Why I Abandoned “Prentice Alvin”


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I couldn’t take the sexism anymore.

Bear with me: I know that the historical period Card depicted was a time when sexism was considered something closer to “common sense.” And that’s all right. George RR Martin is not sexist for writing about a time when women were chattel, and no more is Ursula K LeGuin sexist for writing about a future world where men are chattel.

The issue I had was that the main characters were sexist. REALLY sexist. The people I’m supposed to be sympathizing with. Alvin thinking men who don’t beat their wives are weak. Peggy, pursuing the “finest title any lady could aspire to. Goodwife.”

More than that, the plot itself was constructed in a way as to render women mere figures in men’s stories. The women define themselves exclusively in terms of their relationships to men. Peggy spends years learning how to authentically please men. She chooses a course of life which she hopes will lead her to the great achievement of being the woman behind the great man, rather than aspiring to greatness herself.

And it’s not just Peggy; it’s every single woman character. Married or single, their lives are about their sons, husbands, and lovers. Even the relationships between women are mere outgrowths of their relationships to men–the mother jealous of her husband’s love for her daughter, the kind woman taking in her lover’s child.

Finally, to me, this sexism left a big logic gap right at the core of the novel. The idea is that Alvin is a “maker,” someone who can create on such a level that the devil itself dogs him. But why the hell wouldn’t a “maker” be a woman? The book is all about nature and people’s natural roles, their pre-arranged destinies. A “maker” should be a woman.

Maybe the book got better later on. I gave up when Peggy arrived home in disguise. I can’t take it anymore.


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