Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

French based her best-selling first novel on her own experiences. The author of critical studies of James Joyce and William Shakespeare, she is familiar with the academic world, like Mira receiving a degree from Harvard and teaching English in colleges. In addition, she has two children and went through a difficult divorce.

French uses the characters in The Women’s Room to illustrate her views about society. She wants to destroy the false fairy-tale image, derived from magazines and television, that many women accept concerning their marriages, their lovers, and their lives. She believes that by exposing the causes of oppression in women’s lives, she can bring society closer to a more humane and just ideal, and she chooses fiction as a vehicle for her ideas because it is a most effective medium. The power of the book to speak to women is undeniable. Many women who, like Mira, grew up in the mid-twentieth century, have identified strongly with the characters and have testified that French has spoken the truth about their own lives.

The book has been praised more for its political impact than for its qualities as fiction. As fiction, it is flawed. The plot is unstructured and repetitious. Characters appear and disappear. Furthermore, no male character is clearly defined. The sections that focus on the problems of contemporary society and on possible alternatives are didactic. The novel’s undeniable contribution lies in the fact that it gives powerful voice to the grievances of many women.