Tag: rape

Joyce Carol Oates,
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” (1966)

Fifteen-year-old Connie: “she knew she was pretty and that was everything.” But her mother’s a nag, cruelly easy to fool, and her sister June her mother’s “plain and chunky” pet with whom she’s constantly unfavorably compared. Her mother is jealous of her prettiness. She has friends, she has music: “the music was always in the background, like music at a church service; it was something to depend upon.” A Sunday morning the family leaves for an aunt’s barbecue. Connie declines to go. (She’s a younger Adela Moore in the Henry James story: “yet now that he was at a distance she felt a singular sense of freedom: a return of that condition of early childhood when, through some domestic catastrophe, she had for an infinite morning been left to her own devices.”)

She dreamily, sentimentally thinks of the boy she spent the evening with. He House seems to shrink in proportion to her daydream, the eroticism of her music. Two boys drive up, one of them the shaggy-haired boy who’d made promising eyes at her the night before that she tried to ignore. Arnold Friend, the kind that paints the name in big letters on the side of his car, his nose “sniffing as if she were a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.” But it isn’t: he sounds as informed about Connie as a stalker, creepily, down to family details. No red flags for Connie? This line doesn’t seem to fit “His smile assured her that everything was fine.”

Friend’s friend Ellie is in the car. Connie wants him to think she knows him. She doesn’t want to seem the dope. But he looks 30. She’s nervous. He lies, claims to be her age. “He grinned so broadly his eyes became slits and she saw how thick the lashes were, thick and black as if painted with a black tarlike material, the tar an echo of the black lettering on the car. Ellie looks creepy, old, “he had a fair, hairless face, cheeks reddened slightly as if the veins grew too close to the surface of his skin, the face of a forty-year-old baby.” Connie attempts to desist, “faintly.” She’s in a trance. He presses. He’s aggressive, resentful. Now she’s fearful, “and she had the idea that he had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real.” But now he’s describing to her how he’ll take her virginity in terms indistinguishable from a rape: “I’ll tell you how it is, I’m always nice at first, the first time. I’ll hold you so tight you won’t think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you’ll know you can’t. And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll give in to me and you’ll love me.” She panics, retreats into her house that doesn’t seem like her house, nor her home, anyway, as he continues his sinister deadpan advances, verbal and literal, a man in complete control of the idea of control, the lust for control, this weird little man: “Evidently his feet did not go all the way down; the boots must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller.” He is beginning to seem like Flannery O’connor’s Misfit: “This is how it is, honey: you come out and we’ll drive away, have a nice ride. But if you don’t come out we’re gonna wait till your people come home and then they’re all going to get it.” The seduction by way of threatening murder, guilt-tripping the victim into submitting to a rape. She reaches for the phone: Oates’s description of her fear as she is overcome by Friend is out of Poe:

Something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could do nothing but listen to it—the telephone was clammy and very heavy and her fingers groped down to the dial but were too weak to touch it. She began to scream into the phone, into the roaring. She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerking back and forth in her lungs as if it were something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness. A noisy sorrowful wailing rose all about her and she was locked inside it the way she was locked inside this house.

And this, the pedophile’s manifesto: “Be nice to me, be sweet like you can because what else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in?” (She uses a line here, “she felt her pounding heart. Her hand seemed to enclose it. She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn’t really hers either.” It reminded me of the image from Malamud: “All day Sam’s heart beat so hard he sometimes fondled it with his hand as though trying to calm a bird that wanted to fly off.”)

Epoch, Fall 1966

Paul Bowles, “Under the Sky” (1947)

The lurid story of young a mountain man, Jacinto, who comes down to an inferno of a town under a lightning-ridden sky to sell “all the things his family had made since his last trip.” He’s an angry man. He rolls five joints in front of others. A man threatens him with arrest of he doesn’t share. He must give up two joints. He’s livid, but not armed. He is at heart a coward, as we will soon see. He encounters a trio of travelers just off the train who look at him oddly as they pass by. He waits for one of them to come out of the hotel at night. One does. A woman, “not the younger one.” She smokes. They talk. He suddenly drags her beneath the lightning sky and swears to her that he’s about to kill the man who is with the other woman because he wants the woman. It’s a subterfuge. The woman screams. He tells her she’s saving the man’s life–by essentially letting him, Jacinto, take her to the cemetery, where he rapes her. She then leaves. “He was happy because she had not asked for any money.” The next year he waited for the train four days. Nothing. At the cemetery, he sobs. I have no idea why. A passing woman says, “He has lost his mother.” If that’s supposed to be a clue, it doesn’t ring true. Nor does the story soar anywhere near the first paragraph’s lyricism:


There’s also a derisive, primitive attitude about the simplicity of the natives, Bowles depicting them as two-dimensional brutes, when the telling of the story seems more brutal.

Horizons, June 1947.

[rape, natives, lightning, marijuana]

Maupassant, “L’inutile beauté” (1890)

La comtesse de Mascaret, hautaine, dédaigneuse de son jaloux mari, qui s’impose pour l’accompagner au bois.

I like this description: “Ils montaient maintenant les Champs-Élysées, vers l’Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. L’immense monument, au bout de la longue avenue, ouvrait dans un ciel rouge son arche colossale. Le soleil semblait descendre sur lui en semant par l’horizon une poussière de feu. Et le fleuve des voitures, éclaboussées de reflets sur les cuivres, sur les argentures et les cristaux des harnais et des lanternes, laissait couler un double courant vers le bois et vers la ville.”

He is a brute. She was forced to marry him by her parents, for his money. She’s never liked him, let alone loved him. “Vous m’avez donc achetee.” She tells him she’ll confess her feelings. Her name is Gabrielle. She is three months out from her last child. Her seventh. Three boys, four girls, the oldest is 10. He wants yet another. She is married 11 years, she’s 30. She, like a Wharton heroine, “ne veux plus être la victime de l’odieux supplice de maternité que vous m’imposez depuis onze ans ! je veux vivre enfin en femme du monde, comme j’en ai le droit, comme toutes les femmes en ont le droit.” Because as soon as she began to be devoted to him, to play the part of the loving wife, “vous êtes devenu jaloux, vous, comme aucun homme ne l’a jamais été, d’une jalousie d’espion, basse, ignoble, dégradante pour vous, insultante pour moi.” Impregnating her was his way of keeping her from other men. She didn’t realize it at first, “puis j’ai deviné. Vous vous en êtes vanté même à votre sœur, qui me l’a dit, car elle m’aime et elle a été révoltée de votre grossièreté de rustre.” [How repulsive: she’s right to rebel.]

And this devastating passage: “Ah ! rappelez-vous nos luttes, les portes brisées, les serrures forcées ! À quelle existence vous m’avez condamnée depuis onze ans, une existence de jument poulinière enfermée dans un haras. Puis, dès que j’étais grosse, vous vous dégoûtiez aussi de moi, vous, et je ne vous voyais plus durant des mois. On m’envoyait à la campagne, dans le château de la famille, au vert, au pré, faire mon petit. Et quand je reparaissais, fraîche et belle, indestructible, toujours séduisante et toujours entourée d’hommages, espérant enfin que j’allais vivre un peu comme une jeune femme riche qui appartient au monde, la jalousie vous reprenait, et vous recommenciez à me poursuivre de l’infâme et haineux désir dont vous souffrez en ce moment, à mon côté. Et ce n’est pas le désir de me posséder – je ne me serais jamais refusée à vous – c’est le désir de me déformer.”

He reasserts himself physically as the carriage takes them to the park, forcibly, telling her he’s the master and the law is on his side. It’s domestic violence, pure and simple: “Vous voyez bien que je suis le maître, dit-il, et le plus fort.”

He agrees to her proposition to go to a church. They turn around. And then she tells him: one of the seven children is not his. It was her “unique vengeance” against him, “contre votre abominable tyrannie de mâle, contre ces travaux forcés de l’engendrement auxquels vous m’avez condamnée. Qui fut mon amant ? Vous ne le saurez jamais ! Vous soupçonnerez tout le monde. Vous ne le découvrirez point. Je me suis donnée à lui sans amour et sans plaisir, uniquement pour vous tromper. Et il m’a rendue mère aussi, lui. Qui est son enfant ? Vous ne le saurez jamais. J’en ai sept, cherchez ! Cela, je comptais vous le dire plus tard, bien plus tard, car on ne s’est vengé d’un homme, en le trompant, que lorsqu’il le sait. Vous m’avez forcée à vous le confesser aujourd’hui, j’ai fini.”

He spares her the beating she expected. Dinner. He examines his children “avec des yeux incertains qui allaient d’une tête à l’autre, troublés d’angoisses.” She swears the truth of what she said. In bed later, knowing he’s coming, she hides a gun. “Elle attendait, énergique et nerveuse, sans peur de lui maintenant, prête à tout et presque triomphante, car elle avait trouvé pour lui un supplice de tous les instants et de toute la vie.” But he doesn’t show. He tells her by letter he’s going on a long trip.

Suddenly, we get part III.

I love it. But it breaks the dramatic flow of the story entirely. It’s a socio-philosophical disquisition between two men. (Men, of course: the irony.) It’s a great exchange, but does it belong in such a raw form?

At the opera, a few years later (actually, six) two men gossip about the couple, seeing her radiant, having seen Mascaret worried, getting old. The men are Bernard Grandin and Salinas. But one of the men, Salins, has a social conscience, pitying woman. Why? “Pourquoi ? Ah ! mon cher, songe donc ! Onze ans de grossesses pour une femme comme ça ! quel enfer ! C’est toute la jeunesse, toute la beauté, toute l’espérance de succès, tout l’idéal poétique de vie brillante, qu’un sacrifice à cette abominable loi de la reproduction qui fait de la femme normale une simple machine à pondre des êtres.” The other guy says it’s “la nature.” But the conscious one persist: “Oui, mais je dis que la nature est notre ennemie, qu’il faut toujours lutter contre la nature, car elle nous ramène sans cesse à l’animal.” It’s a humanist speech, rejecting god and honoring mankind.

Back to the couple, as they return home from the opera (just as in all TV shows: the conversation in the car), but there’s nothing humanistic about Mascaret’s begging of his wife to reveal who the odd child is. He says he’s been going crazy all these years trying to figure it out. “Est-ce que j’aurais accepté, sans cela, l’horreur de vivre à votre côté, et l’horreur, plus grande encore, de sentir, de savoir parmi eux qu’il y en a un, que je ne puis connaître, et qui m’empêche d’aimer les autres.” But isn’t that cruel? How is the fact that he’s not the biological father stopping him from being a father? The limits of enlightened thinking, even by Maupassant.

Even worse: he tells her he didn’t kill her six years before not because it’s morally wrong, because it would orphan the children, but because he would have never found out who his non-biological child is. This is awful. So is this: “J’ai attendu, mais j’ai souffert plus que vous ne sauriez croire, car je n’ose plus les aimer, sauf les deux aînés peut-être ; je n’ose plus les regarder, les appeler, les embrasser, je ne peux plus en prendre un sur mes genoux sans me demander : « N’est-ce pas celui-là ? »”

Then she doubles down with their awfulness, telling him she never lied, she never cheated on him, they’re all his. And he triples down: how is he going to trust her at all, from now on? How can he not continue to doubt? She tells him had she not lied she’d have continued to make babies, but, she says, triumphantly, “Je suis, nous sommes des femmes du monde civilisé, monsieur. Nous ne sommes plus et nous refusons d’être de simples femelles qui repeuplent la terre.” [This is a fantastic story for Alabama legislators]

Then Maupassant gives Mascaret this epiphany, as he finally believes his wife: “Alors, il sentit soudain, il sentit par une sorte d’intuition que cet être-là n’était plus seulement une femme destinée à perpétuer sa race, mais le produit bizarre et mystérieux de tous nos désirs compliqués, amassés en nous par les siècles, détournés de leur but primitif et divin, errant vers une beauté mystique, entrevue et insaisissable. Elles sont ainsi quelques-unes qui fleurissent uniquement pour nos rêves, parées de tout ce que la civilisation a mis de poésie, de luxe idéal, de coquetterie et de charme esthétique autour de la femme, cette statue de chair qui avive, autant que les fièvres sensuelles, d’immatériels appétits.
L’époux demeurait debout devant elle, stupéfait de cette tardive et obscure découverte, touchant confusément la cause de jalousie ancienne, et comprenant mal tout cela.”

See full story: http://athena.unige.ch/athena/selva/maupassant/textes/beaute.html

Hemingway, “Up in Michigan” (1923, 1938)

Liz Coats is a maid at the house where Jim Gilmore lives. Jim Gilmore took over a blacksmith shop. “Liz liked Jim very much.” Her infatuation grows. She’s a simple girl, has never been in love before, or been touched. When he goes away hunting or fishing, she misses him, can;t sleep at night, imagines him. She places herself in such a way as to make sure he’s the last thing she sees before going to bed. One night he comes over to her and presses himself against her, touches her breasts, kisses her. They go for a walk. He rapes her. Not her idea of how it would go. She coves him up and returns to the house.

Three Stories and Ten Poems, 1923