Study Guide

Helen Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

"Helen" doesn't read exactly read like a Feminism 101 textbook, but you can't deny that Helen's gender plays a huge role in her mythology, and of course, in H.D.'s poem. There are so many unanswered questions about Helen—did she go with Paris willingly or not? Did she actually love him? Or was she raped and taken to Troy against her will? There are no answers to these questions, but we have to face facts: no matter what her relationship with Paris was, Helen was the victim of a patriarchal (male-dominated) society that blamed her for the wars started by men. It ain't easy being a woman in mythological Greece. (Or so H.D. seems to suggest.)

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Does the poem explicitly deal with Helen's gender? If so, where? And what's the poem's take?
  2. How does the poem define Helen's femininity? How does it go about linking Helen's femininity to her beauty? 
  3. Think outside of the poem for a moment: is beauty the purview of women only? Or do men have to deal with the pressures of appearances as well? Does a man's appearance ever get blamed for something big and bad, like war?

Chew on This

Greece was misogynistic society and that's why all Grecians hate Helen.

The only way that the patriarchal Greeks can deal with Helen's beauty is to imagine her dead, because a dead woman is no longer a threat.

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