Gates Of Ivory Essay, Research Paper
Gates of Ivory
In a world surrounded by war, death, and atrocity, it sometimes seems as if there is nowhere positive for the characters in the Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble to turn. In the mist of these bad images Drabble juxtaposes a unique view into the world of women?s reproduction and menstruation that has rarely been revealed in other novels. She shows that menstruation exposes feelings ranging from liberation and empowerment in Alix Bowen, to shame, disgust and sorrow in Mme. Savet Akrun. Drabble identifies similarities between women on both sides of the world, and between reproduction and women combating the death of the world?s war. Yet throughout these hard times and uncertainties, the women in the novel show their strength and power because they hold the key to keeping mankind alive: reproduction.
Alix?s outward expressions greatly exemplify what a lot of the women in the novel want to be. They want to feel the control that Alix displays over her body. Unfortunately for Alix, this feeling is not true on the inside. Alix holds a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity within herself. This feeling of inadequacy began in early childhood. Alix feels the need to be a savior, a protector and an activist. She wants to do ?important? and ?worthy? things, but she can never live up to her own standards. In childhood, when her pet tortoise dies, she is ?terrified, [and] after a few days summoned up courage to approach the immobile shell.? (194). The thought of not being able to help the tortoise, or save him, crushed Alix. She shows how vulnerable she is to failure, question and doubt. If everything is not perfect, Alix?s sense of control in a situation disappears. The same feelings possess Alix in her adult life. She constantly strives for the betterment of something, particularly women?s menstrual protection, but she feels confused and scared when she becomes even the slightest bit unsure about it. She says, ?I used to contend that if the tampon had been invented a few thousand years earlier, the whole history of womanhood would have been different. Now I?m not so sure?(156). Alix attests that women?s rights, like tampons, are on ?the onward march of progress? and are ?the liberator of womankind?, but what this progress and liberation will bring puzzles Alix (155; 156). The fact that there is no plan on exactly how to solve the problem scares Alix. Alix needs concrete plans in order to be secure with the ideas, Otherwise there is no guarantee of success, which terrifies Alix. But even with all the insecurities, others view Alix as a strong, liberated, independent woman. On the inside she lacks the self-assurance to be assertive as she is on the outside. She speaks with strong words, but does not know how to carry out the high expectations she and others have for her. Drabble uses Alix to exemplify both the capable, independent side, and the unsure, dependent side of a woman. By doing this, she highlights both the power and the vulnerability in women.
For much of the novel Drabble hides Liz?s womanly side from the reader. It is not until in the heart of Southeast Asia and the center of chaos that her menstruation reappears and sends her on a whole new journey. At first glance she is ?appalled? and it is a ?shock? (377). This attests to her surprise and disbelief, but throughout the situation her sanity remains intact. While on her long journey in search of female protection, Liz searches through her purse and encounters ?Some safety pins, a paper clip, some wooden toothpicks. A cheque book and a sea shell. An unidentifiable white pill and a rubber band.[And] Some bits of fluff? (378). This long list of things, among others, shows how willing and open Liz allows others into her life. Liz?s journey through her purse juxtaposes her journey through Southeast Asia. There are so many things that could distract Liz on her journey, but Liz remains focused on the search for Stephen. When she discovers her period, distractions loom everywhere, yet protection remains in the forefront of her mind. She encounters a whirlwind of emotions and bleeding controls her thoughts, she can do nothing else. Liz focuses her efforts to one cause and they remain there. This is a strength Liz uses to maintain her sanity in such chaotic conditions. Even with the most unlikely of things occurring, Liz keeps her sanity and control intact and perseveres through the situations. The situation does not make her paranoid, it does not even seem to phase her. Drabble uses Liz to show the capacity of women and their determination through trying times. Even with the biggest of distractions, women remain focused and capable of anything.
Unlike Alix Bowen or Liz Headeland, Mme. Savet Akrun feels not only pride about her menstruation, but also shame and sorrow. Both she and the women in her village have had very dramatic experiences with their cycles, and the poverty and the violence only help to accentuate the problems that they have had. The women in her village have had to become very in tune with their bodies and their cycles because of the problems they have with finding protection. Unfortunately, as Mme. Akrun says, this has led many women to ?choose to cease to menstruate? (153). Drabble shows that it is a sense of depression, the women cannot anticipate the actions of their bodies, when they bleed, they cannot protect themselves, so they will themselves into not bleeding. Drabble illustrates that Mme. Akrun and the women of the village view menstruation as something that cannot be taken by the wars and the violence of the world around them. It must be protected, even if that means stopping it for a period of time. Yet when the menstruation does start up again, the women rush and reproduce as quickly as possible, trying to combat the loss of lives in the war. The protection that these women have for their reproductive system shows when Drabble uses a quote that a nurse gave while in the village:
?Every nurse?s fear was being taken prisoner and not having any Tampax. You couldn?t count on being in the jungle and using a leaf, because the jungle was defoliated. We were always told to have a suitcase packed, if we got overrun, we?d be lifted out. That was a crock of *censored*. I found out later that they never had any such evacuation plan. If we got overrun, it was just tough titties. In any case, we all packed the same things. We packed money, a camera and we packed Tampax. My flax jacket was so full of Tampax that nothing could have penetrated it.?
Nurse, quoted in Nam, Mark Baker (159)
In this passage Drabble shows exactly how important menstruation is to women. Women chose to bring Tampax over any other possessions. Attack and invasion may take their lives, yet all they can think about is what they will do to protect themselves when their next cycle comes along. The nurse uses harsh and straightforward words. She does not withhold her feelings. She has seen the horrors and the drama and the despair in the village, and she will not candy coat it. The same sorts of feelings possess Mme. Akrun. She has seen it all, and she refuses to mask it and candy coat it for others. She lives reality to the fullest sense. Like the nurse, her words are not ambiguous, they are certain. Both women realize they can only count on themselves, and this gives a sense of liberation as well as bitterness. The nurse in the passage uses phrases like ?tough titties? and ?crock of *censored*? to tell the world that she knows that life should not have to be this way, but it is and she has come to terms with it. It is all about survival to her now. Although women wish they could be more protected and sheltered, they also realize the strength and power they possess with this control, and do not want to waste it. Even if all else fails, women hold the power to make a restart, a rebirth. It is especially illustrated in the line ?nothing could have penetrated it.? Nothing can penetrate the control these women have over their reproduction systems. Even through all the shame and the uncertainty, they feel they still possess control. It is the one thing in their lives that can be counted on. If it leaves, eventually it will return, and no male can have the power that they have in this area. ?The thick dark metallic gouts of blood? will be the savior (153). The diction that Drabble uses here attests to the strength of menstruation. It is impenetrable: it is strong and will not fade. The most important thing that Drabble shows is the perseverance of women. She shows that even in the roughest times the women will survive and keep control.
Unlike many of the women in the novel, Hattie Osborn sees her reproductive system in both a sexual and a functional way. She views menstruation with a lighter approach. Hattie Osborn is most likely the most sexually provocative woman in the novel. She openly uses her sexuality as a weapon and a toy. Her menstruation and reproductive system are all a joke and a game for her until Aaron Headeland comes along. Hattie changes when this occurs, she goes from a carefree, sexually explosive being into a caring and concerned woman with child. Drabble reveals her in the beginning as having no regrets about not having children: she has completely put aside that part of her. Then later in the novel when she finds out she could be pregnant she is not in the least bit upset or concerned in a bad way, she is happy. She can feel the changes inside her ?she quickens, she feels herself quicken, as the small cells cluster? and she is completely in tune with the movements in her body. Drabble creates a sense of serenity and control in Hattie even though it is a very uncertain moment. She is excited and renewed. She is not scared of the reaction of her friend Liz, she is sure of herself. She has a sense of security that everything will turn out good somehow. Hattie had always been the independent one, the one with no need for any one else, and now suddenly she feels a great attachment to Aaron. But even with this great attachment she realizes that what is about to happen is special and she can do it herself with no one?s help. She says ?When Aaron turns to dust and ashes in my sight, and I in his, there?ll be a baby? (319). This shows that Hattie does realize the power she has as a woman. She sees that there is no turning back and that what happens to her baby has nothing to do with Aaron, it is all her decision now. She repeats the quote ?Eggs, blood and the moon? twice in the novel (158, 416). She understands the cycle of her menstruation and the cycle of her life. She is the one that is able to truly come to terms with her reproductive cycle. She has lived the life of a free willed woman, and now she is experiencing the other side of womanhood. Drabble shows Hattie as one of the most dynamic women in the book. She is the only woman that goes through all the cycles of womanhood during the novel, she is the effectively shows the versatility and changes a woman can go through, and most amazingly she stays strong and in control throughout. Drabble exemplifies Hattie?s self-assurance to be what all women should have, no doubt in themselves.
Drabble?s portrayal of women in the novel illustrates her thoughts on women well. She shows that a woman?s life is full of twists and turns and uncertainties. Throughout all the turns that each woman had in then novel, they each came out with their heads held high and strong. Drabble portrayed them as vulnerable and dependent in many areas, in fact in most areas. The only part of life a woman had a real hold on was menstruation and reproduction, and even this was uncertain at parts. Drabble seemed to be sending the message that although menstruation and reproduction were very independent and controlling on their own, that women were the only ones in society that had a chance to control it, which gave them a lot of power. Women hold the key to the survival of mankind, and that is a great power and responsibility. Drabble effectively shows in this novel how hard that commitment can be.
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