In The World According to Garp (I’m talking about the movie, here, I haven’t read the book), Garp’s mother, Helen Holm, while a military nurse during WWII, chooses to get impregnated by a dying, mentally incoherent soldier because she wants a child but doesn’t want a man around “with legal rights to my body.” Later she writes a book about her situation, Sexual Suspects, and becomes an acclaimed speaker on the feminist lecture circuit. Is she supposed to be a lesbian? She never seemed to have a female companion (but she had a lot of female fans). Or is she that somewhat rarer thing, a person with no interest in sex or romance whatsoever? I was never clear on that.
In the book (I know, I know), she’s pretty clearly not a lesbian. I’d imagine if they didn’t bother to make her clearly a lesbian in the movie, she’s not meant to be seen that way.
I got the feeling that she would be hetrosexual if she could ever find a man that met up with her ideals. Without such a person she remains mostly asexual. She seems to spend her time trying to model Garp into the sort of man that would met her ideals if he had not been her son.
The book makes it clear that Genny is asexual. Today she’d be going to a sperm bank.
Surprisingly, given the book’s themes, there are almost no lesbians at all in The World Acording to Garp. IIRC, there’s passing mention of one couple living together in the women’s shelter/artistic community Garp’s mom established, and that’s it.
Well, the pure misogyny of the book might be one reason Irving didn’t portray lesbians: all the women in it were nasty, selfish, and stupid – except for the one who had once been a man.
Even Garp’s Mom?
Helen is Garp’s wife. His mother is Jenny Fields. And I’d go with asexual.
Exactly how was Ellen James, who was raped and had her tongue cut off at age 10, and went on to become a unofficial adopted daughter of the Garps, a poet and a long distance swimming, “nasty, selfish, and stupid”?
I haven’t read it in at least 15 years, but I don’t remember the men coming off much better.
So, like I said… it’s been a really long time, but I seem to remember Jenny being asexual, nearly to the point of being anti-sexual. Root of all the world’s evil, etc. Maybe I’m remembering wrong.
How would misogyny preclude lesbian characters?
Thanx. So does the book portray Helen as nasty, selfish and stupid? I didn’t get that from the movie – except for her adultery.
I was going to post to say that Garp’s mother was Jenny Fields (played perfectly by Glenn Close) but it’s already been said. So anyway . . .
Not in my opinion. She’s actually depicted quite sympathetically, in my reading of the book. Same for Garp, actually. Neither one comes across as “nasty, selfish, [or] stupid” at all in that marriage - just, perhaps, an unfortunate combination of people.
She is not, clearly; I had forgotten about her. However, the Ellen James Society most certainly is – how stupid a form of protest is that?
And I do mean Helen’s adultery, especially since it was so weakly motivated. It’s really just an excuse to have her bite off her lover’s penis – and gee, how more obviously can you portray someone as a castrating bitch?
And I guess you could argue that
the resulting death of their child means we should hate women, and that the woman who shot Garp at the end of the book was another reason we should hate women, etc., but even allowing that it’s a misogynistic book (as opposed to “the world is filled with harmful idiots of both genders”),whence do you get that misogyny would lead to nobody being lesbian?
Well, you could write her as a castrating bitch. Which, to my recollection, Irving did not do. Tell me, do you think Garp’s adultery was any more strongly motivated? And if not, does that make the book misandrist?
I’d say that Garp’s mom, wife, and adopted daughter all come out of the novel as largely sympathetic, although not without their faults. To say the book was misogynous seems to be missing the point, which is that neither gender has a monopoly on being a disgusting, murderous, idiotic bastard. Every excess committed by a female character in the book does so following a largely identical excess committed by a male character. The Ellen James Society is a bunch of self-mutilating crackpots, but they were created as a response to an abominable rape and mutilation carried out by men. Men who were equally stupid, because they didn’t allow for the girl being able to write when they cut her tongue out. (If only they’d read their Shakespeare, they’d have known to cut her hands off, too. And to keep her away from sticks.) Garp is killed by a radical feminist, but only after Garp’s mom is killed by a man for being a radical feminist. And so on. Calling the book misogynous is not supportable, I think. It really is very balanced to both genders.
And like others, I don’t see how hating women would naturally lead to not having lesbians in the book, even if that’s what the book was really about.
The book does a wonderfully tragic job of pointing out the sexual double standard that still exists. Garp’s adultry and various one night stands are ignored, when “It Happens to Helen,” she pays the ultimate price–inadvertently causing the death of her son, not to mention the penisectomy of her lover.