use (1973), composed while active in the civil rights, peace, and women's movements, contain some of her most polemical verse. Living in the Open (1976) marks a shift in focus from urban to rural environments following her move from New York to Cape Cod. Nature themes are also present in The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing (1978) and The Moon Is Always Female (1980), which explore personal and feminist concerns in relation to the archetypal cycles of Mother Earth and the moon. Circles on the Water (1982) contains selections from her six previous volumes along with several new poems. Piercy's subsequent volumes—Stone, Paper, Knife (1983), My Mother's Body (1985), Available Light (1988), Mars and Her Children (1992), and What Are Big Girls Made Of? (1997)—are less overtly political, though continue to focus on her private struggles with love, sexuality, family relationships, female self-identity, domestic life, and the redemptive pleasures of the natural world. The Art of Blessing the Day (1999) contains previous and new poems in which Piercy explores her Jewish heritage and religious faith. Early Grrrl (1999), another collection of new and previous poems, is dedicated to the new generation of fringe feminists behind the small magazine and Internet-based “Grrrl” movement. Piercy has also published a collection of her articles, book reviews, and interviews in Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt (1982).

Critical Reception

Piercy is widely recognized as a major contemporary feminist poet and novelist. Her writing in both genres is praised for its intensity, clarity, and important social message. While some critics disapprove of her emotional tenor and propagandistic condemnation of social, economic, and environmental ills, others praise the passion and immediacy of her depictions of injustice and exploitation. “Piercy has always seemed to be ahead of her time in dealing with contemporary social and political issues,” writes Sue Walker, “and she has done this with some risk to popular acclaim, but with an authenticity that should merit more lasting critical recognition and attention.” Critics also appreciate Piercy's insight into the aspirations and shortcomings of organized activism and her ability to present compelling, multidimensional characters whose individual complexity often rises above the socially malignant stereotype they are intended to illustrate. “If Piercy is accused of being preachy,” Joyce R. Ladenson explains, “it is because her characters are struck by pain which they need to explain and about which they are enraged once they examine its social sources.” Among her many novels Woman on the Edge of Time is generally regarded as her most original and important, considered by many a classic of feminist science fiction. Small Changes, Braided Lives, and Gone to Soldiers have also attracted favorable reviews and continued critical interest, though other novels such as Summer People, Fly Away Home, and He, She, and It have been deemed less successful. As Judith Wynn comments in a review of The Longings of Women, “Piercy is not an elegant writer. Interesting, swift-moving plots and careful social observation are her main strengths.” Despite the bleak circumstances she often describes, Piercy's fiction and poetry is noted for its essentially optimistic outlook which, in keeping with her artistic commitment to political action, continually presents alternatives to the status quo and inspires the possibility of communal solidarity and meaningful change.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Breaking Camp (poetry) 1968

Going Down Fast (novel) 1969

Hard Loving (poetry) 1969

Dance the Eagle to Sleep (novel) 1971

4-Telling [with Bob Herson, Emmet Jarrett, and Dick Lourie] (poetry) 1971

Small Changes (novel) 1973

To Be of Use (poetry) 1973

Living in the Open (poetry) 1976

Woman on the Edge of Time (novel) 1976

The High Cost of Living (novel) 1978

The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing (poetry) 1978

The Moon Is Always Female (poetry) 1980...

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Jack Hicks (essay date 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Fiction from the Counterculture: Marge Piercy, Richard Brautigan, Ken Kesey,” in In the Singer's Temple: Prose Fictions of Barthelme, Gaines, Brautigan, Piercy, Kesey, and Kosinski, University of North Carolina Press, 1981, pp. 138-76.

[In the following excerpt, Hicks provides analysis of Dance the Eagle to Sleep, noting flaws in the novel's overt political rhetoric and characterization. Hicks writes, “I believe the fiction's weaknesses, perhaps even more than its virtues, are instructive and exemplary.”]

Every soul must become a magician; the magician is in touch.
The magician connects: the magician helps each thing
to open into what it truly...

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Brina Caplan (review date 6 March 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Not So Happy Days,” in The Nation, March 6, 1982, pp. 280-2.

[In the following review, Caplan offers tempered analysis of Braided Lives.]

The 1950s may not seem long ago, but they are long ago enough to have become history, the object of academic speculation and commercial nostalgia. On campus, scholars revise Eisenhower's Presidential reputation. On television, loops of tape endlessly reincarnate Happy Days and bring us, in prime time, the joys of Elvis and the sorrows of Marilyn. But anyone who came of age during the McCarthy-Eisenhower era is likely to need neither revision nor television. Simple recall suffices: the way we were is not a...

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Elizabeth Wheeler (review date 12 August 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “It's Her Life and Welcome to it,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 12, 1984, p. 7.

[In the following review, Wheeler offers unfavorable assessment of Fly Away Home.]

Fly Away Home is a novel I much wanted to like, and there is much in the novel to admire. It's a novel that says much without taking a preachy tone, and it's a novel that has something to say. It's also a novel of human experience and human scale, one that takes problems of our age and time and domesticates them. It is written by a woman, about a woman and for women, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

In fact, its virtues may do this novel...

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Elaine Tuttle Hansen (essay date 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Marge Piercy: The Double Narrative Structure of Small Changes,” in Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, edited by Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick, University Press of Kentucky, 1985, pp. 209-23.

[In the following essay, Hansen examines Piercy's mistrust of language, narrative strategies, and appropriation of dominant male discourse in Small Changes.]

“This is the oppressor's language / yet I need it to talk to you.” Speaking thus of the equivocal relationship between women and language, Adrienne Rich in the earliest days of the women's movement addressed the central question that female writers and...

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Edith J. Wynne (essay date 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Imagery of Association in the Poetry of Marge Piercy,” in Publications of the Missouri Philological Association, Vol. 10, 1985, pp. 57-63.

[In the following essay, Wynne discusses emotional and psychological motifs associated with the imagery of Piercy's poetry.]

Under the title, Circles on the Water, Marge Piercy published, in 1982, a collection of more than one hundred and fifty poems selected from seven of her previously published volumes. In the introduction to Circles on the Water, Piercy remarks,

One of the oldest habits of our species, poetry is powerful in aligning the psyche. A poem can...

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Sandra M. Gilbert (review date December 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of My Mother's Body, in Poetry, Vol. CXLVII, No. 3, December, 1985, pp. 159-61.

[In the following review, Gilbert offers tempered assessment of My Mother's Body.]

It is hard to believe that the determinedly literary Amy Clampitt and the programmatically anti-literary Marge Piercy share a publisher. Rough-hewn and “realistic,” preferring politics to poetics, Piercy has always presented herself as a raw-boned working-class woman, a woman whose name, as she comically observes in My Mother's Body, sounds “like an oilcan, like a bedroom / slipper, like a box of baking soda, / useful, plain. … ” When I say that Piercy is...

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Carmen Cramer (essay date Summer 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Anti-Automaton: Marge Piercy's Fight in Woman on the Edge of Time,” in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, Summer, 1986, pp. 229-33.

[In the following essay, Cramer examines the female protagonist's struggle for autonomy and individuality in Woman on the Edge of Time.]

Marge Piercy in Woman on the Edge of Time presents a classic American conflict based on the notion of e pluribus unum. In the United States' traditional ideal, the individual, capable of heroic action, forms society. In reality, that ideal is often eclipsed by society failing to recognize the individual. Connie, the main character in Piercy's...

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Hilma Wolitzer (review date 10 May 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Women at War,” in The New York Times Book Review, May 10, 1987, p. 11.

[In the following review, Wolitzer offers qualified praise for Gone to Soldiers, citing flaws in the novel's excessive length and lack of focus.]

The battlefront has historically been the literary province of men and the home front that of women. Of course there have been exceptions, notably Virginia Woolf's “Mrs. Dalloway,” a slender novel in which she covered both fronts brilliantly in a single domestic postwar day. Now Marge Piercy attempts the same synthesis, but on a vast scale and with varying degrees of success.

Gone to Soldiers, Ms. Piercy's...

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Judith Wynn (review date 10 May 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Piercy's Big War: ‘Soldiers’ is Not the ‘Good’ Fight Nostalgia Recalls,” in Chicago Tribune Books, May 10, 1987, p. 3.

[In the following essay, Wynn offers praise for Gone to Soldiers.]

Intricately braided plots, salt-of-the-earth characters, hearty cuisine and copulation down among the counterculture—these are a few of Marge Piercy's favorite things.

Then there's her civil rights and women's liberation activism—as well as her regularly voiced conviction that the United States is steering a rocky, vainglorious course to disaster. In Fly Away Home, the heroine's once-idealistic slumlord husband tried to obtain his...

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Ron Grossman (review date 5 July 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Summer People’ Ideal for Season,” in Chicago Tribune Books, July 5, 1989, p. 3.

[In the following review, Grossman offers favorable assessment of Summer People.]

Whatever Marge Piercy's other virtues—and her literary ones are considerable—she is shamelessly disrespectful of the commandment against fouling one's own nest.

In her 10th novel, Piercy has set the ultimate summer romance on Cape Cod, where she herself lives. Resort towns, Piercy says, operate on a Manichean morality that divides the human race in two. “Summer people” are always strangers, no matter how many seasons they keep coming back. Year-round...

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Judith Wilt (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘We Are Not Dying’: Abortion and Recovery in Four Novels by Women,” in Abortion, Choice, and Contemporary Fiction: The Armageddon of the Maternal Instinct, University of Chicago Press, 1990, pp. 67-100.

[In the following excerpt, Wilt examines feminist themes surrounding reproduction, maternity, and Piercy's explicit argument for abortion rights in Braided Lives.]

The decade which saw the institutionalization of the right not to become a mother saw many women writers affirming daughterhood more powerfully than ever. If, as George Eliot says, every limit is a beginning as well as an ending, so also the response to a removal of limits may be an...

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Joyce R. Ladenson (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Political Themes and Personal Preoccupations in Marge Piercy's Novels,” in Ways of Knowing: Essays on Marge Piercy, edited by Sue Walker and Eugenie Hamner, Negative Capability, 1991, pp. 111-9.

[In the following essay, Ladenson discusses the dominant political and autobiographic features of Piercy's fiction.]

My existence in the English Department at Michigan was exceedingly perilous and bumpy. … I was a garlic among the Anglican-convert lilies. I felt the wrong shape, size, sex, volume level, class, and emotional coloration. I fought, always with a sense of shame, for I could never define what I felt was being throttled in me....

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Sue Walker (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Marge Piercy: An Overview (31 March 1936-),” in Ways of Knowing: Essays on Marge Piercy, edited by Sue Walker and Eugenie Hamner, Negative Capability, 1991, pp. 132-47.

[In the following essay, Walker provides a survey of Piercy's literary career and the central themes and feminist perspective of her poetry and fiction.]

Although Marge Piercy—poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist—describes herself as a political writer and a feminist, her works move beyond the causes she supports to incorporate an overall thematic interest in the struggle between freedom and oppression. Most of her creative energies are devoted to fiction and poetry, and she...

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Malcolm Bosse (review date 22 December 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Cyborg in Love,” in The New York Times Book Review, December 22, 1991, p. 22.

[In the following review, Bosse offers negative assessment of He, She, and It.]

Her highly praised novel Gone to Soldiers and her other works of fiction, essays and poetry attest to Marge Piercy's achievement. But her ambitious new novel, He, She and It, is not likely to enhance her reputation.

In the high-tech world of A.D. 2059, people live under protective domes because of an ecological disaster and plug into computers through sockets located in their foreheads. This society, although it is described in the lingo of science fiction...

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Billie Maciunas (essay date March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Feminist Epistemology in Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time,” in Women's Studies, Vol. 20, Nos. 3-4, March, 1992, pp. 249-58.

[In the following essay, Maciunas relates Sandra Harding's delineation of feminist epistemology and scientific bias to Piercy's vision of society in Woman on the Edge of Time.]

Sandra Harding's view of science as a social activity leads her to propose critical interpretation as a mode of knowledge-seeking, useful in particular for theorizing “the effects on the natural sciences of gender symbolism, gender structure, and individual gender.” Early in her book, The Science Question in Feminism, she suggests...

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Patricia Volk (review date 20 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Three of Them,” in The New York Times Book Review, March 20, 1994, p. 23.

[In the following review, Volk offers tempered praise for The Longings of Women.]

Why is it that women who think they can't survive without a man invariably pick the wrong one? In her 12th novel, The Longings of Women, Marge Piercy explores the tragic female myth—“I'm nothing without him”— and how lives get trapped by it. Alternating chapters focus on three wildly different people who intersect, bounce off one another and dramatically change course.

Divorced by her husband, at 61 Mary Burke has spiraled down from tennis at the country club...

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Constance Casey (review date 27 March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Yearning for a Home,” in Washington Post Book World, March 27, 1994, p. 5.

[In the following review, Casey offers qualified praise for The Longings of Women.]

If this tale of three heroines is to be believed, then the answer to the question “What do women want?” is, simply, a house. According to Marge Piercy, what women long for is shelter with an affordable mortgage. If this doesn't sound particularly literary or inspiring, you should understand that Piercy doesn't give a damn about literary or inspiring. Harsh truths are what Piercy cares for; she has no taste or talent for what John Updike calls “fiction's shapely lies.” The plot—for...

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Judith Wynn (review date 17 April 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Marge Piercy Tells a Cautionary Tale of Women on the Edge,” in Chicago Tribune Books, April 17, 1994, p. 3.

[In the following review, Wynn offers favorable evaluation of The Longings of Women.]

What do women want? Freud—for one—pondered the question. In The Longings of Women novelist-poet Marge Piercy gives a clear, ringing answer: A woman wants some space all her own-ask any bag lady. And Piercy does. Or, to be accurate, Mary Burke, one of the three heroines of this lively, densely textured novel, is almost a bag lady.

Mary started out a “normal girl from Normal, Illinois,” and spent 20-some years tending her...

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M. Keith Booker (essay date November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Woman on the Edge of a Genre: The Feminist Dystopias of Marge Piercy,” in Science-Fiction Studies, Vol. 21, Part 3, November, 1994, pp. 337-50.

[In the following essay, Booker discusses Piercy's fusion of utopian and dystopian literary conventions to present a distinct feminist perspective in Woman on the Edge of Timeand He, She, and It.]

Marge Piercy's science-fiction visions of the future have made important in-roads into what has been a traditionally masculine territory. Woman on the Edge of Time has become a contemporary classic, and the recent He, She, and It (winner of the 1992 Arthur C. Clarke Award) is already...

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Elham Afnan (essay date Winter 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Chaos and Utopia: Social Transformation in Woman on the Edge of Time,” in Extrapolation, Vol. 37, No. 4, Winter, 1996, pp. 330-40.

[In the following essay, Afnan discusses parallels between utopian fiction and chaos theory in Woman on the Edge of Time, particularly the significance of nonlinearity and indeterminacy surrounding social change.]

The existence of utopia is based on a pun: it is at once “eutopia” (good place) and “outopia” (no place). Thomas More exploited the contradiction inherent in the term when he chose the title for his account of the imaginary island that enjoyed perfection in laws, politics, and economy....

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Elayne Rapping (review date February 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Les Ms.,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. XIV, No. 5, February, 1997, pp. 5-6.

[In the following review, Rapping offers positive evaluation of City of Darkness, City of Light.]

Marge Piercy writes a lot of novels. Each is refreshingly political, in the most blatant (as opposed to subtly subtextual) sense. Each is passionately feminist. Each—most remarkably—is written, and successfully marketed, for a mainstream audience.

I am, I confess, a Piercy admirer and fan. But I read each new novel with my fingers crossed. For as admirable as her efforts are, she doesn't always hit the mark. Works like Woman on the Edge of Time,...

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John Taylor (review date January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of What Are Big Girls Made Of?, in Poetry, Vol. CLXXI, No. 3, January, 1998, pp. 221-4.

[In the following review, Taylor provides positive assessment of What Are Big Girls Made Of?.]

Marge Piercy is a versatile poet with broad interests, and What Are Big Girls Made Of?—her thirteenth collection—invokes several public and private issues that have long haunted or angered her. Opening with seven intimate “Brother-Less Poems,” Piercy draws us inside a “family snapshot” in which she hugs “the two pillars” of her “cracked world”: her “cold father” and her “hot brother,” the latter also described as “the dark...

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Fred Moramarco and William Sullivan (essay date 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘A Whole New Poetry Beginning Here’: The Assertion of Gender,” in Containing Multitudes: Poetry in the United States Since 1950, Twayne, 1998, pp. 163-94.

[In the following excerpt, Moramarco and Sullivan provide an overview of the central themes and preoccupations in Piercy's poetry.]

I am an instrument in the shape of a woman trying to translate pulsations into images for the relief of the body and the reconstruction of the mind.

—Adrienne Rich

Although many of the central poets of the modernist movement were women, including Amy Lowell, Gertrude Stein, H. D., and Marianne...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Carnes, Pauli. “Chasing Their Tales.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (3 April 1994): 5.

A positive review of The Longings of Women.

Gould, Jean. “Marge Piercy.” In her Modern American Women Poets, pp. 297-305. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1984.

Provides an overview of Piercy's life, literary career, and poetry.

Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. “Mothers Yesterday and Mothers Tomorrow, But Never Mothers Today: Woman on the Edge of Time and The Handmaid's Tale.” In Mother Without Child: Contemporary Fiction and the Crisis of Motherhood, pp. 158-83. Berkeley,...

(The entire section is 481 words.)