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The Female Persuasion | Study Guide

Meg Wolitzer

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Course Hero. "The Female Persuasion Study Guide." Course Hero. 1 Dec. 2019. Web. 3 Feb. 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Female-Persuasion/>.

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Course Hero. "The Female Persuasion Study Guide." December 1, 2019. Accessed February 3, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Female-Persuasion/.

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The Female Persuasion | Themes

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The Power Struggle

Various power struggles are presented in the text, and they are both won and lost at different points in the narration. Regardless of the character the power struggle centers on how power is defined and how a person struggles with it, gets it, keeps it, and loses it. By changing the point of view, Meg Wolitzer presents the various components of power more easily. The most prominent power struggle is around gender; specifically, the struggle for women to gain societal and political power as well as keep it. Since feminism is a major component of the text this comes as no surprise, but the struggle to keep gender power separate from stereotypical gender roles is perhaps less expected. Cory starts out as the strong male figure in Greer's life, but after his tragedy he takes on a traditionally female role in the family. Greer does not understand this, and he loses power in her eyes. It is ironic in a situational sense because this is the very thing feminism should be praising: the idea that women's power and status do not come from gender or what role women fill but from within. Then there is the power associated with sexuality. The power within sexual relationships shifts multiple times in Cory's life and then becomes a component in Zee's character development. Sex is used to show how people cope when their power is questioned and how it can give them a feeling of power while also making them feel powerless or out of control. The sexual power struggle feeds into the power struggle that exists within relationships that are familial, friendly, or romantic.

The Role of Female Mentorship

The role of female mentorship in the development of strong, confident women is central to the plot. The most prominent example is Faith's mentorship of Greer. This mentorship is mirrored in Faith's own process of being mentored early in her life and later when Greer becomes a type of mentor to her daughter's babysitter, Kay Chung. Greer's seeking out of Faith as a mentor illustrates the longing women have for relationships. However, mentorship is presented as not just an idolized working relationship like that between Greer and Faith but also a way of living and interacting as a woman. In Faith's first speech she defines sisterhood and sets it up as the idea of working together for the growth and benefit of one another. Here, a mentor is portrayed as a person who encourages people to make their world dynamic and gives them permission to be themselves. However, the dark side of mentorship, sisterhood, and friendship is communicated through damaged and severed relationships between Greer and Faith, Greer and her mother, and Greer and Zee. Zee is Greer's first unofficial mentor and shepherds her into the world of feminism. In addition, Faith has been an unofficial mentor for women over the years as evidenced by the box of gifts she goes through near the end of the book. Greer's relationship with her mother, Laurel, also provides an interesting view of the mother-daughter mentor relationship and its unique dynamics. Initially Greer does not see her mother as a mentor, only a hindrance, but as Greer's life progresses she realizes how her mother has contributed to her development. It is subconscious at first because she does not know why she turns to her mother when she quits her job, but by the time she leaves home again she has a new appreciation for her mother. The interaction and development of the mother-daughter relationship illustrates the mentors women have in life that go unnoticed.

The Cyclical Nature of Life

At its core the novel is a Bildungsroman, or a novel that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood through to adulthood. The character's change is essential to the understanding and meaning of the novel. In The Female Persuasion, Wolitzer adapts the Bildungsroman, which traditionally focuses on a single character's growth and development, to include multiple characters. As such, the timeline of the book and subsequent chapters are nonlinear and tend to recycle events from a different perspective. For example, when one chapter covers a weekend from one character's perspective, the next one covers that same weekend from another perspective.

Despite the shift in narration the majority of the novel focuses on Greer and her evolution from college to adulthood. The cyclical nature and evolution of life is also illustrated in the circular narrative choice and helps develop the idea that eventually everything is replaced. For Greer, Ryland replaces Yale, she replaces her mentor Faith Frank, and eventually her daughter's babysitter will replace her. Meanwhile, Cory replaces his mother, his brother, and eventually his father. Each portion of the cycle eventually yields its strength to the next in the same way each book part gains its title from something mentioned in the previous one. For example, the song "The Strong Ones," which is the namesake of Part 1, is mentioned in the last chapter of Part 4 as a wraparound reference.

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