Subjugation and emancipation in the fiction of Lisa Alther.

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White, Gwendolyn
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Middle Tennessee State University
Lisa Alther writes of the individual's search for personal identity. Although people tend to seek fulfillment through The Other (person, group, ideology), Alther concludes that definition must ultimately come from within. Only The Self, then, and not The Other, can provide any satisfying and long-lasting answers.
In Kinflicks, Alther concentrates on one woman's search for positive, internal definition. Ginny Babcock attempts to define herself as a flag-swinger, motorcycle moll, student, lesbian, political activist, wife, and mother. She seeks fulfillment in The Other through the externals of: changing clothes/changing identities, sexual encounters, subjugation into relationshps, and her preoccupation with death. Ginny is ultimately able to free herself from the stifling identification with The Other, painfully learning that The Other can never function as a replacement for The Self.
Alther's second novel, Original Sins, deals with the searches of five young men and women (Jed, Sally, Raymond, Donny, and Emily) who struggle separately and together to grow, to change, and to find some meaning for their existence. Many times their searches are thwarted by externals (The Other) as some of the characters come closer to internal definition than do others. Alther chronicles their lives through love and sex, marriage and infidelity, passion and ambition, politics and social history, feminism and counter-cultures, racial animosity and protest, and isolation and death.
Finally, in Other Women, Alther focuses on two women (Hannah and Caroline) and their separate struggles--brought together by therapy and moved forward toward positive and self-defining ends. Hannah has already worked through that seemingly lifelong search in a positive and successful way, and after the therapy, Caroline is well on the way to personal fulfillment.
For all of Alther's characters, a positiveness exists in the possibility of choices. Although background, gender, and social status may make the way more difficult, the ultimate choice belongs to the individual--if he or she can manage to find personal identity. Alther leaves us with choices, and her lesson is simple, yet extremely painful: The Self is the ultimate and final answer.