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Women & Men Chapter Discussions > 0003 division of labor unknown

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message 1: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (last edited Nov 02, 2012 10:36AM) (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Discuss. This chapter seems to be a strong selling point for going further into our behemoth.

Originally published in Fiction 6.2 (1980).


message 2: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments From the McElroy wikipedia page, "The McElroy's only child, a daughter Hanna, was born in 1967. McElroy assisted with the birth."


message 3: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments This is a perfect starting point for this book. I like how there's no need to say when she's thinking and when she's in the present moment. The markers are pretty clear without having to be explictly stated. In fact, it's all present moment, but one's when she's present in her memory, and the other is when she's present at the party.

The title "Division of Labor" has so many meaning for this passage. The labor is hers and yet not hers alone, as are the feelings. She has to be the vessel that delivers the baby. She's not sure whether she feels like a "used" instrument or some sort of a madonna. Her husband felt the intense emotions with her, yet can never share her actual birthing experience. He felt the emotions when he cried during the birth, yet can flippantly push the experience away at the party as an observer.


message 4: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Benefits of a second reading. Aloha suggests that the pov is the woman. I recall identifying it as the man. My recollection is of the woman giving birth and her experience being refracted through his; whose experience is it and how is the labor of experience divided? If 'division of labor' is 'unknown', is its division a question? Are "gender roles" known in this chapter or are they left undecided, even within the biological event of birthing?


message 5: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Nathan, I'm reading it a third time with a 10 year old gabbing at me and Grease playing in the background. Definitely a woman's POV, every sentence.


message 6: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments We can say that the viewpoint is ultimately McElroy's, but that's getting...what...prosaic...too obvious?


message 7: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments The wording is of McElroy narrating the story from HER point of view.


message 8: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Aloha wrote: "Nathan, I'm reading it a third time with a 10 year old gabbing at me and Grease playing in the background. Definitely a woman's POV, every sentence."

You're right. But I want to keep it complicated. Who is narrating her experience?

First paragraph:
"She told her husband and he told others for weeks afterward. Also he had his own side to tell. She loved his excitement."

Final paragraph:
"And so, weeks later, balancing her fresh-brimmed daiquiri against the poor flippancy she'd heard her husband speak behind her, she did not turn to look him angrily in the eye."

My hypothesis is that the title "division of labor unknown" refers to the narrative responsibilities. Be prepared for more shifts in perspective and narrative duties in the coming pages. The point being that there is an over-lap of the two voices; her experience through his third person recounting. But my memory of the first chapter was faulty and I should be able to reread this chapter later today.


message 9: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Starts with:

Paragraph 1: "After all SHE was not so sure...."

P2: Pain all in her back....words were the talk that went almost and sharply along with the pain her husband Shay-she was thinking of him as Shay...."

Her pov all the way until the transition of a question posed to her at the party where they were discussing the birthing, "How did you feel?"

Then flash back to birthing

"She was glad it was ending, glad Shay...."

To

"And she knew that while he did not look at her...."

To last paragraph

"...she'd heard her husband speak behind her,....


message 10: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments It is her pov. But she's not narrating. Nor is McElroy narrating. The narrator is always a character, never the author. But I've gotta read it this afternoon.


message 11: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Aloha wrote: "Nathan, I'm reading it a third time with a 10 year old gabbing at me and Grease playing in the background. Definitely a woman's POV, every sentence."

You're right. But I want to ke..."


I'll have to read on to get the full context, but at this point, the narration did not give me indication that I should consider the author's point of view into it. I would only consider that if the author tells me that I should consider that.


message 12: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments From the point of view of a woman who's given birth, I think the labor is mostly hers, because she has to give her body over to birthing a life. The doctor and her husband helped her in that, but the most intense experience is hers.


message 13: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "It is her pov. But she's not narrating. Nor is McElroy narrating. The narrator is always a character, never the author. But I've gotta read it this afternoon."

That's in a lot of stories. So if the question was posed as to whose point of view it was, it would be hers.


message 14: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments That's kind of like in The Sound and the Fury. Would you say it's Benjy's, Quentin, Jason's or the narrator's point of view. If you go far back to the narrator, then the answer would have to be the unknown narrator's.


message 15: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Aloha wrote: "That's kind of like in The Sound and the Fury. Would you say it's Benjy's, Quentin, Jason's or the narrator's point of view. If you go far back to the narrator, then the answer would have to be t..."

In novelistic prose the voice is always at least doubled. So the answer would be both at once. Benjy's voice is refracted through the voice of the narrator who is not Faulkner (or is Faulkner in disguise). So we have that double voicing in division of labor unknown--her point of view, the narrator's voice; the one refracted through the other and we hear them simultaneously, dialogically. So my original confusion was due to my bad memory, but also to my memory remembering not the POV (hers) but the narrative voice which I had taken as his and which I need to look into again.


message 16: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Aloha wrote: "That's kind of like in The Sound and the Fury. Would you say it's Benjy's, Quentin, Jason's or the narrator's point of view. If you go far back to the narrator, then the answer woul..."

Thanks, Nathan. Right now, my assessment is limited to this first segment. I'll have to see how it all combines into the whole. This next passage will take a while to read in detail since it's much longer. This is a demanding book.


message 17: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Hopefully, I'll get into the flow of his style and meaning, and it'll get easier as I go along.


message 18: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Aloha wrote: "Hopefully, I'll get into the flow of his style and meaning, and it'll get easier as I go along."

Books of this magnitude always take me at least 50 pages to orient myself. I'm interested in any thoughts which tie division of labor unknown to the rest of the novel. You've got me starting W&M a week earlier than planned. Go go go!


message 19: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Aloha wrote: "Hopefully, I'll get into the flow of his style and meaning, and it'll get easier as I go along."

Books of this magnitude always take me at least 50 pages to orient myself. I'm inter..."


So far, I'm not seeing how it ties in with the 0008 Between Us...

On your mark, get set....


message 20: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments As Aloha has already made abundantly clear, my above remarks are due largely to my faulty reconstruction faculty. Just ignore my remarks. I'll do my damnedest to not make stuff up until after I've read the text. Then I'll start making stuff up.


message 21: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments That's okay, Nathan. I usually forget a book a month after reading it since I'm on to another book. FYI for people new to this book, read the outside materials posted here. Also, have several different color highlighters to categorize the passages. Luckily, I'm doing it digitally since my reading app. Has several color highlighters. I still have no idea why an opera singer with a tapeworm is relevant.


message 22: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Aloha wrote: "I still have no idea why an opera singer with a tapeworm is relevant. "

Because she's the coolest part of the book.

[close call] I had visions of a yellow or pink highlighting pen going across rare paper. Please don't do this people.


message 23: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments LOL. Imagine the squeaking of a highlighter....squeak, squeeeeeeeaaakkk...


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm not letting highlighters anywhere near my copy. I'm scared to even open it.


message 25: by Aloha (last edited Oct 08, 2012 05:19AM) (new)

Aloha | 524 comments


message 26: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments The woman is a scientist. It looks like she might be remembering a lab with a molecule model, with the balls and sticks out of it. I think there was a referral to orgasm helping with inducing contractions. She was probably overdue and the husband was giving her oral sex to induce contractions. The husband probably had a hard on with the thought of his wife's body being the vessel for a new life, with the miracle of it all.


message 27: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments The equal sign, I think, is symbolic of transformation. How things on one side of the equal sign ends up with a different thing on the other side of the equal sign. Also, the equal sign is symbolic of a portal where the before becomes the after.


message 28: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Aloha wrote: "The equal sign, I think, is symbolic of transformation."

But have you ever looked through an equal sign!!


message 29: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Regarding "Sue" and "Marvin", I cheated with my search function and see there will be more about Sue in the chapter "What Found Grace Kimball, Goddess Quite Much Taken."

But Sue is not the birthing woman's name. Sue is married to Marvin. And that's all the spoiler I'll give you.


message 30: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments LOL. That is funny about his wife's cunt not being available. I'm thinking that this labor scene is to prepare the reader for the type of book it's going to be, that it's going to be a book that tells a story via experiences, memories, and combined memories. There will never be one passage that tells you the whole story, but that you will have to gather information based on shards given to you here and there, and over time. It's saying, this is an inkling of what the book is like, buckle up, let's go!


message 31: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments It's also to highlight the people who helped build history, women and men, the division of labor.


message 32: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Let's see. My thoughts, having recovered from thoughts premature above.

Spoilers, but only in the sense of pointing to things which will show up later.




The "=" will become "R" as in the phrase "People R Matter."

The free-lance diver will show up. He and his girlfriend will have a chapter. But is Marvin/Martin the free-lance diver or also?

Is Dave/Shay one of the Dave's of Maya and Sue from "still life: sisters share information"?

Are the party episodes here possibly at Sue-Marv-Larry's house? Which is covered in the Grace Kimball, Goddess chapter? Someone says "Sue" on p7, which sounds like a legal joke perhaps.

"division of labor" will show up again, frequently, a phrase from Adam Smith.

There are later references to a lab. Will those references involve the same woman?


message 33: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments SUMMARY


The book opens with a birthing scene. The woman is at a party flashing back to her experience of birthing the baby. The title “division of labor” sets the economic tone of labor and productivity. She was experiencing awful pain while her husband Shay, formerly David, was below awaiting the birth of their child. He was paying attention and documenting everything, but can never really know her pain. She had her husband, the young male obstetrician and two nurses with her, but she felt alone in company. They both coached her as she labored to push the baby out. She, who was usually the healthy one, became the invalid, not invalid, but being fruitful and productive. The men never really saw her labor, but were looking forward to the fruit of her labor. She had become the model of productivity. The true experience of her pain is in the unspoken void, a personal experience that she can never complete communicate to others. “Between us, it was what marriage was all about. We suffer alone. We are not alone...” She felt that he felt “that he could share her labor only by not looking back at her.”


message 34: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 524 comments Thanks for clarifying the quotes, Freddy. Interesting story about giving birth alone.


message 35: by Nick (new)

Nick | 24 comments Hi Everyone - been going through these posts and am finding the different perspectives and inputs quite interesting and thought provoking. However, there seem to be very informative posts, mostly by "Jonathan," that are missing. Does anyone happen to have a log with all messages that have been posted? I'd be extremely interested in them.


message 36: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Nick wrote: "Hi Everyone - been going through these posts and am finding the different perspectives and inputs quite interesting and thought provoking. However, there seem to be very informative posts, mostly b..."

Indeed, Jonathan had a lot of very insightful posts here. Unfortunately he deleted his account recently and took his contributions with him. Furtherly unfortunately, we don't have any further record of those posts.

Looking forward to any and all of your own impressions and thoughts on the novel. I've got a few more McElroy books to get to soon ; and I'm still always kind of tempted to run through W&M yet a third time.


message 37: by Kyle (new)

Kyle | 13 comments I've had this page bookmarked for over a year now. Nice to finally be able to read through these. Thanks for setting this up, Nathan.


message 38: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Kyle wrote: "I've had this page bookmarked for over a year now. Nice to finally be able to read through these. Thanks for setting this up, Nathan."

Happy to have you along.


message 39: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Jonathan's comment (originally #26) ::
_______________
Here is my summary: A woman gives birth, and as her husband Dave (called that when he was eleven, at least), now calling himself Shay, said, she 'opened like an animal looking to be a flower'. She is in pain (that will 'almost not be recalled'), but though 'We suffer alone[,] we are not alone'. The woman has her husband, the doctor, one nurse then two nurses, and 'God like a blank perfectly painted'. The couple are later at a party, comparing experiences of birth with other couples, and the husband makes a flippant joke about 'division of labor'. She does not turn angrily toward him, but remembers his tears during the birth, and how he 'looked up past the appearing baby to look her in the eye'.

Also, it might be good to note that someone named either Marvin or Martin fills the woman's (is the woman the "Sue" someone names?) glass. He is a free lance diver who worked for the police and oceanographers.

My questions: 1) What is the part about 'look[ing] through the equal sign' in the paragraph about 'the model', which Aloha clarified below is likely a molecule model in the woman's lab(p. 6). <--Q was edited for clarity.

2) What are we supposed to make of the hard-on that Shay gets (during the birth, unless I'm really misreading), and the line about 'having gotten it, he would get it into an available cunt'?


----Originally #31, response to Aloha "Regarding "Sue" and "Marvin".... " ::
______________
You are right about the model likely being a molecule model (and I edited the Q above with that in mind), but I still think we could gloss more on what looking through the equal sign might mean, and I do think it may have a literal meaning having something to do with the type of model she might have in her lab. Though of course, I think that looking through the equal sign also relates to that last line in the paragraph, about putting two things together in mind, connecting them that way, discovering the 'gaps' between things.

I'm also happy with your answer regarding the hard-on, as that's what I was thinking as well. I guess 'he would get it into an available cunt' is referring to a biological imperative to do so, rather than an a will to do so. To me, it's kind of a wryly humorous sentence because the guy's wife's cunt is definitely not available! Not sure it's supposed to be funny, but...


-----Originally #36, response to Aloha "SUMMARY
The book opens with a birthing scene. "
__________
Comment written after finishing the novel, but should be pretty much spoiler free.

Before the beginning, two epigrams. The first is from the (fictionalized) memoir O Rugged Land of Gold, excerpted in Revelations: Diaries of Women (McElroy cites the latter), written by Helen Bolyan under pen name Martha Martin.

Martha Martin's diary: "I always think of the child as a girl. What if it's a boy? Oh, it couldn't be..." Here is speculation about a birth, before our birth in "division..." The conditions of M. Martin's birthing: she is trapped in a cabin in Alaska, landslided in, her husband and 15 year old son away in town. She gives birth alone. In O Rugged Land M. Martin has a son (I gather this from a few reviews I found), but according to a few other reviews Boylan's real life cabin birthing ended with the baby's death.

The next epigram is from a letter of A. Lincoln, of course Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US president. "Nothing new here except my marrying, which to me, is matter of profound wonder." Together with the previous epigram, this announces W&M's concern with family, connected through blood (birth) and/or choice (marriage, and beyond--think Grace Kimball's acquired family).

The quotation from a president presages passages of historic scope. Many presidents find themselves, if only for a sentence or two, entwined in the novel.


message 40: by Robthebook (new)

Robthebook | 4 comments I have neglected my Goodreads app for far too long. I have attempted to start this novel a couple times whilst in school (I found books like infinite jest to practically read themselves- I could easily keep my gpa up despite the extracurricular reading) but McElroy is a different ballgame. His writing is all consuming. It's beautiful really. Having had two children of my own I was completely mesmerized by the first chapter. Although I have far too much on my plate to give this book the dedicated attention it deserves, I can wait no longer. I just wanted to thank you all for your time and service in these threads. I'll never forget the day I came across the book in the wild, a thrift store reject sitting in a pile of books to be discarded. You all were the first I thought about and yet we have never met. Complete strangers, drawn together by what is perhaps the most mysterious book any reader could ever hope to encounter....


message 41: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (NathanNRGaddis) | 658 comments Robthebook wrote: "Complete strangers, drawn together by what is perhaps the most mysterious book any reader could ever hope to encounter.... "

Something McElroy-esque in that thought. Welcome.


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