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Friday, February 09, 2007

flawed, no less: on pygmalion

Only to a certain extent can a woman approximate perfection in a man’s gaze. In a macho society where we live and where literary production get perpetually contaminated with certain ideologies such as patriarchy, characters such as Pygmalion, Marguerite and Gwen in John Updike’s Pygmalion come fully-bodied and conspire in order to promote gender bashing.
Pygmalion, the male character in whose scrutiny the wives were assessed, reminds us of the mythical Pygmalion who, in spite of women, created the perfect woman in the form of an ivory statue. Like the misogynist of the ancient Greek myth, Pygmalion was shown to have “dislike about his first wife (Marguerite),” even as “he liked…her gift of mimicry.” This dislike was set side by side with his delight about the “liveliness in bed” of his secret mistress and would-be second wife (Gwen). In essence, Pygmalion found his wife to have fallen short of his expectation, his delusional craving for a perfect woman, which condition motivated him into remarrying in the hope that Gwen would be it. This anticipative nature of man existent in Pygmalion’s character complements the false consciousness that women are almost always flawed, and will never quite achieve fullness of person if only for the fact that they are descended from the erring Eve.
Margeurite’s sense of humor was not enough to cover for the implied bed boredom she affected her husband with. She was masterful in her mimicry-infused description, but her husband was apparently looking for more, hence his retraction of marriage vows of living together till death do they part. Margeurite was blissfully unaware that she was being cheated by her husband and the very woman she mimicked in the text’s exposition, as she was equally unknowing that she lost Pygmalion increasingly when she “would ask to have her her back rubbed and then…night after night, fall asleep.” This characterization of a woman as imperfect even as she is the wife of the man perceiving this imperfection presents the harsh reality that women can never attain the patriachal standard of the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Gwen’s “liveliness in bed” seems to realize Pygmalion’s pursuit of a perfect wife, but her lack of imagination (something that her predecessor, thankfully, did not have) ironically rendered Pygmalion to look for the first wife’s talent in his new one. Pygmalion’s twice pronunciation of “nothing” was itself a haunting of this anticipation which he tried so hard to exile. Gwen “heard…an unvoiced demand” for her to go beyond the mastery in bed, and soon had this motivation to consummate what she was expected, hence her “first imitation…of Margeurite’s second husband, Ed.” Gwen had “arrive[d] at what [Pygmalion] conceived to be proper womanliness,” a wife that was both good-humored and bed-lively. Her character “had become perfect for him” now that she willfully had herself subjugated in the measures of man’s model woman. She delighted her husband so much that Pygmalion was only too willing to rub Gwen’s back, an activity which was what wedged Pygmalion from Marguerite, in the first place. Considering the symbiosis of the expectant getting his wish granted and of the prospect fulfilling this very wish, it is no wonder.
Updike’s characters become pumped with flesh and blood in order to give justice to their presentation of the ever-anticipative men attempting to make perfect the women species, which state the women sometimes collude to. While arguably, men can never be perfect themselves, they compensate for their own flaw by fashioning a mold that women should fit in. We see this around the society, and the characterization in Updike’s text is symptomatic of this truism.

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