The silent other: A woman's madness and marriage in Joyce Carol Oates's novel the Rise of Life on Earth

Caliskan D.

International Journal of the Humanities, vol.8, no.7, pp.125-137, 2010 (Scopus) identifier


The Rise of Life on Earth (1991) written by Joyce Carol Oates presents woman's madness to show the spiritual emptiness and bankruptcy of the man dominated capitalistic American society. Madness is a spectre in many women's lives and marriage is one of the basic reasons. This paper aims to analyze this novel under the light of existentialist psychiatrist R.D. Laing's view of madness as a form of superior existence. Kathleen Hennessy, who works as a nurse's aid feels dense inferiority complex and is mad. Obsessed with ideas of love and family, she submits in all her relationships and lets herself be exploited both at work and sexually. Despite her unhappy and harming family life she hopes for a marriage and a good family life for self-fulfillment. Ironically, violence exists in the family and nobody interferes with this family violence, because it is perceived as normal, legitimate and instrumental. Brutality, rage and enmity become the key elements of her identity and her response is again violence. Hallucinating, Kathleen thinks that God granted her by supernatural and beneficial powers and her prayers can heal the sick souls. Caught in the male gaze she perceives herself as a fragmented object of desire and cannot see her body as a whole. Feeling castrated and castigated, she is forced to live through images provided by the society, whereby her identity, her autonomy and her freedom are destroyed. As a response, she destroys herself by doing self-abortion to protect her unborn baby. So, Oates, by showing Kathleen's symbolic plight hopes for the betterment of human condition, as for women spirituality has to do with the body, work, relationships, the soul and the spirit. © Common Ground, Dilek Caliskan, All Rights Reserved.