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When a Man Loves a Woman

msmith07's picture

In analyzing the storylines in Prodigal Summer and the other folk tales in our readings, I discovered a blatantly obvious trend. Every plot hinged on a single concept: the relationship between a man and a woman. In Deanna’s case, she sought out solitude, choosing not to include a man in her life. When a man visited her uninvited, however, and seduced her, she found herself hungering sexually for his companionship. For Lusa, the situation was different. While her husband lived she had only his companionship and none other, but after his passing she was forced to reevaluate her own role in their former life together, and delve deeper into the different roles of the sexes. As a feminist and a lesbian I have lived most of my conscious young adult life seemingly free of the opposite sex, but these stories have made me wonder: why exactly does a woman need a man?

Deanna, the main character in the Predators storyline, is the prime example of a free woman. She lives on her own, happily, far from the distresses of men and modern life. Her character has proved that she can live without a man, obtain food on her own, provide herself with heat and comfort on her own, and she has been successfully living this way of life for two years. But then Eddie Bondo arrives; a male hunter who represents everything that Deanna stands against.  As much as she detests him, Deanna cannot seem to send him away. She thinks to herself:

“How could she want this stranger? How was it reasonable to do anything now but stand up and walk away from him? But when he bent his face sideways towards hers she couldn’t stop herself from laying a hand on his jaw, and that was enough.”  (Kingsolver, 22)

She is openly disgusted by him because his visit to the forest was primarily fueled by hunting. Yet he remains in her conscience and this is what eventually leads him into her bedroom.

Deanna and Eddie argue blatantly over whether or not he has the right to hunt, the morals and implications of killing predators. Their heated debates often come between moments of passion, the two emotions laid out by Kingsolver in stark contrast to each other. Perhaps because of her sexual desires, Deanna is frequently disarmed around Eddie, both figuratively and literally. In their first love scene, Deanna slides her pistol away from them, across the porch, “the last shed appendage of her fear.” (Kingsolver, 24) While it is uncharacteristic of such a strong personality to let her guard down, it is clear in the context of their intercourse that her libido overpowers her tough façade, and she begrudgingly lets Eddie Bondo in.

For Deanna, her relationship with a man was clearly a physical endeavor; the role of a man in Lusa’s life, however, is both physical and fiscal. She, a woman, could not possibly run a farm on her own, and with her husband gone she is seemingly hopeless in her pursuits. Through shared grief, but also through presumption, Lusa’s brothers-in-law Herb and Rickie immediately offer to take over her farm work for her. Though she ultimately decides to raise goats on her own for money, Lusa admits to being wary of taking up the physical demands of living on a farm without a man: “Like so many tasks that had always been Cole’s, the mowing was something she’d initially dreaded taking on.” (Kingsolver, 285)
In truth, Lusa adapted to farm life without a man by devising her own way to make money, and by taking on some manual labor tasks herself. However, she still did hire someone to make barn roof repairs, a job that Cole could have done were he still alive. In an intimately awkward scene between Lusa and her nephew Little Rickie, the need for a man physically is intertwined with a sexual need as well. “[Your crying] got my arm around you for a minute. I’d like to do more than that: I’d like to fix your whole barn roof.” (Kingsolver, 242) Rickie says, before kissing Lusa quickly on the mouth. In her world, physical labor such as fixing a roof, setting a field of tobacco, or crop harvesting is the primary role of a man in a woman’s life; the provider, the laborer, the hard worker. This is followed closely by the secondary need, which is of course sexual.

There is a clear biological need that men and women have for each other as well, aside from sex: pheromones, a chemical that gives scientific evidence for attraction between men and women. Kingsolver addresses this idea multiple times, in that Lusa and Deanna discuss pheromones both in personal and ecological contexts. At a family party, Lusa notices she is receiving more attention from her brothers-in-law than she normally would have. “No wonder the men were fluttering around her like moths: she was fertile… She must be trailing pheromones.” (Kingsolver, 230) In Predators, Deanna also speaks of them. When Eddie Bondo returns to the mountain a second time he says that he “sniffed out” Deanna. (Kingsolver, 92)  She attributes her attractiveness to the pheromones, released by her body during her menstrual cycle, and received by the eager Eddie Bondo.

Though this biological mechanism explains the attractions between men and women, it gives no real reason as to why women need men. Lusa and Deanna seem unconvinced that men are necessary to get anything done, quite frankly – that women are perhaps better off without men entirely.  Early on in the novel, Deanna ruminates on her own personal womanhood and comes to the conclusion that, “Up here in the woods, finally, she could be the only kind of woman there was. The kind without a man.” (Kingsolver, 55) The women are in denial of their need for men – a denial that would plainly be characteristic of them both. But in both stories no matter how the women struggle to do things on their own, independent of the help of others, they are unable to escape the influence of men.

In the Yellow Woman stories, there is some debate as to the role of a woman in her society. Paula Gunn Allen maintains that the woman’s importance as original Native American tribes saw it has been skewed because it is examined and retold through the eyes of a modern, patriarchal society. The modern interpretations distort Yellow Woman as a “pawn in [men’s] bid for power” (Allen, 234), but more traditionally women were very central in their societies. Lusa and Deanna can even be seen as permutations of Yellow Woman, who was described as “in some way atypical, maybe a woman who refuses to marry, … or one who is very quick-witted and resourceful.” (Allen, 227)

If we rely on this traditional interpretation, this spirit of Yellow Woman being independent and atypical, Deanna and Lusa certainly fit the definition. Deanna is frequently described as an atypical woman. One aspect she often accentuates is her lack of self-consciousness regarding her physical appearance:

“She’d managed to live her live apart from… most other mysteries owned by women…. She most she’d done in the way of coiffure was to untangle it from tree branches and trim the ends with the scissors on her Swiss Army knife. That was the only kind of woman she had ever known how to be.” (Kingsolver, 55)

As for Lusa, she is described as an atypical woman in a different sense. In her husband’s community, it is normal for a good Christian woman to grow up, marry, and bear children. But Lusa, who was raised with both Islamic and Jewish traditions, spent a good portion of her adult life studying science, and going to graduate school. Over the span of her short marriage, Lusa took birth control and never conceived a child. The reader can tell from her sisters-in law’s negative reactions to her life before marriage that she is looked upon as an ideal of a nonconforming woman.

Kochinnenako, too, was a nonconformist. She admits openly that she does not love her husband. She does retain her dignity and her morals (and some of her conformity) by remaining faithful to her husband. However, just as Deanna was caught in the throes of sexual desire, Kochinnenako was also drawn to a man, Miochin, based on sexual attraction. “… she found herself confronted by a very bold but handsome young man. His attire attracted her gaze at once.” (Allen, 228) While perhaps Kochinnenako is not an exact archetype for characters like Deanna and Lusa, Allen does leave the interpretation open ended. She presents John Gunn’s “narrative” form before explaining that an actual retelling of the story as oral tradition dictates would be far less flowery and perhaps the female character could be seen as more powerful through the eyes of the Native American women listening to the tale.

So the question remains: in the Battle of the Seasons story, did Kochinnenako need those men? Well, frankly, yes. Though Kochinnenako was the central force in bringing the two gods together and changing the seasons from winter to summer, she never would have completed this task without the gods actually being present. While perhaps their purpose in the story is peripheral or semantic, it is clear that they must be present, just as to Lusa and Deanna it is eventually clear that men must be present in their lives, at some point. Perhaps the reason is not clear, but it is undeniable that in literature, in biology, and in life, the sexes are irrevocably linked.