Study Guide

Woman on the Edge of Time Morality and Ethics

By Marge Piercy

Morality and Ethics

She hated Geraldo and it was right for her to hate him. Attacking him was different from turning her anger, her sorrow, her loss of Claud into self-hatred... (1.91)

This is one of the first statements about morality in the book, and it emphatically argues that hate is virtuous. Of course, Geraldo is awful, and is trying to hurt Connie's niece. Still, it's striking that good is portrayed as hating evil because it's better than hating yourself. This is not what you usually learn in school (at assembly today, we will practice hating. Best hater wins a good conduct sticker!).

"It's tender, end-of-mothering. Comprend, we sweat out our rituals together. We change them, we're all the time changing them! But they body our sense of good." (6.92)

The sense of good Luciente is talking about is dropping a 12-year-old in the woods, making her find her own way home, and then having her parents not talk to her for three months. Shmoop is skeptical that this is a good or moral thing. But it would mean parents didn't have to live with adolescents. Maybe that is ideal.

"How interesting," Magdalena said politely, with her head cocked. "Our notions of evil center around power and greed—taking from other people their food, their liberty, their health, their land, their customs, their pride. We don't find coupling bad unless it involves pain or is not invited." (7.103)

Connie is shocked when she sees a couple of 7-year-olds having sex (or trying to). Magdalena says that violence and taking from people is bad, but not sex (unless it involves violence or taking from other people). Does Magdalena's argument make sense?

"We all carry our death at the core—if you don't know that, your life is hollow, no? This is good death." (8.188)

Accepting death is part of living a moral life, in Mattapoisett. Connie sort of accepts a kind of death at the end of the book; it's not entirely clear whether that makes her more moral or not.

"The social fabric means a lot to us." (10.171)

In the future, they spend a lot of time negotiating and involving the community in individual relationships. It's like if you didn't like somebody in your class very much, and then the entire school had a series of assemblies to try to get you two to like each other more. Would that make school a more moral and healthful place, with less bullying? Or would it make you feel like you had no privacy at all?

"All those people in metal boxes, alone and cut off!" Luciente shook her head. "How could you start to talk? Make friends?"(12.73)

When you think about cars and morality, it's usually in the context of pumping out greenhouse gasses and fouling the atmosphere. Mattapoisett is very eco-friendly, but Luciente is even more struck by how isolated and isolating cars are. One of the big differences between Mattapoisett and the past is the isolation; the future is very community-oriented. The past drives around in boxes—which Luciente seems to be suggesting makes the past sadder, and perhaps less capable of morality as well.

"In Connie's time it was thought some people who were good at some things, like a couple of the arts and sciences, should do nothing else."

"That must have made them a little stupid," Luciente said. "A little simple, you grasp? And self-important!" (13.87)

In Mattapoisett, everyone has to participate in jobs like raising food, or cleaning, or various other tasks. Luciente argues that specializing makes people stupid and self-important. Economic arrangements affect people's moral selves, and moral actions.

"But Connie, in your day only huge corporations and the Pentagon had money enough to pay for big science. Don't you think that had an effect on what people worked on? Sweet petunias! And what we do comes down on everybody. We use up a confounded lot of resources. Scarce materials. Energy. We have to account. There's only one pool of air to breathe." (14.60)

Scientists should be responsible to the rest of society. Also, if you're going to curse, you should always say, "Sweet petunias!" It's a cute phrase… and it's the way of the future.

It is all right for me to beg and crawl and wheedle because I am at war. They will see how I forgive. That made her feel stronger. (18.101)

People often excuse all sorts of things—like dropping bombs on children—on the grounds that they're at war. It's not clear whether we're supposed to find Connie's excuse here convincing or not. What war is she fighting? Against whom?

"Luciente, do you think it's always wrong to kill?" […]

"How can I face something so abstract?"

"To kill someone with power over me. Who means to do me in."

"Power is violence. When did it get destroyed peacefully? We all fight when we're back to the wall—or to tear down the wall. You know we kill people who choose twice to hurt others. We don't think it's right to kill them. Only convenient. Nobody wants to stand guard over another."

"In my time people are willing to stand guard. It's a living. I guess maybe it's power too." (19.170)

It's certainly true that the asylum is committing violence against Connie. They're operating on her brain without her consent; they're preventing her from leaving. That's violence. Luciente seems to say that Connie has the moral right to fight back—or at least the moral necessity. Again, it's not clear whether we're supposed to accept that or not. Luciente may be a morally superior voice of wisdom from the future… or she may be a figment of Connie's imagination, providing her with confused justification for some awful actions.