Chapter 2_ Gender _over_Exposures in the Nuclear Age

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Chapter 2_ Gender _over_Exposures in the Nuclear Age Powered By Docstoc
					                                                                                 Sonia Weiner
                                                                            Tel Aviv University
                                                                       soniaw@netvision.net.il


     This is a segment from a larger essay, which is also a section from a larger project...




                     Gender (over)Exposures in the Nuclear Age
                           in You Must Remember This




       The title of Joyce Carol Oates‟s 1987 novel, You Must Remember This, is

appropriated from the chorus of the song As Time Goes By, featured in the popular

film Casablanca (1942).1 The phrase subsumes within it the suggestive themes of

memory, time and nostalgia, topics that are rigorously addressed by Oates in her novel

by means of photographic imagery. By granting authority to photographic imagery in

Oates‟s You Must Remember This, my analysis will address the discrepancies

between surface appearances and embedded social and cultural contexts examined in

the work. The novel, which explores the experience of an adolescent girl in the United

States during the 1950‟s, utilizes photographic imagery to juxtapose the overt

conformity, propriety and stability of the period with its underlying uncertainties,

ambiguities and tensions.

       The ambiguities faced by young women during the fifties in relation to

contrasting messages pertaining to gender, sexuality and independence, are

embodied by the adolescent Enid Maria Stevick, whose acts of explicit and implicit

rebellion amply contest the dominant social and cultural ideologies. Enid, an anorexic

and suicidal adolescent, engages in an illicit sexual relationship with her step-uncle, a

former boxer and WWII veteran. Their complex relationship forms the basis of the

novel, which braches out to include their circle of acquaintances. I will argue that the

oppressive photographic imagery, which includes images of horror, death, violence,

and problematic notions of gender construction, threatens to obliterate Enid both



                                              1
literally and figuratively. 2 Literally, photographs convince Enid that domineering power

structures of all types make death a desirable option to living under their dictates, while

figuratively other photographs attempt to defy and stifle her budding desire for

individuality and creativity. Enid's emergent rebellion against the powers that strive to

confine her enables her to overcome the implications of the photographic imagery, and

thereby to escape their insinuations, which threaten to confine her. Enid's narrative

becomes an affirmation of life over the literal and metaphorical death offered by the

photographs.



Living Skeletons

       The most disturbing and powerful photographic images, those of Holocaust

victims and survivors, occur at the outset of the novel, and provide a context with

which to comprehend the novel more generally. Enid stumbled upon these images by

chance, as she leafed through a mildewed copy of Life magazine she had found in her

father‟s used furniture store when she was but eight or nine. The warm and familiar

environment of her father‟s store could not shield Enid from the content of these

photos, which symbolizes the sense of loss of control and authority men underwent

during the postwar era. The scene forcefully exhibits how an ordinary daily incident

becomes heightened as it is permeated with haunting and uncanny photographic

images. The prose photos that emerge are Enid‟s perception of them:

       she saw photographs of extermination camp victims, emaciated
       men in uniforms that were comical, striped, „living skeletons‟ of
       Bergen-Belsen they were called, Buchenwald prisoners staring at
       the camera through barbed wire looking so calm, so quiet. There
       were piles of the dead along a country lane, there was a little boy in
       short pants her age squinting at the camera looking as if he might
       smile hello, it was all so calm and ordinary. (MR 10-11).

The descriptions, focalized by Enid, are brief, but read carefully, reveal an unconscious

optics at work: the “piles of the dead along a country lane” suggest a deep incongruity;

the “„living skeletons‟ of Bergen-Belsen” are seen in painful juxtaposition to their



                                            2
“uniforms that were comical, striped”; the “Buchenwald prisoners staring at the camera

through barbed wire looking so calm, so quiet” are emblems of dignity; and the little

boy “squinting at the camera looking as if he might smile hello” points to the

senselessness of the Nazi death machine which targeted children as the enemy. 3 Enid

is particularly receptive to the image of the child victim, and her observation that the

boy is “her age” serves as an indication of her sense of identification with him. Enid‟s

identification with children victims, which will be explored in more detail below,

becomes central to her consciousness. Finally, Enid‟s observation of the calm and

ordinary nature of the scene, calls to mind Hannah Arendt‟s notion of “the banality of

evil,” the bureaucratic efficiency with which the Nazi enterprise was undertaken. Enid's

observations, those of a child who only has a vague understanding of the events,

indicate a deep comprehension of the ease with which violence can be inflicted by the

powerful, dominating and strong on the powerless, dominated and weak.

       These photographs, it would seem, were taken by American journalist-

photographers who were with the forces that liberated the camps in 1945. While many

of the photographs are 'generic,' the photograph of the boy walking among the piles of

dead is unique, and can be identified as the work of the American photographer,

George Rodger.4 The photographs have in common the quality of underscoring the

deformed and mutilated bodies of survivors, which perhaps enables Enid to observe

them with a somewhat numbed detachment. This changes when she turns the page

and is confronted with the image of “the face close up of a boy who had died trying to

squeeze beneath a barn door through a space of – was it three inches or so? so small!

– a face smudged and broken yet beautiful in sleep, in death. Enid stared. Enid wanted

to memorize…” (MR 11). This grotesque parody of birth, which delivers the child from

the horrors of his existence to the bliss of non-being, noticeably moves Enid, who is

ruptured with “the conviction simple as a lock clicking into place that the human world

was wrong, she‟d been born into it by error” (MR 11).5 The rupture experienced by

Enid introduces future death, yet death is construed by her as a positive, rather than a

                                            3
negative revelation. As such, rather than experiencing horror in relation to the child

victim, Enid identifies with him. The image of the child victim, which focuses on his

facial expression as he escapes the horrors of his world through death, evokes in Enid

an intense response of identification, while also provides insight into the abuse of

power.

         Under this premise, the image begins to exert a powerful, punctum-like,

influence over Enid, who “could not look away from the dead boy until he released her”

(MR 11). Transfixed and captivated by the photograph of the dead boy, his firm grip

lures her towards consideration of death as an alternative to the burden of living. In

identifying with the plight of this child victim, Enid does not merely accept the position

of victim, rather, she recognizes that the "world is wrong," that is, she is able to discern

the potential corruption inherent in the mechanisms of power which can lead to

oppression and ultimately violence against its weakest subjects. Enid maintains that

“no she wasn‟t crying, no she wasn‟t upset,” yet the density and intensity of the

language, as well as its near-hysteric pitch – “That head – that human head – so

improbably forced beneath a door! Those shut eyes, that dirt-smudged mouth!” –

indicate otherwise.

         Browsing through this magazine and being exposed to its disturbing images is

understood by the father to be an unnecessary experience for his daughter, yet

forbidding her to read the magazine is construed, not as protection, but rather as an

attempt to place limitations on her freedom of access and to restrict her knowledge.

Therefore Enid‟s engagement with the magazine unintentionally becomes a subversive

act. Upon discovering Enid with the magazine, her father “snatched [it] out of her

hands,” forcing her back into reality, back into what Enid will increasingly come to see

as the male dominated world of postwar America (MR 11). Rather than running into

her father‟s seemingly protecting and comforting embrace, Enid remains distant and

aloof, for her encounter with the photograph becomes a formative moment, one that




                                            4
raises her political awareness and initiates her decision of non-compliance with

authority.6

           Enid's unexpected encounter with the Holocaust images is strikingly

reminiscent of Susan Sontag's description of her first encounter with similar images.7

Sontag came across photographs of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau by chance, while in a

bookstore in Santa Monica in July 1945, when she was only twelve years old. Sontag

recalls:


           Nothing I have seen – in photographs or in real life – ever cut me as
           sharply, deeply, instantaneously. Indeed, it seems plausible to me to
           divide my life into two parts, before I saw those photographs (I was
           twelve) and after, though it was several years before I understood
           fully what they were about. What good was served by seeing them?
           They were only photographs- of an event I had scarcely heard of
           and could do nothing to affect, of suffering I could hardly imagine
           and could do nothing to relieve. When I looked at those
           photographs, something broke. Some limit had been reached, and
           not only that of horror; I felt irrevocably grieved, wounded, but a part
           of my feelings started to tighten; something went dead; something is
           still crying (OP 20).


Like Enid, the twelve year old Susan Sontag did not choose to view these disturbing

images, rather they were revealed to her by chance, in what would normally be

conceived of as a non-threatening, relaxed environment. 8 The trauma of being

exposed to these images at a young age, the lack of the relevant historical knowledge

to fully comprehend them, yet the ability to intuit that some limit had been reached, is

underlined by Sontag. In her reconstruction of her initial response to the images,

Sontag questions whether anything good was served by seeing them, and recalls the

sense of helplessness in the face of suffering that she could not relieve. Yet, arguably,

her encounter with these images seems after all to have influenced Sontag in a

formative way, raising her awareness of the impact of images and the problematic way

they are often used. The Holocaust images reside at the core of Sontag's critical

stance against the reckless use of images in modern industrial societies, whose

citizens have become "image-junkies" (OP 24).


                                               5
       Given the postwar setting in which Enid operates, the relegation of the images

in Life magazine to a forgotten shelf of a used furniture store can be seen as symbolic

of the willed amnesia surrounding the Holocaust in postwar America. In stumbling

across the raw, un-mitigated images of Holocaust victims that appeared in Life several

years earlier (during spring 1945), Enid discovers “living skeletons” in America‟s closet,

skeletons which could serve America as a reminder of the dangers implicit in the

postwar ideology – ironically, an ideology that emerged to counter the danger which it

itself now theoretically threatened to become. Incidentally, in questioning the role of

patriarchy in the oppression of women, feminist scholars have turned a critical eye to

“the dominance of „patriarchal values‟” during the Holocaust in order to underscore the

devastating implications of patriarchal systems at large (Novick 241). 9

       The appalling phrase “living skeleton” functions in the text on various levels,

and can be seen to create a disturbing link between the bodies of emaciated survivors

and those of female Americans. In the opening paragraphs of the novel which describe

the violence randomly inflicted upon women, a female victim of sexual abuse is

defined by the doctors as being a “living skeleton” since “she‟d lost so much weight”

during her captivity (MR 10). Immediately following this description, Enid,

contemplating the notion of a “living skeleton,” observes her now emerging adolescent

body “in the bathroom mirror, naked, regarding with clinical distaste the jutting collar

bones, the knobby shoulder bones, the thin pale envelope of skin rippling over her

ribs” (MR 10). Her anorexic condition is already established in the prologue, where at

age fifteen “she stood five foot three inches tall in her bare feet" and "weighed eighty

nine pounds” (MR 3).10 Enid herself becomes a “living skeleton,” and as such is

identified both with female victims of abuse, as well as with Holocaust victims who are

introduced in the text in the following paragraph.

       While significant differences exist between anorectic female bodies, sexually

abused female bodies and bodies of Holocaust victims, their juxtaposition in the

                                            6
opening pages of the novel requires that we consider their possible similarities. Most

noticeably, they are all linked by their submissive position vis-à-vis the structures of

power. Furthermore, they are subjected to male dominated hegemonic structures and

aggression. However, while sexual abuse and racial persecution are normally not a

function of choice, anorexia has been diagnosed as a self-inflicted condition (although

the motives of those who become anorexic tend to the subconscious). By inscribing

her body with the pathology of anorexia, Enid exhibits her identification with victims of

abuse and her subsequent desire to wither away and die, while at the same time, her

anorexia carries within it the seeds of rebellion against the very structures of power

that desire her submission.

        The series of references to acts of violence arbitrarily inflicted upon the

disempowered in general, and women more particularly, in the form of physical and

sexual abuse, set the tone for the entire work, namely, that in postwar America,

defined by the cold war and the atomic threat, male anxiety in relation to loss of power

and control was exemplified through their need to dominate women (and other

minorities such as blacks, homosexuals and Communists). Elaine Tyler May argues

that in the postwar period, "[c]ontainment was the key to security" (xxiv), and Wini

Breines similarly suggests that this “culture of containment” served as a “defense of

masculinity and whiteness" (10). In this context, "Anxiety over the loss of separate

spheres and the integration of the sexes and races was articulated in the celebration of

whiteness and traditional domestic femininity” (Breines 10). 11 This situation created a

paradoxical existence for women in general and for adolescent women in particular.

While women “continued to enter the labor force” and issues of equality improved to a

degree, “the 1950‟s were politically and culturally conservative, particularly regarding

gender and family issues" (11). Breines identifies the fifties as a difficult period for

"young, white, middle-class women," who "grew up and came of age in a time when

new lives beckoned while prohibitions against exploring them multiplied” and when

"liberating possibilities were masked by restrictive norms" (Breines 11). In response to

                                             7
these “exaggerated contradictions” Breines suggests, “girls rebelled and explored”

(11).

        The phenomenon of female anorexia as a form of rebellion was initially

presented by feminist critics. Susan Bordo underscores the notion that anorexia can

serve as a form of rebellion against a society that construes female desires for self-

nurturance and self-feeding as greedy and excessive: "The general rule governing the

construction of femininity,” especially at times of cultural backlash like the 1950‟s,

maintains “that female hunger – for public power, for independence, for sexual

gratification – be contained, and the public space that women be allowed to take up be

circumscribed, limited" (171). Enid‟s anorexia can therefore be interpreted as a form of

embodied protest, “unconscious, inchoate, and counterproductive protest without an

effective language, choice or politics, but protest nonetheless" against the constrictions

of the patriarchal society under which she lives (Bordo 175). Enid‟s refusal of

nourishment is her “indictment of a culture that disdains and suppresses female

hunger, makes women ashamed of their appetites and needs, and demands that

women constantly work on the transformation of their body" (Bordo 176). By

minimizing the space her body takes up, by circumscribing her physical presence, Enid

exaggerates society's expectations from women, taking to an extreme the curtailing of

female "appetite" and the containment of their desires. As she matures into

womanhood in postwar America, Enid experiences a growing sense that those who

claim to protect her expect her to remain powerless and subdued, and she reacts to

this rebelliously by taking their intentions to an extreme. Furthermore, by evoking the

anorexic condition, or by becoming a “living skeleton,” Enid‟s character replicates

bodies of Holocaust victims, thereby creating a disturbing association between various

structures of oppression.



Sex Bomb




                                            8
       Growing up in a lower middle-class neighborhood in Port Oriskany, 12 New York,

Enid is surrounded by potent photographic images typical of her era. These images

serve as a further source of anxiety for Enid, who resists their content or the uses to

which they have been put. These familiar images, or cultural icons, are ones that we

are accustomed to read through a prescribed lens, a given practice. However, in the

context of the narrative, they will be shown to take on new meanings and significance,

which will result in the subversion and displacement of their conventional meanings.

The photographs, encountered in the text in the form of prose photos, encourage

reexamination, through which they are exposed as constructed cultural moments

containing a wealth of significations. The narrative, describing events such as Enid‟s

brother‟s service and subsequent injury in the Korean War and her father‟s arrest due

to suspected un-American acts, provides a backdrop against which these photographs

are viewed.

       An image that looms largely over Enid, exacting from her a mixed response, is

that of the atomic bomb: “Enid had studied photographs of atomic bomb detonations,

the famous mushroom cloud the sky ablaze” (MR 61). The mushroom cloud, a symbol

of the Cold War, is a multifold image, signifying fear and power, despair and pride, and

has been manipulated by various groups to serve different motives. 13 Today, the

mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki "stand as signposts marking both a

gash in the living flesh of [American] historical consciousness and a turning point in

[American] ethical history" (Boyer 182). The prose photo of the mushroom cloud thus

enters the reader's consciousness with a heightened sense of rupture, triggering

familiar debates surrounding production and uses of Atomic weapons, which come to

play on his understanding of this photo in the context of narrative. Yet, at the time,

public preoccupation with the implications of the use of nuclear weapons on the

Japanese was short-lived and was soon directed toward the possibility that these

weapons, in the wrong hands, could be used upon Americans themselves. American

scientists of the Manhattan Project, who developed the weapons, were instrumental in

                                            9
raising the nation's awareness to the threat of nuclear weapons and actively instigated

a 'campaign of fear' in order to promote international control and cooperation so as to

prevent further development and use of this destructive weapon. However, the

campaign of fear boomeranged, achieving the opposite results: manipulation of the

fear factor by pro-bomb supporters "actively encouraged the very reliance on atomic

weapons the scientists hoped to avoid" (Boyer 93). The unleashed fear "created fertile

psychological soil for the ideology of American nuclear superiority" to take root and

was then effectively harnessed (by President Truman in his address to Congress in

March 1947) to "an all-out crusade against communism" (Boyer 106). The opportunity

to foreclose the nuclear arms race was rejected by the policy makers in Washington,

who manipulated public sentiment so as to make their choice seem like a necessity.

       While Enid is disturbed by the prospect of the A-bomb, she dismisses the

attempts issued by the authorities to turn it into a controlling and fear provoking tool:

“she asked her homeroom teacher what good it would do to follow the drill if the bomb

had already fallen, and if it hadn‟t yet fallen how would anybody know to do the drill?

And her teacher said vaguely, a little impatiently, that these were standard procedures,

precautions everybody should take” (MR 61). Enid‟s subversive questions seem to

deconstruct the patriarchal discourse through which "the weapons acquire their value

and utility," and through which they are legitimated (Taylor 53). The atomic threat

emerges as patriarchal hype which is employed to reassert control over the public. The

fallout shelter Enid's father constructs in the backyard, inspired by a photograph he

sees in a journal, becomes a symbol both of the absurdity and paranoia of the nuclear

discourse, and of its attempt to restore patriarchal order and control:

       Then he came upon a photographic essay on bomb shelters. Ah
       yes: underground bomb shelters: something eerily snug, attractive
       about them, wasn't there. He saw the appeal suddenly. It was all
       quite insane and terrifying but he saw the appeal, he saw the
       romance, a man showed his love for his family, perhaps even for the
       greatness of America, by building a cozy place of refuge by lining
       the walls with concrete and storing up provisions…(MR 215).14




                                            10
Enid, recognizing the shelter for what it is, refuses to descend into it. Significantly, it is

in the protective shell of the shelter that Lyle, who has become nearly impotent, "his

manhood limply silly between his legs," is finally able to make love to his wife for the

first time in eighteen years, and to experience a sense of well-being.

        Another prominent image, which is not to be separated from the image of the

nuclear bomb, is that of Rita Hayworth, whose overpowering presence dominates Enid

and her sister Lizzie's shared bedroom space:

         In a gold filigree frame on the girls‟ bureau was a sexy black-and-
         white photograph of Rita Hayworth – To Lizzie, love, Rita! in Rita
         Hayworth‟s own signature – with luscious wet pouting lips, sleepy
         seductive eyes, hair all frizzed crimped curled, the ends upturned,
         oh she was gorgeous wasn‟t she? Lizzie just wanted the Christ to
         be her but sort of herself too at the same time. Rita Hayworth was
         wearing black pearls it looked like, a half-dozen strands rippling
         over her big breasts straining tight in a silver lame blouse… (MR
         39).

        Rita Hayworth and her highly sexual appearance, emphasizing her "wet

pouting lips," her "sleepy seductive eyes" and her "big breasts straining tight" in their

blouse, became a symbol of femininity in postwar America. Hayworth‟s popularity in

postwar America can be attributed to the fact that she was “simultaneously too

ordinary and too beautiful… She looked like thousands of American women, only

better… Her beauty seemed not an exceptional gift but an accentuation of normal

good features into an ideal form… She looked homegrown but classy; she was the real

American princess (Wood 57-8).15 Hayworth, idolized by young American girls, held

out the promise that they too could become Hollywood stars. "Movie stars were the

apotheosis of glamour and sexiness. Larger than life on the screen and on the page,

they created an image millions of girls desired. Girls imitated and dreamed of

becoming movie stars" (Breines 102). Enid, who was willing to risk shoplifting to

provide her sister with must-have accessories, is more interested in the transgressive

act of theft than with the stolen objects themselves. Enid offers no verbal response to




                                             11
this image, yet, I suggest that her rejection of it, as my analysis will demonstrate, is

total.

         It is significant to point out that the photograph of Rita Hayworth, personally

addressed to Lizzie, was her, and not Enid's treasured possession. Hayworth's

personal signature on the photograph grants not only intimacy, but also establishes

verification of identity, as it provides a link between the body, by means of the hand

that signed it, and the photographic referent. That the name Rita Hayworth had come

to signify a particular body, that of the well-known Hollywood actress, despite the fact

that she had initially been named Margarita Carmen Cansino, illustrates the superficial

and illusionary nature of this identity.

         The image of Rita Hayworth operates as a textual rupture insofar as her flesh

and blood body, the photographic referent, emerges as a culturally inscribed text or as

a metaphor for the cultural moment.16 As such, it provides multiple layers of

signification. The reader may initially be caught in a nostalgic moment, in which Rita

Hayworth is perceived as a glamorous symbol of victorious postwar America, yet this

type of reductive reading is precisely what the image, presented as a prose photo,

asks us to avoid. The prose photo, itself both an interpretation and an invocation of a

real photograph, interrogates the memory process and encourages a practice of re-

visualization which enables access to the unconscious optics.

         Under the various scrutinizing and idolizing gazes of both sexes, female figures

such as Rita Hayworth, become mere objects devoid of the power of subjectivity. As

an individual, she is violated by the sexist photographic gaze, which portrays her as a

product of male fantasy. The seductive availability of these over-sexed women renders

them as having "no sexual needs" and suggests that women's role is merely "to cater

to, or enhance, a man's needs" (Breines 102). This erroneous point of view not only

educates women to repress their own sexual needs, but is also demeaning insofar as

it invites men to physically and intellectually dominate them. The heightened sexuality

of these women therefore actively displaces other, more meaningful possibilities for

                                            12
self-expression. John Pultz‟s observation, that photography was used as a means for

men to “re-assert control over women in the post war era” by means of circulating

images that “enticed women away from the utilitarian clothing appropriate to the

workplace and rekindled in them a desire for finery,” underlines this sentiment (102, 3).

Incidentally, the clothing item Enid preferred to wear belonged to Tony Sapio, a friend

of her sister, who was killed by unknown assailants: “In [Lizzie's] wallet was a dime-

store snapshot of Tony she showed to anyone who asked to see it: Tony Sapio

handsome and cruel-looking like a thick-jawed Frank Sinatra with sideburns and oily

pompadour cresting over his slightly blemished forehead. He always wore his shirt

collar turned up in back in early-fifties punk style” (MR 126). By wearing his jacket,

Enid symbolically partakes in his juvenile delinquent behavior.

       Images of heightened sexuality which served as role models for young women,

such as that of Rita Hayworth, in fact embodied a deep contradiction, or what has

otherwise been termed "the double standard." 17 While it was acceptable for women to

look sexy, postwar morals, which were obsessed with the notion of virginity, required

that women act chastely. Virginity was valorized for various reasons, one being “the

fear that sex might elude the male‟s control if it were not sanitized” (Breines 120).

Thus, the teenage girl was expected to “yield as little as possible,” to "charm and

please without giving too much of herself," and to "dol[e] out just enough to be popular

with the boys and never enough to lose the esteem of the 'right kind of kids'."18

Likewise, while "boys did not set limits on sexual interaction" they strongly

"disapproved of girls who behaved as boys wanted them to," that is, of girls who "'went

all the way" (Breines 119). At the same time, men could be sexually active without

tarnishing their reputation. These dualities, constant sources of anxiety for young

women who often found themselves in confusing and compromising sexual situations,

peaked in the postwar era, during which patriarchal authorities sought to contain what

was perceived as dangerous sexual energy unleashed by the upheaval of war, and to




                                           13
channel it into marriage and family. Expressions of female sexuality that did not adhere

to this conformity were laden with negative connotations.

       Negative connotations have been ascribed to female sexuality since the advent

of Eve. However, in the 1930's, a period which gave rise to the term “bombshell” used

in reference to provocative female behavior, female sexuality became increasingly

likened to the eruptive power of bombs, which rendered it as an especially explosive

issue in the atomic age. 19 The connection between female sexuality and bombs, as

Elaine Tyler May points out, was apparent during World War II, when “pilots named

their bombers after their sweethearts and decorated their planes with erotic portraits”

(110). In fact, “a photograph of Hollywood sex symbol Rita Hayworth was actually

attached to the hydrogen bomb dropped on the Bikini Islands. The Island itself

provided the name for the abbreviated swimsuit the female „bombshells‟ would wear.

The designer of the revealing suit chose the name „bikini‟ [only] four days after the

bomb was dropped to suggest the swimwear‟s explosive potential” (May 110-11).20

       Creating an analogy between unleashed female sexuality and atomic warfare

rendered this type of sexuality as particularly destructive when inappropriately used.

Female sexuality outside of wedlock was posited as a threat to the moral fiber of the

nation insofar as it could eventually lead to corruption and degeneration from within.

Sexually liberated and independent women, who threatened to destabilize patriarchal

structures, were perceived as a means through which Communism could penetrate

into American society and conquer it from within. Thus, women who took their sexual

desire out of the framework of marriage, using it “for power or greed, would destroy

men, families, and even society” (May 63). Alternately, “sexy women who became

devoted sweethearts or wives would contribute to the goodness of life” (May 63).

       Hollywood did its share in cultivating these stereotypes, and stars, including

Rita Hayworth in the 1947 film The Lady from Shanghai, were often portrayed as sexy

yet destructive and dangerous women, who confirmed the hegemonic theory

pertaining to the importance of containing female sexuality.21 Film critic Molly Haskell

                                           14
claims this type of female heroine was “a male fantasy,” whose “power to destroy was

a projection of man‟s feeling of impotence” typical to the zeitgeist of postwar America

(190-91). On a similar note, Marjorie Rosen states that “it may be no coincidence that

the plethora of [Evil Women] films coincided with female acquisition of economic and

social power…signifying that woman were finally a threat to the status quo” (224). The

treacherous woman who “used” men, “double-crossed” them, “lied” to them, “sold

[them] out” or “sucked [them] down” with her, was in fact a male creation based on

anxieties and fears over loss of control and power (Haskell 189-90). The construction

of Rita Hayworth‟s sexuality can therefore be seen to serve male ideology and

interests, and to be harnessed to their desires and whims, while the private Rita

Hayworth was but a victim of her public success, who could not live up to the

“example” of her movie characters. She confessed (to producer-writer of Gilda, Virginia

Van Upp) that she was worried about her impending marriage to Aly Khan, because

“every man I‟ve known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me” (Rosen

212, Wood 56). Gilda, “glamour that couldn‟t be sustained in the morning light,” left no

room for a dynamic, multi-dimensional Hayworth, which inevitably reflected upon other

American females and their attempts to construct a viable identity (Wood 56).

       While Rita Hayworth‟s ample body signals the extent to which women are

abused and violated in society, on a different level, it can be seen to overwrite other

bodies, displacing them from the cultural discourse altogether. The presence of her

voluptuous body signifies on the absence of bodies of „others.‟ Most significantly, her

body emerges in stark contrast to those of the Holocaust survivors. Hayworth‟s robust,

healthy and radiant American body suggests wealth, leisure and well being, which

gestures negatively upon the sparse and diseased features of the survivors. The

survivor as an unaccepted anomaly in the American context suggests the American

public‟s need to repress the Holocaust, while it also reveals something about their

attitude toward ethnic\racial bodies. Other abnormal bodies that had absolutely no

presence in the American consciousness were those of the hibakusha, the survivors of

                                           15
the American atomic attacks on the Japanese. Cultural critics have recently

documented the deliberate confiscation of footage of Japanese casualties and

survivors by American authorities, and have pointed to the intentional erasure of such

morbid bodies, which carry the potential to create anxiety among the population and to

invite criticism.22 The invisibility of such bodies provoked Manhattan Project physicist

and later activist, Ralph Lapp, to question in 1982: "If the memory of things is to deter,

where is that memory? Hiroshima… has been taken out of the American conscience,

eviscerated, extirpated." 23 By positing Rita Hayworth as a "sex bomb" whose image

literally "decorated" a hydrogen bomb, her body – manipulated by patriarchal discourse

– becomes a symbol of repression of the actual survivors of nuclear warfare. In this

respect, the manner in which the photograph signifies absence as well as presence, is

underscored.

       Irradiated American bodies, also known as "downwinders," who were

unknowingly exposed to nuclear radiation spreading from testing sights in the US,

were also systematically kept out of the American nuclear discourse, so as to avoid

unwanted criticism. Recent researches have brought these distorted bodies to view,

uncovering what the official discourse sought to repress. 24 At a later point in the novel,

photos of a deformed child are viewed by Enid‟s brother: "But what to make of Mikey! –

this subtly misshapen child with his small marble-shiny unfocused eyes, fat lips, brutal

snub nose… this crouched and wizened child with bright dead eyes staring up at the

camera?" (MR 304-05). The child's mother explains these deformities as birth defects

caused by lack of oxygen. However, the fact that she resided during her pregnancy at

the Fort Worth Military Base in Texas (close to nuclear testing sights), home to B-52

and B-29 bombers and location of an off-site weapons storage area, raises questions

pertaining to the accuracy of this analysis. While the negligence of modern medical

systems may be the cause of the deformities, the possibility that they were caused by

nuclear contamination hovers uncomfortably in the background. 25 This child's

deformed face and his grotesque gaze creates a potent dialogue with the broken face

                                           16
of the dead child squeezed beneath the door, a dialogue which parallels that of Enid‟s

skeleton-like figure with the living skeletons of Bergen-Belsen.

        Finally, the ideal American female body, as exemplified by Rita Hayworth, is

not only robust, healthy and desirable, it is also white.26 The desired look, the

prerequisite for popularity and acceptance, is exemplified by the white, not the black,

body. African American girls were urged to emulate whiteness, yet this attitude most

often resulted in self-hatred and self-alienation.27 The ideal female beauty at the time

was therefore one that black women could never live up to, and as such, it wrote them

out of the cultural discourse. In fact, African Americans at large do not figure centrally

in Oates's text, which could be a function of their ongoing marginalization in American

culture during the forties and fifties. However, a trace of African American presence

(although masculine) can be gleaned from the title of the novel, which evokes the

cinematic image of Sam28 singing the lines "you must remember this" at Rick‟s Café

Americain in the exotic atmosphere of Casablanca. While dealing with World War II,

the film relates to its romantic rather than horrific aspects, telling a story of love and

sacrifice. As such, Casablanca participates in the erasure of the horrors of the war,

providing Americans with romantic images, while supplanting other more potent ones.

        We have seen that seemingly innocent images of femininity in fact adhere to

patriarchal ideas, and were employed to serve the postwar agenda which sought to

curtail female independence, restore patriarchal ideals and strengthen male authority

under the pretense of national security. Enid‟s act of inflicting her body with anorexia

can be understood as her utter rejection of the modes of femininity offered to her,

which she perceives as various forms of female oppression. Furthermore, Enid's

anorexic body also signifies upon other, less visible bodies that were displaced by Rita

Hayworth's presence and marginalized by the social discourse, and as such, signifies

the repressed other. Rita Hayworth‟s visibility, both as an iconic presence in her

bedroom and as an ideological concept, is perceived as a dominating threat to Enid‟s

independence and growth, one that she overcomes by adopting nonconformist

                                            17
behavior, which includes unconventional physical appearance as well as academic

excellence, attempted suicide, and, as explored in the continuation of the novel (and in

the longer version of this paper), acts of transgressive sexuality.




1
    As Time Goes By was written by Herman Hupfeld for a 1931 Broadway show, Everybody's
Welcome (Harmetz 254). Only when incorporated into the film Casablanca, "enriched and
enlarged" by the legendary Max Steiner, did it become a popular hit (Harmetz 255). Max
Steiner initially did not think the song was appropriate for the film, yet was persuaded to keep
it for reasons beyond his control, whereby he "proceeded to make it the centerpiece of his
score. The song linked Rick and Ilse, present and past, the source music to the underscoring,
and the audience to the characters in the movie" (Harmetz 255). Furthermore, in its
fragmentary presentation – the song is never heard in its entirety even once in the film – the
song can be linked to the fragmentation of the photograph.
2
    The proliferation of images of death and violence are meant to intimidate and hence control
public sentiment by illustrating the need for containment. Images of femininity, as conceived
by male fantasy, are offered as restricting role models, and illustrate the double standard
applied to female sexuality.
3
    Lucy Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews: Discussion of children victims, and how they
become “the face of the enemy” (166).
4
    Humanity and Inhumanity: The Photographic Journey of George Rodger. Photograph on
pages 136-7, titled “1945, Belsen: A Dutch Jewish boy walks through the camp.”
5
    Consider the use of the imagery of a lock clicking into place, locking her self away from the
world or out of the world.
6
    Enid‟s exposure to the pictures in Life magazine and her subsequent revelations about the
world are juxtaposed by the father‟s failure to protect her and by his inability to offer her a
reason to live.
7
    The compelling nature of Enid's encounter with the Holocaust images can perhaps be
attributed to the fact that it is based on a biographical event in the life of Joyce Carol Oates: "In
my novel You Must Remember This, the young heroine is appalled by an issue of Life
magazine, and I think this was probably my personal memory, but it was a confused and
ahistoric vision (of death camp survivors), with no context to explain it…" 7 Oates's inability to
contextualize what she saw, combined with the fact that the Holocaust was not spoken of in her
home, suggests "that knowledge of the death camps became a resonant fact in her
imagination, one that helped to form her often-scary image of the human mind and sympathy
with the outsider's point of view" (Torgovnick 80). In the same anecdote Oates reveals that her


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"father's mother was the daughter of German Jews who'd come to the United States in the
1890's and assimilated," thus revealing a possible incentive for identification on her part with
the victims. Although Oates would not be considered Jewish "even under the racist Nuremberg
Laws," the fact that "the very words 'Jew' – 'Jewish' – were never uttered in [her] household"
suggests a repressed content, which perhaps subconsciously served to establish an alignment
between Oates and persecuted minorities (Torgovnick 80).

8
    As Victor Burgin states, “photographs offer themselves gratuitously; whereas paintings and
films readily present themselves to critical attention as objects, photographs are received
rather as an environment” (PR 130)
9
    The Americanization of the Holocaust, its emergence as a „moral metaphor‟ and as an
„ultimate standard for speaking of victimization enables Oates to utilize it as a tool with which to
examine postwar America. Her innovative use of prose photos has also enabled Oates to avoid
gross trivialization and vulgarization of the topic.
10
     The prologue also alludes to other qualities identified with anorexia: "She was an honor
student and too smart to die by accident. She was in control. She didn't believe in accident"
(4).
11
     This opinion is expressed by Lutz in Photography and the Body, by Elaine Tyler May in
Homeward Bound, “Containment at Home: Cold War, Warm Hearth”
12
     Oates reveals that Port Orisdany is "an amalgam of two cities in upstate New York –
Buffalo, the first large city of my experience, and Lockport, the city of my birth…" ("My Writing
is Full of Lives I Might Have Led," Jay Parini, 1987, 154. In Conversations with Joyce Carol
Oates.)
13
     Peggy Rosenthal‟s survey of meanings of the mushroom cloud in Cold War-era imagery
concludes that it condenses a variety of nuclear motives: “In its remarkable receptivity to
projections upon it of even vaguely congruent images, whether fetus or phallus or smiling
face, brain or tree or globe, the mushroom cloud projects back the array of human responses
to all that it sands for: responses of pride, parochial possessiveness, creative resistance,
denial, [and] despair” (88). Quoted from Bryan Taylor, 55.
14
     In an interview with Oates, she "shows [the interviewer] a postcard from that outwardly
placid decade which features a man in a small-town setting who is hard at work digging his
bomb shelter" (Parini 154). This illustrates that Oates was inspired by and used existent
photographs for her work.
15
     Hayworth‟s sexuality, as portrayed in Gilda, was “a very physical one” in which “[t]he golden
girl, the beautiful all-American hooker with flowing shoulder length hair, reverberated in the
public imagination” (Popcorn Venus 211). Michael Wood regards Hayworth in the role of Gilda
as possessing a “heady blend of recklessness and wit and fear” who after all, was decent and
“innocent of all the sins she flaunted” (55-6).
16
     Bordo 165.
17
     The concept of the double standard is discussed at length by Brienes.

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18
     Margaret Mead, Male and Female, 280. Breines, 112; Ehrenreich, quoted in Breines,
Remaking Love, 12.
19
     Elaine Tyler May, 110.
20
     See also Michael Wood, America in the Movies: “The symbolism is enough to frighten off
any but the most intrepid Freudians: the bomb dropped on Bikini was called Gilda [after a
movie by the same title starring Hayworth] and had a picture of Rita Hayworth painted on it.
The phallic agent of destruction underwent a sex change, and the delight and terror of our
new power were channeled into an old and familiar story: our fear and love of women” (51).
21
     It was film director, Orson Wells, at the time married to Rita Hayworth, who employed her
talents to combine evil, sex and fantasy, thereby creating the potent female heroine who
embodied both fantasy and fatality.
22
     See Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell's recent history of Hiroshima in America. "From the
very start the visual record of the atomic bombing would be limited to structural effects, while
the human dimension would be evaded or ignored" (59).
23
     Quoted in Paul Boyer, p. 182, footnote 2.
24
     See for example Robert Del Tredici's "Trinity" and At Work in the Fields of the Bomb and
Carole Gallagher's American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War.
25
     One of the final scenes of the novel finds Warren, Enid's brother, demonstrating against the
nuclear testing site in Colorado. Warren writes: "by the time you receive this letter our mission
will be over but I have no hope you will read of it; the US Government (meaning specifically
the Pentagon) is increasingly fearful of giving our efforts much publicity knowing that if we
have access to the hearts and minds of the American people a rebellion of sorts might result.
A mutiny – a revolution – in thought! I am speaking of our coalition's opposition to the US war
mentality. The US preparation for war. The US cultivation of the rhetoric of war. The US
manufacture of the weapons of war…" (414). Warren's words strike me as being a bit
anachronistic, yet they underscore the manner in which Oates has employed nuclear imagery
throughout the text.
26
     Rita Hayworth, daughter of Eduardo Cansina and Volga Haworth, was in fact half-Spanish.
Her Latino background was overshadowed by her great success and her transformation into
an American icon.
27
     For a literary treatment of self hatred, see for example Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.
28
     The actor who played Sam, Dooley Wilson, was himself a victim of racial prejudice and
discrimination in Hollywood, where for years he was only offered “Pullman porter“ roles.
Dooley's band, the Red Devils, could only tour in Europe, where, unlike the US, it gained
great popularity. Interestingly, during his tour, Dooley actually visited the city of Casablanca.




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