July 18, 2008

The Revolver

Is another one of those stories that stood out to me in my Bedford literature anthology :P

It was written by Emilia Pardo Bazán who's an interesting person. An early Spanish feminist writer, critic and journalist who aspired to be more than just a housewife. She grew up wealthy and well-educated, unlike most women in her time. And instead of relying on her husband and laying up in the kitchen having kids, she became a writer! She was pretty notable in her day but I think she's still kind of obscure (at least in America), despite the acclaim she received. It kind of goes that way sometimes...

But anyway, I stumbled upon this interesting story...I can't even tell you when. It was more of an accident than anything. The plot is a little difficult to explain because it's a bit of a short frame story, but it's about a young widow telling her life story to an older widow in a bath house. She is suffering from heart problems and can't go long without gasping for air, and hopes the spa will cure her.

This young widow--who is named Flora--has had...quite the life. She married young to a much older, wealthy husband who, like all older husbands for some reason, begins to harbor a violent jealousy towards his younger wife. He cuts her off from her friends and monitors her every move like a prison warden, even watches her expressions closely for signs of unhappiness. It's kinda creepy how obsessive this guy gets, and it grows worse and worse each day; Flora becomes unhappier and unhappier until one day, her husband takes her to the bedroom and displays to her a gun hidden in the dresser--the titular revolver.

He basically promises to shoot her should she do any wrong upon him (think adultery or trying to leave him), and from that day on she lives in fear of the man, a prisoner in her own home. For 4 years the girl is taunted by the gun and the cold steel haunts her dreams, until one day her husband is thrown off his horse and killed. Yeah, just like that he dies of an internal injury. Of course upon his death, Flora realizes that she still loved her husband.

The kicker, however, is the fact that the revolver? It was never loaded! All this time she had been afraid of an illusion of power.

This story is very interesting to me, mostly because of the symbolic revolver. It gives such a short story so much depth and so many layers; the gun represents the oppression of the female, the power of men over women. Patriarchy, my book says. The gun is also--kinda obviously--a phallic symbol, masculinity.

The fact that the revolver was empty as well is the perceived power that men have over women (or think they have) and I thought Bazán was pretty clever and a little sneaky for weaseling that in. It's subtle but not so subtle that you don't catch on--I wonder if it was so obvious to the readers in her day? I wouldn't doubt it, these aren't exactly new thoughts.

A little more puzzling, however, is the bullet wound in the widow's heart. To me it signifies that in a way she'll always be under her husband's control, even now that he's dead. You could even argue that it represents her love for him, even after the torment he put her through. Like the revolver there's no clear cut answer, and that's how symbolism in a story, I think, should be handled. Your reader doesn't necessarily have to come away with a clear perception (of course, the general gist of what you're going for should be clear).

Another thing I kinda picked up on after another reading was the fact that her husband died of an internal injury, and now Flora has a "bullet wound" in her heart. I didn't think it was much at first, but now I think that's a very interesting allusion if you choose to take it that way...

But anyway, in all, I find this a really interesting piece of feminist work. And great writing in general, complex yet coherent and concise and never dizzying or confusing (all those Cs). I wish I had some kind of text link to it but all the copies I can find on the internet are either in the original Spanish or not the full story (like discussions). Ho hum :/

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