Female characters in the novels of Robert Coover.

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Roberts, Linda
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Middle Tennessee State University
Robert Coover's fiction thematically undermines mankind's ordering systems or myths. Since Coover is stylistically an experimentalist, his lack of traditional character development in these works is not surprising. Actually, in his novels Coover deliberately uses two-dimensional, objectified and victimized female characters to enhance the Zeitgeist of each novel and to undermine another of mankind's codified systems--the traditionally subjugated role of women.
In The Origin of the Brunists, Marcella Bruno, pure and pious, and Happy Bottom, sensual and skeptical, embody two disparate reactions to the Brunist religion. Moreover, in Marcella's relationship with Justin Miller, one finds the beginnings of Coover's progressive use of stereotypical notions about women in service to men. Miller seeks salvation from his own moribund existence through Marcella even though he is aware of her delicate mental state. His actions eventually cause Marcella's lapse into total madness, which ultimately leads to her death.
In The Public Burning, Richard Nixon's views of his wife Pat and Ethel Rosenberg become paradigms for the nation's attitudes toward women. Nixon frequently voices his need for Pat, as long as she remains silent and submissive, and even imagines a similar role for Ethel. Pat is obviously an unhappy women, yet her passivity and acceptance of her fate make her a "good" women in the eyes of America. Ethel, condemned for her purported activities as a Communist spy, is also subtly condemned for her refusal to assume the traditional role of a passive female.
Gerald's Party presents many objectified female characters who are victimized by a lubricious savagery. Alison is raped as part of the entertainment. Gerald's dehumanized wife, never named, is almost devoid of emotion. The murdered Ros, allusively associated with Christ, is ostensibly adored by her many sexual partners, but is actually victimized by them. Furthermore, in Gerald's Party Coover identifies the Judeo-Christian tradition as the major source of womankind's historical victimization.
Thus--though unarguably ironic and symbolic--Robert Coover's novels do sympathetically and accurately assess the state of American womanhood.