Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Wheel of Love is a collection of short stories that have to do with the complex nature of love in a degenerate society. Although nearly every story includes at least one relationship between a man and woman, romantic love is not the focus. Violence, adultery, religious vocations, and academia are part of the external setting, contributing to a confusing, empty inner life for individuals. Characters seem almost like sleepwalkers, unable to control their own actions yet acutely aware of the emptiness of their daily routines, their relationships and behaviors dictated by a society that has ceased to hold any meaning for the individual.

A prevalent theme in these stories is that of women being trapped in the terror of love and in a patriarchal system of relationships that seems to have changed little since the previous generation. All efforts by younger women to “break out” of the oppressive system seem to land them right back in the same circumstances of their mothers and the women before them. In “Unmailed, Unwritten Letters,” a young woman confesses her confusion and disappointment with life in letters that the reader assumes she will not actually write or send to her husband, lover, lover’s child, lover’s wife, and editor of the newspaper. “Accomplished Desires” is a disturbing story about how young Dorie moves in with the scholarly Arbers and then smoothly becomes the third Mrs. Mark Arber when the second, Pulitizer Prize-winning poet Barbara Scott, commits suicide. The women in this story suffer painfully in silence because, as the reader is told, Mr. Arber hates disruptions. Sharon, a young widow in “What is the Connection Between Men and Women,” searches for her elusive identity by moving to five different apartments after her husband dies, and still, when she makes eye contact with a stranger in the street who reminds her of her husband, she knows immediately that they have formed a mysterious bond and that he now “owns her.”

The difficult relationship between fathers and daughters is also explored in this collection. The stories “Demons,” “The Assailant,” and “The Heavy Sorrow of the Body” all contain a grown daughter who is present at the death of her father. The emotions are complex because each daughter feels strangely connected with a father to whom she was never emotionally close, as if to break the bounds of patriarchy a daughter must identify with men, look at the world “without comment or shame,” and become “no longer a woman,” as Nina does in “The Heavy Sorrow of the Body.” Yet the death of the father, perhaps the ultimate symbol of a patriarchal culture in the life of each daughter, is...

(The entire section is 1097 words.)