Social Concerns / Characters

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A Woman Destroyed is a collection of three short stories: "The Age of Discretion," "Monologue," and "Woman Destroyed." They share the same theme — fear of aging and loneliness, and the realization of a failed life. Each story is narrated by the woman protagonist. The focus is on the relationships which the woman has formed with her children and husband. In "The Age of Discretion" the main character is afraid that old age will diminish her creativity as a writer. She deceives herself about her relationship with her son whose life and career she has tried to dominate. When he announces that he is abandoning the career his mother had chosen for him in order to take a government position of which both parents disapprove, her life is shattered. The importance of the problem of aging meanwhile is kept in focus through the story's presentation in the form of a diary.

In "Monologue" self-deception is carried to the extreme. The "monologue" is that of an aging woman who has lost a daughter through suicide and a son through separation from her husband. In her mistaken belief that she exists in the eyes of others only if she has a family, she wants her son back. Through the monologue Beauvoir skillfully reveals step by step the self-deception of the narrator. Not only has she driven her daughter to suicide through her tyranny and excessive possessiveness, but she is responsible as well for the loss of her husband.

"Woman Destroyed" is the longest of the three stories. It is the account of a woman whose world collapses because of her husband's desertion. Considering the love between her husband and herself too solid ever to be shaken, Monique fails to understand that nothing in life is permanent. Beauvoir describes the awakening to reality by the wife-narrator, her despair over the loss of her husband to another woman, the gradual disintegration of her life, the subsequent questioning about her relationship with her husband, her two daughters and the world. In her quest for understanding she consults her daughters whose opinions she refuses to accept. Monique also realizes that she has failed her daughters. They are not as brilliant and well-adjusted as she had believed them to be. Monique claims that her purpose in life was to create happiness for others. She now has to admit her failure. As in the first two stories of the collection, the narrator-protagonist has deceived herself. The reader is able to infer this from Monique's diary which gives insights into the complexity of her character, revealing step by step the changes in Monique's relationship with her husband, her moments of lucidity, but mostly her self-deception. Ultimately Monique is ready to face reality and go it alone; yet readers are not sure as the story ends how she will fare.

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