"The Dancing Party" by Mary Gordon

14Feb05

In this story, Mary Gordon tries to accomplish something similar to what Virginia Woolf does in “Kew Gardens”, shifting perspective from character to character. Woolf’s snail facilitates this narrative style more elegantly than Gordon manages. The transitions from character to character can be clunky at times.

Another aspect that became rather awkward was the lack of proper names. When the wife from the beginning of the story returned and Gordon referred to her as “the angry wife” it took me a moment to figure out who she was. Gordon’s use of appositives was useful in that it very clearly defined the female characters in relationship to the men in the lives. For the most part at least. She probably could have come up with better ones for the hostess and the widow’s friend. “The hostess’ daughter” was okay, however, because she is determined not to become “susceptible” to men the way that her mother, and her mother’s peers, have.

However, all of the women in this piece have become susceptible to men in some way or another. The angry wife is caught up in her husband’s moods, concerned that his demeanor will reflect badly upon her. The hostess is “young….beautiful, she needs a man in her bed.” The mother without a husband is subject to her lover’s needs—he refuses to leave his wife, so she is forced to raise their child by herself. The hostess’ daughter considers marrying a rich man because she likes to have nice things. The scientist has come to the party alone because her lover does not like to dance. The widow says that she came from a time in which women were told to serve men. The widow’s friend is on her fifth husband so that she will not have to be alone.

At one point in the story, all of the women are dancing together, but eventually they break their circle to include the men. They seem to feel guilty for some reason. Is Gordon offering this guilt as a reason for women making themselves “susceptible” to men?

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