Study Guide

The Female Man What's Up With the Ending?

By Joanna Russ

What's Up With the Ending?

In the final chapter of The Female Man, the distinctions that separate Janet, Jeannine, Joanna, the omniscient narrator, and Jael from one another are shaken off once and for all. As the four alter-egos gather together to share a Thanksgiving dinner at Schrafft's, Russ invokes the symbolic meaning that Thanksgiving has for many Americans, as the celebration of new life and new potential in a brave new world.

As the women part ways, Joanna bids farewell to The Female Man itself, and sends it out into the world where it can do its part to make change:

Go, little book, trot through Texas and Vermont and Alaska and Maryland and Washington and Florida and Canada and England and France; bob a curtsey at the shrines of Friedan, Millet, Greer, Firestone, and all the rest; behave yourself in people's living rooms, neither looking ostentatious on the coffee table nor failing to persuade due to the dullness of your style [...] Live merrily, little daughter-book, even if I can't and we can't; recite yourself to all who will listen; stay hopeful and wise. Wash your face and take your place in the Library of Congress, for all books end up there eventually, both little and big. Do not complain when at last you become quaint and old-fashioned [...] Do not get glum when you are no longer understood, little book. Do not curse your fate. Do not reach up from readers' laps and punch the readers' noses.

Rejoice, little book!

For on that day, we will be free.
 (9.7.29)

More optimistic than she's been at any other point in the novel, Joanna's instructions to her "little daughter book" invoke a long literary tradition in which parents offer advice and blessings to their children as they set off on their own. Polonius's farewell speech to his son Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet is an example that Joanna Russ and many of her early readers would surely have known, and it's safe to say that she's invoking it here.

Full of hope and promise, the novel's ending suggests that someday, however far in the future it may be, The Female Man will seem antiquated and quaint to readers because women's oppression under patriarchy will have ceased to exist. That's an idealistic ending if we've ever seen one, so what do you think? Has The Female Man passed its expiration date, or are the conditions it satirizes still relevant today?