Passive Women Katharine and Mildred The writers stereotypical categorization of female characters in both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451 can be examined through Hélène Cixous’ idea of binary opposition in language, where organization by hierarchy makes all conceptual organization subject to man and the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition activity/passivity” (64). Indeed, in the context of dystopian literature, hierarchy presents itself through anti-leisure to suppress individual identities. Yet, although authorities hold power over both men and women, it is always the passive women who are portrayed as being entirely subdued within the novels, and it is their passivity that reminds the protagonist of the daunting reality that he must rebel against. In Nineteen Eighty-Four , passivity is seen through the character Katharine, Winston’s wife, from whom Winston has separated, and who only exists as a distant memory in the novel. Though Katharine is only mentioned twice within the novel, Orwell intentionally highlights her passivity through depicting her obedience to anti-leisure on both occasions. The first instance occurs relatively earlier in the novel, where Winston is reminded of Katharine after contemplating the Party’s regulations on sex and marriage, in which the sole purpose of marriage is to beget children for the service of the Party and sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation (65). Indeed, Katharine embodies the ideologies of the Party, as she had two names for sex. One was making a baby and the other was our duty to the Party which Winston describes as a
7 Chen performance (67). Here, Katharine’s devotion to the Party even in the most private aspect of their marriage demonstrates the lack of personal leisure space. Orwell’s description of sexual intercourse as a minor operation and performance also emphasizes how Katharine and Winston are so emotionally distant and disconnected from each other that their marriage is essentially artificial. Moreover, Katharine’s passivity is further intensified when Julia, Winston’s lover who inspires him to rebel, asks about her later in the novel. In response, Winston once again speaks of the rigidity (66), the stiffening of Katharine’s body (132) that is frozen forever by the hypnotic power of the Party (67), reiterating that sexual intercourse with Katharine is like a frigid little ceremony (132). Not only does the term ceremony denote the impersonal and dispassionate relationship between Katharine and Winston, Orwell’s repetitive description of Katharine’s body as immobile also emphasizes her lifelessness. Hence, her thoughts are static, and her mind empty (66) in that she is only capable of thinking of whatever the Party provides for her Katharine is so docile and passive that Winston’s only memory of Katharine is merely a distasteful one (132), distant and entirely removed from his current life. Similarly, in Fahrenheit 451 , passivity is seen through the character Mildred, Montag’s wife. Unlike Katharine, Mildred remains constantly present within the novel, though she too is depicted as obedient and even dependent on anti-leisure. For instance, Mildred is constantly seen wearing her Seashell ear-thimbles” (Bradbury 16), an earphone-like device that constantly plays an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk (10). Though this detail in the novel can be attributed to the common theme of fear of technological developments in postwar dystopian literature, it can also represent anti-leisure, in that the ocean of sound connotes the vast and overwhelming propaganda that could be constantly transmitted through her ear-thimbles. Moreover, Bradbury also repeatedly
8 Chen describes Mildred’s ear-thimbles as “thimble-wasps” (11), electronic bees (16), and tiny musical insects (43), in which the animal imagery of buzzing insects unveils the invasiveness of the sounds produced by the electronic device the consistency of sound playing in Mildred’s ears disrupts her from having any personal leisure space and time to interact with Montag or even think about anything other than what is playing in her head. However, in contrast to Nineteen Eighty-Four , Mildred’s passivity is not completely consistent. In her first appearance, Montag witnesses Mildred’s attempted suicide, after he sees an empty small crystal bottle of sleeping tablets which earlier today had been filled with thirty capsules (11) when he comes home. In this instant, Bradbury describes Mildred’s body as uncovered and cold, like a body displayed on the lid of a tomb . . . . Two moonstones looked up at him (10-11). Similar to Katharine, Mildred’s body is regarded as lifeless, and her moonstone eyes empty, though in this case her lifelessness takes on a more literal meaning. Nonetheless, the importance of Mildred’s attempted suicide is that it reveals the direness of living in a society that limits personal freedom. Whereas Katharine is portrayed as entirely passive, Mildred does have moments of uncertainty that have to be forcefully removed even when Montag calls for help, the operators order him to keep her quiet after they use a machine to clean Mildred’s blood of her liquid melancholy (12-13), reducing her suicide—an attempt to regain control of her own life and body—to a case of mechanical malfunctioning that a machine can easily fix. Nevertheless, though Mildred’s passivity fluctuates throughout the novel, Mildred’s betrayal towards the end of the novel reestablishes that it is the authority that ultimately has power over its people. Although Mildred initially helps Montag in hiding his books, she eventually chooses to betray him by turning in the alarm (111) and reporting him to Captain Beatty, head of the Firemen. Mildred’s final appearance in the novel is of her running, one suitcase held with a dreamlike clenching rigidity in her fist, . . . her body stiff,
9 Chen her face floured with powder, her mouth gone (108). Here, Bradbury’s portrayal of Mildred’s clenching rigidity also parallels Orwell’s portrayal of Katharine’s frigid and stiff body, their shared lifelessness robotic and incapable of developing individual subjectivity under the anti-leisure control of their regimes. Ultimately, it is the passive women who are stripped of their personal leisure spaces and remain obedient to anti-leisure throughout the novels. Their emptiness and therefore emotional distance from the protagonist are what form mistrust and serve as reminders of the daunting reality that he must rebel against. In fact, the overly stereotypical portrayal of Katharine and Mildred as passive and docile appears almost unrealistic even during the time when these novels were written. Though it is unknown why the writers may have chosen to portray them in this way, it should still be noted that representing female characters as nothing more than dual stereotypes remains immensely patriarchal.