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Submitted Literature

Woman on the Edge of Time

By Marge Piercy

Review

The madness of main character Connie is used by Piercy in this utopian novel to explore and subvert a range of gender, economic and racial issues whilst concomitantly commenting on the uses and abuses of psychiatry.  Piercy’s futuristic world is the antithesis of life in the psychiatric ward.  Connie is oppressed on many levels - as a woman, as Mexican, as poor, and as someone labelled with a mental illness.   The introduction of a radical new form of social control, disguised as treatment – electrodes inserted into the brain to control violent or anti-social behaviours – demonstrates that present is far more frightening than the futuristic world for those in the institution.

Key Themes:

  • Cultural Psychiatry
  • Institutional Abuses
  • Psychosis
  • Revealing Reads
  • Societal Pressure

Significant Quotes / Pages

16-17 – “She lay tied with strapped to a bed, staring up at the bare bulb, shot up with meds.  Thorazine?  It felt worse, heavier.  A massive dose.  Hospital tranks hit her like a bulldozer when she had taken nothing for a long time. […]

her body ached.  All of her ached.  Geraldo and his carnal Slick had beaten her twice: once right after she had broken Geraldo’s nose, and again on the way to Bellevue in his car. […]

the doctor had not even interviewed her but had talked exclusively to Geraldo, exchanging only a word or two with Dolly.  Geraldo had Dolly gripped by the elbow, her face still swollen.  Dolly had lied.  Dolly had sold her into Bellevue, and for what?  For her own skin, already polluted?  For the nose of her precious pimp?  For the opportunity to fuck more johns?  How could Dolly sit there snivelling and nod when the doctor asked if Connie had done that to her face?

Connie writhed on the bed, pinned down with just enough play to let her wriggle.  They had pushed her into restraints, shot her up immediately.  She had been screaming - okay!  Did they think you had to be crazy to protest being locked up?  Yes, they did.  They said reluctance to be hospitalised was a sign of sickness, assuming you were sick, in one of these no-win circles.  The last time she had not fought; she had come willingly with the caseworker, believing in her sickness.  She had come humbly, rotten with self-hatred and weary of her life.”

60 – “Surely she would die here.  Her heart would be more and more slowly and then stop, like a watch running down.  And that thought the heart began to race in her chest.  She stared at the room, empty except for the mattress and odd stains, names, dates, word scratched somehow into the wall with blood, fingernails, pencil stubs shit; how did she come to be in this desperate place?

Her head leaning on the wall she thought it was going to be worse this time-for last time she had judged herself sick, she had rolled in self-pity and self-hatred like a hot sulphur spring, scalding herself.  All those experts lined up against her in a jury dressed in medical white and judicial black - social workers, caseworkers, child guidance counsellors, psychiatrists, doctors, nurses, clinical psychologists, probation officers - all those cool knowing that faces had caught her and bound her in their nets of jargon hung all with tiny barbed hooks that stuck in her flesh and he could slow weakening poison.  She was marked with the bleeding stigmata of shame.  She had wanted to cooperate, to grow well.  Even when she felt so bad she lay in a corner and wept and wept, laid level by guilt, that too was part of being sick: it proved she was sick rather than evil.”

 

193-4 – “ ‘Needles in the brain …’ It sounded like a crazy fantasy-like Sybil’s microwave ovens that burned out magic.  Glenda insisted that electroshock was a dentist's drill.  Maybe they had given Alice shot in the head, a new drug injected directly in the brain?  That too was crazy.  Those new drugs they tried out many your kidneys turn to rock all caused your tongue to swell lacked in your mouth or your skin to crust in patches or your hair to fall in loose handfuls, like stuffing from an old couch.  Perhaps the drug injected right in the brain could turn you into a zombie as quick as too much shock.

This ward was peculiar, because it was like a hospital ward.  The mental hospital had always seemed like a bad joke; nothing got healed here.  The first time in she had longed for what they called health.  She had kept hoping that someone was going to help her.  She had remained sure that somewhere in what they called a hospital was someone who cared, someone with answers, someone who would tell her what was wrong with her and mold her a better life.  But the pressure was to say please and put on lipstick and a sit at a table playing cards, to obey and work for nothing, cleaning the houses of the staff.  To look away from graft and abuse.  To keep quiet as she watched them beat other patients.  To pretend that the rape in the linen room was a patient's fantasy.

But this was a real hospital, even if an ancient one.  There were fifteen women on her side of the ward.  The bed was a hospital bed that went up and down, more comfortable than anything she had slept in for years […] Felling like an old hand, she smiled at Sybil as they began figuring how they would make do here, the space that might exist, the fringe benefits that could be squeezed.”

 

 

Reference: Marge, Piercy. 1976. Woman on the Edge of Time. London: Women’s Press, 2000

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009