The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Connie Ramos, a Chicana in her mid-thirties, finds herself, after a series of desperate acts, on the bad side of an uncaring and bureaucratic society. She has been placed in a New York psychiatric hospital for violence against her niece’s pimp, and there she begins a series of time travel episodes, or possibly hallucinations, that take her to the village of Mattapoisett in the year 2137 and to an alternate and less attractive future in Manhattan of the same year.

Her guide to Mattapoisett is Luciente, an androgynous woman whom Connie first mistakes for a man because of her muscular arms and confident ways. Connie’s perceptions about the utopian community that unfold throughout the novel are filtered through her experiences with the sexism, ageism, racism, and unbridled capitalism of her own time. Mattapoisett, like other villages in the future, is a small community, with six hundred residents who have developed a strong ethic of cooperation of ecological awareness. In Mattapoisett, women have given up the power of childbirth so that men and women can “mother” children equally. Members of the community discuss every possible use of technology, choosing those that fill real needs and rejecting those that lead to excess and wastage of resources. The gene pool has been mixed consciously to eliminate races, and jobs are rotated to ensure that all members of the community have both meaningful work and also their share of the drudgery. The nuclear family...

(The entire section is 550 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Woman on the Edge of Time tells the story of Connie Ramos who, incarcerated in a mental institution, travels into a possible utopian future. Structurally, the novel alternates Connie’s experiences on several mental wards with a series of visits to the future world of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, in 2137. Moving from a false spring to a permanent winter, Connie enacts an ironic version of the hero’s journey outlined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). Luciente, Connie’s guide, is the bright shadow of Connie’s despair; Connie notes that Luciente’s name in Spanish means “shining, brilliant, full of light.” She provides the call to adventure, contacting Connie just before she wallops her niece’s pimp, an act which takes her across the threshold of Bellevue hospital and into the “belly of the iron beast” to Rockover State.

During this time, Connie’s trips to the future often mirror or compensate for aspects of her past or events on the ward. Her anguish at losing her daughter to adoption and her desire to once again live in a family are answered by her inclusion in Luciente’s family and her contact with Luciente’s daughter, Dawn. When an old woman on the ward dies, Connie attends the honored death of Sappho, a storyteller in the future. When her niece Dolly fails to show up for a visit, Connie attends a festival, sees one of Jackrabbit’s holographs (“holis”), and has sex with Bee, a...

(The entire section is 516 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Written after Piercy’s two most explicitly feminist works, Small Changes and To Be of Use, both published in 1973, Woman on the Edge of Time details many of the same women’s issues: the trauma of illegal abortion and rape, the self-abasement required by conventional gender roles, the pain and anger of mother-daughter relationships, the need to extend the nuclear family, the difficult loyalties of female friendships, and the humane recognition of alternatives to heterosexuality. Its most important contributions to feminism, however, lie in its status as a heterosexual feminist utopia, its invention of a richly nonsexist language for describing human emotions, and its imaginative embodiment of alternative motherhood.

Piercy’s theoretical foundation in Marxism and practical experience in community activism makes hers one of the most rigorously conceived of all feminist utopias. Luciente’s wry acknowledgement that governing by consensus means spending endless time in meetings, as well as the finely dramatized details of the “worming” process by which the community helps her resolve her conflicts with one of Jackrabbit’s other lovers, are authentic renditions of the daily politics of consciousness-raising groups. Another index of the novel’s realism is its genial inclusion of men. Most of the works to which the novel is usually compared—Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915), Joanna Russ’s The...

(The entire section is 479 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Adams, Alice. “Out of the Womb: The Future of the Uterine Metaphor.” Feminist Studies 19 (Summer, 1993): 269-289. Adams explores the evolution of the uterine metaphor in relation to the debate among feminists concerning natural and artificial methods of childbirth. In her analysis of Piercy’s novel, Adams compares Piercy’s alternative family structure with real-life alternatives and addresses the concept of the womb as a separate entity from the mother.

Afnan, Elham. “Chaos and Utopia: Social Transformations in Woman on the Edge of Time.” Extrapolation 37 (Winter, 1996): 330-340. Perceiving Piercy’s novel as a classic work in feminist utopian writing, Afnan asserts that the chaos theory is a central theme in the novel, the concept of nonlinearity being its most significant aspect. Afnan also explores the process of social change through the selection of either utopia or dystopia.

Bartkowski, Frances. Feminist Utopias. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989. Chapter 2, “The Kinship Web,” compares Piercy’s novel to Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, discussing utopian conventions and placing the novel in the context of feminist and Marxist critiques. Good on the use of language and the role of the artist.

Booker, M. Keith. “Woman on the Edge of a Genre: The Feminist Dystopias of Marge Piercy.” Science Fiction Studies 21 (November, 1994): 337-350. Booker explores the political commitment that informs Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time and He, She, It. He asserts that her feminist stance is...

(The entire section is 701 words.)