Study Guide

Woman on the Edge of Time Society and Class

By Marge Piercy

Society and Class

Most people hit kids. But if you were on welfare and on probation and the whole social-pigeonholing establishment had the right to trek regularly through your kitchen looking in the closets and under the bed… you had better not hit your kid once. (1.148)

Connie is saying that the real crime is not hitting your kids, but hitting your kids while you're poor. Would Mattapoisett let someone hit their kids? What would happen in Mattapoisett if you beat your child?

Her life was thin in meaningful "we's." (2.14)

Connie is isolated from her family and from any community, in part by her poverty, in part by her history and the fact that the people she loved kept dying. She's also isolated, though, because the book presents the present as isolating; compared to Mattapoisett, people in Connie's world are cut off from each other. That's part of why Mattapoisett is a utopia; people have community there.

The anger of the weak never goes away, Professor, it just gets a little moldy. It molds like a beautiful blue cheese in the dark, growing stranger and more interesting. (2.109)

Connie is talking about the professor at university who slept with her. She's also talking about class resentment, and how the weak are good at hating. Connie is certainly good at hating. Does the hate make her stronger? Or is it just a sign of the class differences that make her weak?

"Consuela, my given name. Consuelo's a Mexican woman, a servant of servants, silent as clay. The woman who suffers. Who bears and endures. Then I'm Connie, who managed to get two years of college—till Consuela got pregnant. Connie got decent jobs from time to time and fought welfare for a little extra money for Angie. She got me on a bus when I had to leave Chicago. But it was her who married Eddie, she thought it was smart. Then I'm Conchita, the low-down drunken mean part of me who gets by in jail, in the bughouse, who loves no good men, who hurt my daughter…." (6.127)

Connie's fractured society makes her a fractured person. And those fractures are all about fault lines of race and class. (All this talk of split personalities also raises the possibility that Connie is Luciente, btw.)

We want there to be no chance of racism again. But we don't want the melting pot where everybody ends up with thin gruel. We want diversity, for strangeness breeds richness. (5.79)

One of the things you might worry about with a classless society is that it would be boring; everybody would be the same. But Mattapoisett is too cool for that; they make sure each village has a different base culture, so there are enough differences to keep things interesting. So they have an Ashkenazi Jewish culture in one village and a Wampanoag Indian culture in another village, and a Klingon culture in a third.

"All those meetings. I ended up with nothing but feeling sore and ripped off."

"You lose until you win—that's a saying those who changed our world left us. Poor people did get together." (8.156)

Luciente is saying that the perfect future was created by poor people organizing. Does that mean dropping poison in people's coffee? The book doesn't really explain how you get to the perfect future; it's a hope, but the actual blueprint to get to the hope is kind of fuzzy.

"Everybody was having a good time, everybody in the world, in the universe, everybody but her, alone and bored. Everybody was loving everybody else, everybody was drinking wine and smoking dope and dancing and sitting on each other's laps and whispering in each other's ears." (9.65)

Connie has a gift for utopian hippie visions. The perfect society here is the whole world drunk and sexy. (And then Connie goes to the future and everyone has a party and is drunk and sexy. Utopia!)

"Poor Alice!" Sybil shook her head. "She must be humiliated! Imagine playing up to that fascist because he presses a button." (10. 152)

The doctors are compared to fascists, which seems like it's meant to be taken fairly literally. That is, the doctors wield arbitrary power over people who are seen as less than human. The brain implants are a kind of perfected authoritarian control; Hitler would have used them if he could.

"Hello monster," he said softly.

"Hello, monster," she said back, and smiled for the first time since her operation. "There's too little of you and too much of me." (14.102)

Skip and Connie are joking bitterly about the fact that they've been turned into monsters. The monster-ing is not just from the operations. They're monsters because the people with power see them as monsters—for being poor, or homosexual, or female, or Hispanic. Social class, and power, creates monsters. (Now if only Connie could turn into the Incredible Hulk and smash her way out, the book might have had a happier ending.)

"An army of lovers cannot lose." (17.75)

This is one of the most famous lines in the book; it's a song they sing while they're fighting in the future (or in an alternate future.) It was picked up by some gay rights activists. It expresses the hope/belief/dream that love will triumph over all, and that society can be remade by love. Even if it's not clear, in this book, that it does.