The Behavior of Antonia
I finally figured out what bothered me so much about “The Behavior of the Hawkweeds” story we read in Ship Fever last week. Admittedly, when I read it, I was expecting a different kind of story entirely—after all, until this point we’d focused only on dystopias. Obviously Antonia does not live in a dystopian society, but her life seems just as empty as those of the Brave New World-ians—she takes care of her husband and his guests, raises her children, and never has a career of her own, no accomplishments to stand up and be proud of. According to her, even her marriage is not something that she had a real part in—instead, from the grave, Mendel and Tati, her grandfather, take care of it. I think Antonia must view herself as inherently unappealing or something. How else could she think that the letter is the foundation of their marriage? It’s kind of absurd when you stop and think about it (though, if Richard really did marry her because of the letter…ugh. I’m not even going to go there).
Okay, enough bashing (for now). I will grant that when she marries Richard, Antonia is young, a product of her times, etc. There were lots of women, especially in those decades, who lived like Antonia did, their whole lives dedicated to marriage, home, children, and husband.
Alright, now back to my criticisms. As the years go by, Antonia comes to certain realizations—about Richard, about her empty life, about Mendel and Nagelli and Tati and Leninger. She knows her life is empty, and this makes her depressed, but Richard doesn’t care. So she gets more depressed, etc, life is sad, blah blah blah. Her daughters nail the issue on the head, though—they realize that she’s never done anything on her own: “…my years as a housewife had stifled me and I needed a career of my own” (Barrett 25). But Antonia disregards their advice. I think I know why, too—as much as she’s told us about her life, her childhood, etc, she’s never named any dreams or goals or aspirations of her own—“I wanted to write.” “I wanted to someday have my own greenhouse, or even a flower shop.” “I wanted to be a NASA physicist.” Antonia never says any of those things, and it’s so frustrating. I want to sit her down and ask her, “What the hell are you doing? If you don’t like your life do SOMETHING, anything, to change it. QUIT MOPING.” She could be sad if she had tried and failed to improve her life, but she hasn’t tried yet. Until one day, a German geneticist comes to visit…
Oh yes. Sebastian is the like the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of Antonia’s sad empty life. What’s important here is that, just like with Richard, she tries to appeal to Sebastian not as a person he’d like to be with (as a friend or as a lover, it doesn’t matter). Instead she resorts back to the appeal of the Mendel/Tati story. Even her later correspondence with Sebastian is all about Mendel and Tati—it’s as if she’s trying the same tactic she used with Richard and, when it isn’t enough, just keeps throwing more juicy historical tidbits onto the pile. Antonia has a pattern, but no self-awareness—she never breaks out or grows as an individual. She’s kind of pathetic, and I just can’t stand it.