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Suckow and Women

Ruth Suckow and Women: The Feminist Suckow -- by Barbara Lounsberry
 

Ruth Suckow’s taut realism embraces an extraordinary range of female characters, from girls to mothers and elderly solitaires.  Her short stories and novels provide special insight into:

 The Sacrificial Daughter (or Son)

  • In “Mrs. Vogel & Ollie,” Ollie Vogel and LeRoy Vernon (Ollie’s farmer boyfriend) are the sacrificial daughter and son.  Ollie promises to keep her mother happy, does all the baking and washing, and keeps her brother’s suicide from her mother.  Her plight is parallel to that of LeRoy who cares for his mother. 
  • In “An Elegy for Alma’s Aunt Amy,” Amy Ramsey is one of five daughters and two sons.  She is pretty, cultured, and never marries.  She stays with her father when her mother dies.  “I guess it had to be one of us,” she explains.  Mrs. Root, the widow of the town attorney, appreciates Amy’s help in caring for Alma.  The story’s narrator, a teacher, wonders “if ever [Amy’s] life had come to that moment of bloom that all women feel they must have before they can really start living.”
  • In “A Home-coming,” Laura Haviland comes home to her (ironically named) hometown of Spring Valley.  She is 36 or 37 and feeling a sense of exhaustion and pain.  Her mother is now dead and Laura has inherited the ancestral home.  Laura has cared for this mother, traveling about to California and Florida with her.  In her absence, Laura’s love, Mark Edwards, marries another.  
  • In “The Daughter,” Mary Lane is much like Laura Haviland in “A Home-coming.”   She cares for her demanding mother.  Her father doesn’t help much, “believing such things to be woman’s duty.”  When the mother dies, Mary marries Henry Acres, her patient love, but then dies in childbirth.  Henry Acres thrives while Suckow implies that something dies in both Mary Lane and Laura Haviland during their long years of sacrificial care.
  • In “Mame,” Suckow depicts another story of a daughter left to care for the parents while her sisters and brothers rush to leave town and make better lives for themselves.  A story about the coldness of families. 

      Women Stunted and Stifled

  • In the suggestively titled short story “Merritsville,” Mary Redmund’s views are pooh-poohed by her painter-professor husband and his good friend, the Associate Professor of English George Sedwick who criticizes “most women” for lack of a sense of the Ideal.  Mary seeks the atypical on her grand tour of the U.S., and finds it in Merritsville and its founder, Judge Merritt and his painter wife.
  • In “The Man of the Family,” Gerald Rayburn is trying to take his deceased father’s place as “the man of the family.”  Suckow explores the negative effects of his oedipal striving on his mother and two sisters.  Gerald sends away the kind widower who brings Mrs. Rayburn strawberries.  Gerald means well, but Suckow shows how he stunts others.

Empowered Women

  • In “ A Great Mollie,” (titled “As Strong as a Man” when first published in Harper’s Magazine), Mollie Schumacher is a strong, skilled traveling saleswoman who loves to help people and animals.  Mollie is an androgynous figure: she takes on male roles but also the traditional female role of helping others.  Through it all she longs for “real work,” something “that will call out the best there is in me.” 

Wives Who Flourish Late in Life
In “Auntie Bissel,” after the death of two husbands, the title character achieves her dream of being alone but well-provided for:  “She was happier without a man.

  • In “The Resurrection,” Grandma has died.  However, before her death her husband and daughters see the resurrection of her youthful, spiritual, authentic self.  Stripped of her role as submissive wife, mother, and grandmother, “Her essential self, overlaid, neglected for years upon years, had taken radiant, calm possession.”  The daughters do not recognize their mother: “mostly they had never thought of her as a person in herself.”  Grandpa realizes that “She had lived their life so long—never her own.  He felt a kind of fear to see the spirit that, all these years with him, had underlain the acquiescence, the seeming patience of every day. . . . It seemed that she might wear this look to show that the religion of hers, which had meant nothing to him, was not so foolish after all—a woman’s affair.”

 

We invite comments and short and long articles on all aspects of Suckow on women.  Send comments & articles to Cherie Dargan (cheriedargan@gmail.com) and they will be placed on this site.
 

Last Updated June 6, 2012
 
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