“What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask,” That is the first line in this amazing book by Joan Didion. Iago is the Shakespeare character in “Othello,” who is obsessed with power and control.
The line is spoken by, Maria, the main character in the book, and she is one of the best female characters, in my opinion, that I have ever read in any book. Many scholars and readers will vehemently disagree, which is their right. Some will find her empty, pathetic, and mentally unstable, I on the other hand find her the embodiment of what we consider feminism. She is totally in tune with her body and during a back alley abortion, the book takes place in the sixties and was published in 1970, you feel the pain, both emotionally and physically, that such a procedure has on her and after a number of days after the abortion the bleeding gets worse and then on a pad she is wearing she notices, when she takes it off, that there appears to be a substance that looks like flesh. When it is examined by a doctor it turns out to be the placenta that was not removed during the abortion. In her dreams, and during waking hours, she sees a bloody baby being flushed down the toilet.
She is obsessed with her menstrual period every month and she sleeps on a bed with totally white sheets and no protected pads, and dresses in light clothes, hoping to notice blood and relieving her fear of being pregnant. She is married to a Hollywood director, and she herself is a fairly famous actress. She lets herself go, losing so much weight that she barely clocks in at eighty pounds, her veins show, and her girlfriends become concerned about her as they complain about their hairdresser being out of town and gossip about this actress being a lesbian and this other one getting so old.
She, in turn, sleeps with whoever she pleases, not in retaliation, but because she simply wants to in seedy hotels and wherever she pleases, and participates in some very kinky sex.
Her answers to most questions concerning herself and others is simply, “Nothing.” But unlike Iago, she is not obsessed with power and control, but in her silence, she sees the people and the society around her obsessed exactly with power and control, which they show in their egotism, sexual prowess, and luxury homes.
She is a character fully realized in a way few characters ever are. She represents a female in a way that is more true to the actual biological and emotional feelings that women face, that are alien to most men. She in an even larger sense is a spectator and witness to the society of the 60’s that actually existed and few acknowledged.