Marianne Wiggins Long Fiction Analysis
Transition is a common theme in Marianne Wiggins’s novels, whether this comes through characters deciding to alter their circumstances or by changes that are forced upon them. Wiggins often incorporates autobiographical elements in her fiction, and she has acknowledged that she writes about her own fears. Her adult female protagonists are confronted with such losses as divorce and suicidal relatives. These forms of abandonment transform their lives and both strengthen and weaken those who are left behind to cope with the perceived betrayals. Some critics consider Wiggins’s fiction to be feminist. Women secure empowerment and autonomy through employment, responsibility for children, and creativity. Male characters become vulnerable when women they love choose other lovers and futures instead of them.
Family and community shape Wiggins’s characters. Her depictions of people helping others heal from emotional crises or even causing additional pain convey themes of love and rejection. Often characters endure abuses and injuries caused by carelessness or cruelties. While some characters respond to conflicts with increased resilience, others suffer mental and emotional breakdowns. Intense losses affect memory. Illusion, too, is a frequent theme in Wiggins’s work, as identities occasionally seem unreliable as characters reinvent themselves.
Many critics praise Wiggins’s writing style, namely its imaginative use of language. Her detailed landscapes are filled with rivers, animals, stars, and light as dynamic characters. Sounds and silences distinguish urban and rural places. She uses colors to intensify characterizations: reds and earth tones indicate steadfastness and endurance, and pale colors suggest translucency and impermanence. Food and eating represent needed nourishment but also gluttony, which consumes characters. Wiggins’s fiction includes many photographs.
Considered Wiggins’s most provocative novel, John Dollar presents figurative criticisms of male-dominated religious, political, economic, and social practices often associated with Western cultures. Her themes of obedience, conformity, and patriarchy, for example, denounce imperialism, colonialism, materialism, and elitism. She used elements from William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies (1954) to create a survival tale of females isolated from rescuers. Her characters show that innocence and savagery can coexist.
The opening scene of an elderly woman’s burial and references to her previous death six decades before establishes a sinister tone. Wiggins shifts her omniscient narrative to the past, introducing widowed Charlotte Lewes, who accepts a teaching position in Rangoon, Burma, in 1918. Disliking pretentious English colonists, Charlotte prefers to be alone until she meets sailor John Dollar, savoring how their relationship liberates her emotionally and physically. Imagery of porpoises and mermaids symbolize their joy.
The English sail to an island near Burma to celebrate King George’s birthday. Three ships transport John, Charlotte, eight prepubescent girls, who are her students, and others. They picnic on the island’s beach, where turtles appear from the sea to bury their eggs in the sand. Lizards rush from the vegetation to devour the eggs. Some of the English join in the feeding frenzy. This scene, along with the discovery of a skull and a reference to cannibals, foreshadows potential violence.
The English men depart to hunt on a different island, leaving two boats and the children with John and Charlotte. The next morning, John sees the boys’ ship drifting. When he boards that vessel, he sees that the boys are missing and their berths are bloodied. As John races back to the island, a tsunami hits. After the wave recedes, the girls are alone. Assuming rescuers will arrive and lacking survival skills, they explore the island. The girls locate John, who has been paralyzed, and drag him to higher ground. They also see cannibals killing and cooking their fathers on the beach. Horrified, the girls...
(The entire section is 1674 words.)