Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431
Woman on the Edge of Time, written by Marge Piercy, is a work of feminist fiction published in 1976. The novel is set in 1970s New York and tells the story of thirty-seven-year-old Latino woman named Consuelo, or "Connie," who fights against authority and injustice.
Connie has come from a poor background and has had a troubled life. The novel begins when she is having an argument with her niece Dolly. Dolly is a prostitute, a drug addict, and she is pregnant. Dolly is trying to escape from her pimp Geraldo, but he tracks her down and beats up both her and Connie, leaving them both unconscious. When Connie wakes up, she is in a mental institution. Geraldo has taken her there saying that she attacked him. The staff bought this story, as Connie had been in the institution before. Dolly also backed up Geraldo's story.
Whilst in the institution, Connie starts to have visions of a woman named Luciente. Luciente is from the future, and Connie had spoken to her before. Luciente takes Connie to her commune-like home in the future to show her what a good place it is. It is a place without poverty, without inequality, and a place where everybody is loved. In order to achieve true equality, women no longer bear children. This is now done by a machine in a building known as the "Brooder." There is also no family unit, as everybody lives together as one community.
However, Luciente's community is being attacked by a group of scientists known as the Shapers. The Shapers' experiments led to Luciente's community living as they do, but the Shapers want to conduct further experiments on the group in order to "improve" on society even further.
Connie travels back and forth, from present to future and future to present. Dr. Redding wants to experiment on Connie, as she is seen as having a violent personality. He implants a chip in her brain which electronically controls her emotions. But, as Connie soon discovers, it also takes away what makes a person unique.
On one of her visits to Luciente's community, Connie becomes involved in an armed fight with the combatants for the Shapers. She is horrified to see that they have the faces of the doctors from the institution. She realizes that the Shapers in the present must be killed to prevent the Shapers in the future. She then gets some poison and puts it in the coffee of the doctors. Although she manages to halt the plans for surgery on her brain, she is committed to the institution indefinitely.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 616
Woman on the Edge of Time is a jeremiad, a lament for and a tirade against the plight of woman in the twentieth century. Connie Ramos is a thirty-seven-year-old Chicana, impoverished and without the support of friends or family, who is imprisoned in a mental institution for an alleged outburst of violent behavior. Trapped by a lifetime of deprivation and powerlessness, she is labeled mad, drugged, held captive, and stripped of all personal dignity. The specific degradations of her life in Bellevue Hospital, in Rockover State Psychiatric Institute, and finally in the New York Neuro-Psychiatric Institute are the culmination of and a metaphor for the harsh realities of the life of a middle-aged minority woman alone in contemporary urban society. The evils which plague her life are the evils which plague her society: cruelty, physical violence, the debasement of women, the abuse of children, private rage, and public indifference to human suffering. Connie’s story is a polemic about the hell that women endure in a world where biology is destiny.
The madhouse that is Connie’s personal prison and the madhouse that is her society are escaped only in her intermittent mind excursions into the future. Through the agency of Luciente, a time traveler from the year 2137, she leaves her confinement and enters the twenty-second century. In her first trip to the idyllic society of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, she discovers that women are no longer responsible for childbearing and child rearing. Luciente explains that this is the result of what she calls women’s revolution: “As long as we were biologically enchained, we’d never be equal. And males never would be humanized to be loving and tender.” In Mattapoisett, embryos are grown in community brooders, and after delivery the care of each child is assumed by three people who together elect to parent that child until puberty.
Because in 2137 females have been released from biological motherhood, gender has become relatively insignificant. All may parent yet lead full personal, professional, political, and social lives. Each being is essentially androgynous, both male and female. This radical change in gender definition is reflected in language. The pronouns “he” and “she,” “him” and “her,” “his” and “hers” have been replaced by a common pronoun, “per.” Piercy quickly establishes a theme that is central to her politics and to her art—that freedom for women must entail freedom from childbirth. Yet this is only the most radical social transformation. Luciente thinks of the twentieth century as “The Age of Greed and Waste.” In per time, 2137, materialism has been eradicated; cultural riches are shared by everyone, and urban centers such as New York have been dismantled and replaced by small, self-sufficient, self-governing communities. The device of Connie’s time travel compels both her and the reader to look at two planes of existence juxtaposed: a present hell for women and a potential paradise for all.
Connie’s incarceration is interrupted often by subsequent visits to Mattapoisett, which introduce her to educational methods, work patterns, social customs, eating habits, sexual mores, governmental structures, and therapy techniques—all sharply contrasting with those in Connie’s world. The Utopian society of Mattapoisett is the novelist’s teaching device, intended to help Connie to “intersee,” to perceive the dynamics of her own world and conceive of other possibilities. Luciente’s world constitutes an implied critique of contemporary society and a vision of its potential for improvement directed at readers too. Connie’s brief explorations of futures other than Luciente’s offer oblique warnings of the disastrous results of persisting in current directions. Although rather mechanical in its exposition, the dialectic between Connie’s present and Luciente’s future is the central purpose of the novel.