Passages Critical Essays

Gail Henion


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Sheehy has written a popular book which investigates a new subject and informs and entertains the ordinary reader. Her training as a journalist helps her to avoid the jargon of psychologists. Passages is divided into short, easy-to-read sections. Although each part is clearly labeled, the book does not proceed with rigorous logic; instead, Sheehy informally accumulates related material: the ideas of psychologists, her own ideas and terms, the stories of people to whom she has talked, and a generous and revealing selection of their own words. Some readers may find it hard to discover exactly what years are covered by which “passage.” Passages is sometimes inexact because the specific ages when specific passages occur will vary among different people. The author’s time frame is general: Adults often experience passages at the ages that Sheehy cites—but not always.

Sheehy begins with the working assumption that adult lives progress in stages about five to ten years long. The first passage occurs between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, when aspiring adults leave the stability of home. They do not know what they want, except that they do not want to become like their parents. As they establish separate identities, they often seek security in groups, in causes, or in the love of another person. Some women suffer from timidity and look for a mate who is stronger.

The stability that they achieve is disrupted by the problems of Sheehy’s second passage. Between the ages of twenty-two and twenty-seven, most men and many women enter the “real world” of work and career. They begin with ideals and illusions; they believe that their choices are binding forever. Here Sheehy’s concern with marriage and women’s problems becomes more evident. She finds that to a great extent both men and women marry to obtain stability. Their stability is real for a time, even though many men take their new careers more seriously than their marriages and women who have children turn their attention to the home. As husbands become more sure of themselves, some women lose the independence and confidence that they had before they married. The result is tension.

The third time of passage occurs roughly between the ages of twenty-eight and thirty-four. Both men and women discover that they...

(The entire section is 950 words.)