“The Quest of Being a Woman” of Kerima Polotan Tuvera’s The Virgin is a perfect title that shows the same meaning of what feminist criticism is all about. Feminist approach defines the revelation of woman’s real desires and struggles in the society. It aims to expose the patriarchal premises resulting to the prejudices and discovery of the story or any kind of literary piece using character analysis. This paper would give the readers a clearer view on how does feminist criticism applies its characteristics to a well-known short story called The Virgin.
Author’s background and encapsulation of the story
Kerima Polotan Tuvera was a renowned Filipino author. Her works earned some of the highest literary recognitions in the Philippines, with her short story ‘The Virgin’ being one of her most notable literary pieces. The word “virgin” that she mentioned in her story implies somebody who is pure and unstained. As dictated by the society, in order to gain respect and dignity, a woman must be pure and virgin because it is said that a woman’s virginity is equated to her dignity. The society dictates that woman must preserve her virginity until she gets married, like what Miss Mijares did to herself. She wasn’t able to state her feelings to men because she had to protect her virginity/dignity. Hence, the story presents Miss Mijares’ struggles caused by the social dictates on her individuality that hindered her to find her own identity as a person and as a woman through the feminist type of perspective.
Discussion (application of the feminist approach)
Miss Mijares, the main character of the short story titled The Virgin, as a writer and as a woman revealed her desires through her metaphors and symbols in her writing. Despite her being a responsible daughter of her family, she also wished to be loved by others, especially, she has always been dreaming to have a man in her life. But her duties as a daughter and as a member of the society hindered her in fulfilling her dreams. The following lines show her desire to have a man:
“But neither love nor glory stood behind her, only the lurking, empty shadows, and nine years gone, nine years. In the room of her unburied dead, she held up her hands to the light, noting the thick, durable fingers, thinking in a mixture of shame and bitterness and guilt that they had never touched a man.”
There was also one scenario in the story that shows her romantic feelings when she felt angry to find out that the carpenter has a son and thought that he was married. But after the carpenter admitted that he is not married with his son’s mother, she felt relieved. After that event, it suddenly rained and the ambiance became unhappy. The scenario reveals the emotions of Miss Mijares about the carpenter. It was illustrated that she was emotionally affected with the carpenter’s revelations. With the rain and the weather as a metaphor to her feelings; it proves her hidden emotions with the man.
There was also a symbolic revelation about her desire of being loved. The paperweight which was shaped by the carpenter into a dove symbolizes intercourse for it flies. The carpenter offered it to her, which shows that the carpenter was offering something to Miss Mijares. The fact that Miss Mijares laughed about it shows that she likes the offer. Thus, it confirms that Miss Mijares is attracted to the carpenter as implied by her acceptance and fondness with the flying object that symbolizes the love making in the psycholoanalytic approach.
All of Miss Mijares’ life was spent in accomplishing her responsibilities like finishing college, sending her niece to school, and taking care of her mother. That was her duty as a woman, to unconditionally nurture her family. This role that was dictated by the society and perhaps her own family shaped her to be a woman for other people and not a woman with her own self. The society dictates that women should protect their virginity that is equated to their dignity which Miss Mijares respectfully accepted. Miss Mijares was portrayed not only as a woman who wanted to go beyond her roles but also as a woman who wanted to build her own life.
Moreover, Tuvera shows the inner struggle of a woman in the story. Miss Mijares’ struggle to stick to the societal expectations of a woman and to hide her own self was exposed and reiterated. Her struggle was symbolically shown by her encounter with unfamiliar places and the jeepney’s diversion. It symbolizes her own lost because she cannot be herself and she has to be a woman that the society dictates her to be.
In the society, women are the ones responsible of taking care of the people in the family. This was the case of Miss Mijares, when she was the only one left to take care of her sick and old mother. She did all the responsibility that she forgot her own life. Miss Mijares in the story can be characterized as the old maid. At an age of 34, she hasn’t still touch a man. Her description in the story and her life really fits her as the old maid archetype who is still untouched.
The three stages of women’s history, feminine stage, feminist stage, and female can be identifiable to Miss Mijares’ life. The feminine stage according to Showalter’s theory is the stage that involves imitation of the prevailing modes of the dominant tradition and internalization of its standards. Indeed, Miss Mijares at the very beginning has gone through this stage wherein she allows the dictates of the society to rule her life. She responsibly took care of her mother and she had protected her virginity for a long time. However, as the story evolves, her character has been slowly evolving that she already approaches the feminist stage. The feminist stage can be described as a stage involving protest against the minority rights.
Miss Mijares didn’t protest explicitly or politically but there is an inner protest within her. Her experiences of being lost and the rainy days symbolize her inner protest that she has to go beyond what is expected to her. This symbolic protest actually created confusion within her, because she is torn between the social dictates and her own self. The last stage was which is the female stage can be described as the phase of self-discovery, a search for identity. The last part of the short story shows that Miss Mijares has undergone the female stage. The proceeding lines really imply that she was freed from the societal roles being dictated around her:
“In her secret heart, Miss Mijares’ young dreams fluttered faintly to life, seeming monstrous in the rain, near this man – seeming monstrous but also sweet and overwhelming. I must get away, she thought wildly, but he had moved and brushed against her, and where his touch had fallen, her flesh leaped, and she recalled how his hands had looked that first day, lain tenderly at the edge of her desk and about the wooden bird (that had looked like a moving, shining, dove) and she turned to him: with her ruffles wet and wilted, in the dark she turned to him.”
The last paragraph proves that in her heart, she has gone through the protesting stage and now, she’s able to express her own self, her own feelings, and her own desires. It shows that she is now capable of going beyond her social roles as she reveals that she is ready to surrender her virginity. Her virginity is indeed a symbol of dignity; however, it is part of the woman’s purpose is to have a man who will be able to consume that long preserved virginity.
The short story depicts the success of woman in overcoming the men’s stereotypical world. The main character was able to defy the dictates of the society and was able to establish her own self in the quest of being a woman.