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.

 

–greylady

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~ by liadangreylady on February 10, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Behavior of Antonia”

  1. Thank you for this critique of Antonia. I felt many of the frustrations that you described while reading Behavior of the Hawkweeds. Although I liked Barrett’s writing style, I could not get on board with Antonia’s passive aggressive actions. She internalizes her resentments only to have them resurface again later. She is bitter and empty because her husband doesn’t understand her.

    For all this bashing on Antonia, does she have any redeeming qualities?
    Probably not. She refuses to approach her husband directly and tell him the whole story, and she confides in Sebastian in a shallow attempt to bring meaning and purpose back to her own life. She is like a child who acts out for attention.

    The way I see it, her behavior can be attributed to one of two causes. 1) She is by nature a passive person that would rather indulge in self-pity than try to solve a problem. Or 2) when she deals with the emotions arising from Tati’s story, she becomes the scared little girl that saw Tati hit his boss down in defense of his granddaughter. I am choosing the second option in an attempt to see the best in Antonia.

    As a child she can’t deal with the grief, guilt, and confusion that surround Tati’s boss’s death and Tati’s death. She buries these emotions, along with the letter and the story, deep inside her, never to be disturbed again. Then her kids move out and her life slows down. Suddenly, the emotions, the truth of Tati’s story, will not remain pushed aside any longer. She is an adult but her emotions building since perhaps her grandfather’s death make her a child again. I guess I am arguing that she doesn’t understand what’s happening or even why she is acting the way she is acting. I would not condone what she does, but I do think her actions are a sort of cry for help.

    It’s just so sad that she can’t speak her mind to her husband and family.
    Ultimately, grown up Antonia still bears a striking resemblance to that confused girl who saw Tati hit his boss down in defense of his granddaughter. And in the end, although she doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, I think she deserves some compassion.

    -M

    • I like your point about Antonia needing help, and feeling confused. She’s definitely alone in the world in many ways; even her daughters can’t really understand her cultural and family background (and of course the events with Leninger and Tati). In many ways her situation is not an easy one. I guess I just needed a place to vent a little. :)

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