Form and Content
The Women’s Room features a cover in which the word “Ladies’” is crossed out, renaming the “Ladies’ Room” toilet at Harvard University and, symbolically, challenging the rigid gender roles assigned to females in modern America. The title also comically evokes the title of one of Marilyn French’s feminist mentors, Virginia Woolf, whose earlier masterpiece A Room of One’s Own (1929) proclaimed women’s androgynous right to economic independence. Like Woolf, French creates an autobiographical voice that takes the reader on a mental journey that inquires into the theme “what women want.”
This mid-twentieth century Bildungsroman is a long novel which has been called shapeless and unplotted, but in fact its contents are carefully structured. In form, the novel consists of six units. The opening describes thirty-eight-year-old Mira hiding in the toilet and her new Harvard milieu, introducing the themes of gender relations, personal freedom, and men problems. The second section flashes back to her earlier life, motherhood, and frustrating friendships with suburban women. The third unit traces the vicissitudes of Mira’s marriage to Norm, ending with his request for a divorce. The fourth is a meditation on sin and civil rights that leads away from her suicide attempt and toward the “ideal” lover, Ben Voler. The fifth section follows the decline of her Harvard relationships, which are pried away from Mira. In the concluding epilogue, Mira reveals herself to be the autobiographical narrator of her life’s story...
(The entire section is 642 words.)