It feels like there are some deep and important gender statements being made, especially at the end when we find out that women and men are being kidnapped out of Consilience given brain surgery to “imprint” on the first thing they see with two eyes.
I was super nervous at first, when it felt like such an overload of sexist viewpoints without much balance, but I was right to trust Atwood would turn it around. I think you’re right about the deep gender statements—even leading up to the imprinting—touching on the things men and women desire.
The imprinting thing is messed up, but hey, it’s equal opportunity, we see that it’s done to both men and women. I think that one is less about gender statements are more about morality. If that technology existed, what kind of person would be okay with having someone “love” them because of this forced surgery that removes free will?
This spoke of free will issues to me. I can’t put my finger on it, but I wonder if the constant Grandma Winn memories are a reference to the imprinting that happens with children and parents (or in Charmaine’s case, parental figures). That love is strong and can be difficult to break even when it’s healthier to do so. Why?
What about the end? Was it incredible or incredibly unsatisfying? As soon as Joycelyn told Charmaine she had a choice of whether or not to hear the information I knew what that information was.
I think it was a really interesting point, but it just took way too long to get there. The space between Stan leaving Consilience and the end of the book felt endless to me; so endless that by the time the revelation at the end came, I didn’t want to ruminate on it the way I probably would have in any other situation.
The ending was predictable the closer we got. Atwood left plenty of hints. I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about how it wrapped up the story, but it did make me think about how we can lie to ourselves pretty convincingly in order to make our lives more comfortable.
I never fully got the point of Joycelyn totally turning Stan into a crazy submissive mess prior to telling him what was going on—it seemed like she tortured him way too long.
The only reason I can think of for Joycelyn’s crazy sex torture is that she documented it all and could say, “Here, look, evidence that this boy-toy was crazy, therefore I eliminated him.” Stan was so obviously against it that it gave her motive to kill him so no one would notice when he fled with the document dump.
Charmaine’s discovery that she didn’t have the procedure did remind me a bit of a discussion I heard on the Slate DoubleX Gabfest about the testing of the new “female Viagra” drug. One of the commentators was wondering if women in the trials taking the placebo could have recorded more pleasurable sexual experiences under the assumption that they were actually getting the drug.
What about Charmaine? I found her almost bimbo-y and I wanted her dead. In contrast I actually liked Joycelyn despite her sadistic nature.
I was not a fan of Charmaine. She seemed ditsy and simple, but another way to look at it would be childlike. There was a lot of allusion to her childhood where I think she was definitely physically abused if not sexually abused. I’m thinking that could have arrested her development. Her grandmother and all her little quips affected her as well.
Also, how is Charmaine able to kill people? She sees herself as an angel, gently helping them to the other side. She’s fully aware she’s killing them, and seems to focus on the fact that they’re “bad” people, but still, she kills them. Does her childishness help her do this?
Maybe she’s so desperate for a secure life that she’s rationalized the job she’s been assigned? People who do unethical things so often “have a good reason” that they truly seem to believe…
Speaking of characters we don’t like, Stan was a complete misogynistic dick! We get a lot of his internal dialogue which uses “slut” and the like pretty frequently. Charmaine seems to mostly irritate him, and when he’s fantasizing about Jasmine he figures she might resist, but that doesn’t concern him. And let’s not forget he opted to take away Charmaine’s free will and have the imprinting surgery done on her! Is he a flawed hero or just an asshole?
I think a lot of the characters, Charmaine and Stan especially, became caricature-like in the second half. They started a brand-new life in Positron, and their personalities changed drastically. It felt like Pleasantville.
This is basically where my interest in the novel lies. So much of the second half went whackadoodle, but I think Atwood was trying to get at some interesting things with Stan. I think he’s meant to represent the flawed way that men—Hell, even society in general—are taught to think about women. He hates that Charmaine is too sweet and demure, so he’s attracted to the fiery, imaginary Jasmine. But when he gets Jocelyn, who wants to have sex with him constantly, she’s too demanding and he longs for Charmaine.
Is part of the message of the book the old adage “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?”
Isn’t that the message of every Margaret Atwood book?
How did you feel about The Heart Goes Last, dear readers? What did you make of Charmaine and her memories of her grandmother? Do you think Atwood was successful in getting her message across? Did you check out Carolyn’s post about the way the book connects to Paradise Lost over at Rosemary and Reading Glasses?