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Kerima Polotan Tuvera’s The Virgin: The Feminist Approach "The Quest of Being a Woman"
“The Quest of Being a Woman” by Kerima Polotan Tuvera The Virgin is a perfect title that shows the same meaning of what feminist criticism is all about. Feminist approach defines revealing the true desires and struggles of women in society. It aims to expose the patriarchal premises resulting from prejudice and discovery of a story or any literary work through character analysis. This article would give readers a clearer view of how feminist criticism applies its characteristics to a well-known short story called The Virgin.
Author’s background and story encapsulation
Kerima Polotan Tuvera was a well-known Filipino author. Her works have earned her some of the highest literary accolades in the Philippines, with her short story ‘The Virgin’ being one of her most notable literary works. The word “virgin” she mentioned in her story means someone who is pure and undefiled. As dictated by society, in order for a woman to gain respect and dignity, she must be pure and a virgin because it is said that a woman’s virginity equals her dignity. Society dictates that a woman must keep her virginity until she marries, as Miss Mijares did. She was unable to express her feelings to men because she had to protect her virginity/dignity. Thus, the story presents the struggles of Miss Mijares caused by the social dictates of her individuality, which prevented her from finding her own identity as a person and as a woman from a feminist type perspective.
Discussion (application of feminist approach)
Miss Mijares, the main character of the short story called Virgo, as a writer and as a woman revealed her desires through her metaphors and symbols in her writing. Despite being the responsible daughter of her family, she also wanted others to love her, especially always wanting a man in her life. But the responsibilities of a daughter and a member of society prevented her from fulfilling her dreams. The following lines show her desire to have a man:
“But there was neither love nor fame behind her, only lurking empty shadows and nine years gone, nine years. In the room of her unburied dead, she raised her hands to the light, noted the strong, durable fingers, and thought.” in a mixture of shame, bitterness and guilt that they never touched a human.”
There was also one scenario in the story that shows her romantic feelings when she felt anger when she found out that the carpenter had a son and thought he was married. But after the carpenter admitted that he was not married to the mother of his son, she felt a sense of relief. After this event, it suddenly rained and the atmosphere was forlorn. The script reveals Miss Mijares’ emotions about the carpenter. She was shown to be emotionally affected by the Carpenter’s revelations. With rain and weather as a metaphor for her feelings; it proves her hidden emotions with the man.
There was also a symbolic revelation about her desire to be loved. The paperweight that the carpenter shaped into a dove symbolizes intercourse for the flies. The carpenter offered it to her, showing that the carpenter was offering something to Miss Mijares. The fact that Miss Mijares laughed at this shows that she likes the offer. Thus, it confirms that Miss Mijares is attracted to the carpenter, which suggests her acceptance and love for the flying object, which symbolizes love in the psychoanalytic approach.
Miss Mijares’ entire life was spent fulfilling her responsibilities, such as finishing college, sending her niece to school, and taking care of her mother. It was her duty as a woman to take care of her family unconditionally. This role, which was dictated by society and perhaps even by her own family, shaped her to be a woman for others and not a woman of her own self. Society dictates that women protect their virginity, which equates to their dignity, which Miss Mijares respectfully accepted. Miss Mijares was portrayed not only as a woman who wanted to transcend her roles, but also as a woman who wanted to build her own life.
In addition, Tuvera shows the inner struggle of a woman in the story. Miss Mijares’ efforts to adhere to society’s expectations of a woman and hide her own self have been exposed and reiterated. Her struggle was symbolically shown by encountering unknown places and the diversion of the jeepney. It symbolizes her own lost because she cannot be herself and has to be the woman society dictates her to be.
In society, women are responsible for taking care of people in the family. This was the case of Miss Mijares when she was the only one who could take care of her sick and old mother. She made all the responsibility that she forgot about her own life. Miss Mijares in the story can be characterized as an old maid. At 34, she has yet to touch a man. Her description in the story and her life really fit her as the old maid archetype that is still intact.
Three stages of women’s history can be identified in the life of Miss Mijares, the female stage, the feminist stage and the woman. The feminine stage according to Showalter’s theory is the stage that involves imitating the prevailing ways of the dominant tradition and internalizing its standards. Miss Mijares really went through this stage at the very beginning where she allows the dictates of society to rule her life. She took care of her mother responsibly and protected her virginity for a long time. However, as the story progresses, her character slowly develops, so that she is already approaching the feminist stage. The feminist stage can be described as a stage of protest against minority rights.
Miss Mijares did not protest explicitly or politically, but there is an internal protest in her. Her experiences of being lost and rainy days symbolize her inner protest that she has to go beyond what is expected of her. This symbolic protest has actually created confusion within her as she is torn between societal dictates and her own self. The last phase was what can be described as a female phase of self-discovery, of searching for identity. The last part of the story shows that Miss Mijares has gone through a womanly phase. Indeed, the following lines suggest that she was liberated from the social roles dictated to her:
In her secret heart, Miss Mijares’ young dreams had faintly come to life, seemed monstrous in the rain, near this man—seemed monstrous, but also sweet and overwhelming. I must get away, she thought wildly, but he moved and brushed against him.” her, and where his touch landed, her flesh leapt, and she remembered how his hands had looked that first day, as they lay tenderly on the edge of her table and around the wooden bird (which looked like a moving, glowing dove), and she turned to him: with her frills wet and withered she turned to him in the darkness.’
The last paragraph proves that she has gone through the stage of protest in her heart and is now able to express her own self, her own feelings and her desires. She shows that she is now able to transcend her social roles as she reveals that she is ready to give up her virginity. Her virginity is indeed a symbol of dignity; however, part of a woman’s purpose is to have a man who will be able to consume that long-held virginity.
The short story depicts the success of a woman in overcoming a male stereotypical world. The main character was able to resist the dictates of society and was able to assert herself in her quest to be a woman.
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