(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Women’s Room follows Mira through her repressive childhood and marriage, through her devastating divorce, and finally through her years as an English graduate student as she, for the first time, acquires control over her own life. As a child, Mira is restricted by her parents’ attempts to mold her into a young lady. Her mother declares that legs should be crossed only at the ankles and that girls do not engage in rough play. Even though Mira is young, she imagines that the edicts are “strangling her, stifling her.”

As a college student, Mira’s fear of pregnancy and of the consequent loss of freedom develops into a fear of sex. Thus she avoids intimate relationships. Her open-mindedness and her independence, however, are taken by her male colleagues as signs of sexual permissiveness. After a night of drinking and dancing, she is almost raped by a group of her friends. The experience confirms that a woman can never be as free as a man but must always be on guard. Angry that she needs protection and angry that men think they have a right to her body, she withdraws into herself.

When she meets Norm through family friends, she is impressed with his acceptance of her attitude toward sex. Sensing that as long as she is single she will be a target for aggressive male behavior, she accepts his offer of marriage for the protection it will provide. At her wedding, however, she weeps over the loss of her freedom, and indeed her married life becomes more restricted. She forgoes her college education to support Norm while he attends medical school. She accepts a low-paying, unchallenging job because he will not allow her to commute to New York City, where the better jobs and corresponding higher wages are. She is reliant upon her friends to take her grocery shopping because he will not teach her how to drive. Finally, when she becomes pregnant, she is truly tied to the house.

Married life for Mira is a constant round of finishing household chores and of caring for her two sons. Norm is absent frequently, his time spent at the hospital or at his mother’s house, where he is undisturbed by the noise of his children. If not for the other neighborhood women, young mothers like Mira, her life would be unbearable. These...

(The entire section is 923 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Women’s Room is a chronicle of the awakening of the women’s movement. It follows the life of Mira as she grows up in the 1940’s to discover that a woman is thought of as nothing without a man. The novel continues, describing her years as a suburban housewife and finally her years as a divorced older woman who returns to college. The novel tells of the women who come and go in Mira’s life; with each of them she feels a kinship that comes from shared experiences and attitudes. Through the stories of these women, the book relates the story of the evolution of the societal roles of women from the 1940’s through the 1970’s.

Many women are important to Mira throughout her life. Fragments of other women’s lives that affect Mira include those of the women who briefly cheer her in the maternity ward after the birth of her first child, the other housewives in the suburb where she lives as a young woman, and other students at Harvard. In the early years each woman’s life is completely encompassed by men. Mira is forced into marriage by the realization of the potential violence in men. Her suburban friends cater to their husbands and depend completely upon the opinions of men for their self-esteem. They are also completely dependent financially, and many of them suffer for this during marriage and when they get divorced. Outcomes other than divorce include being driven mad by a husband’s coldness, having affairs, and alcoholism.


(The entire section is 403 words.)