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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Fury of a Woman Scorned
Miss Dent takes her place alongside a rich tapestry of wronged women in fiction who are revealed to have depths of anger and a thirst for justice—or vengeance, depending on your interpretation. Exactly where Miss Dent fits on the spectrum that ranges from the mythic evil of Medea to a certain victim of a famous fatal attraction is left to the reader to determine and that determination has certainly been open to wide interpretation. Some feel that Miss Dent stars off well on her way to becoming a truly powerful figure of feminist recalibration of equality but wind up being barely a flickering phantom of what might have been. Others attest to the inescapable conclusion that the worst punishment possible for a man like Blake is having the certainty of his station called into question and at the very least Miss Dent does pull that off.
The Mighty Authority of Institutional Sexism
The portrait of stereotypical male chauvinist thinking in mid-20th century American created by Cheever hardly seems a figure to be feared or stalked. In his own mindlessly insensitive way, he is really not different in any notable way from the philandering business executive played by Fred MacMurray in Billy Wilder’s film The Apartment. And yet, it appears that Blake has been endowed with the power to drive and equally average young woman to the point of madness merely as the result of rejecting her. Except, of course, that rejection is not what drives her to a mental hospital and Blake is not the all-powerful demon responsible. Blake is merely ballast to keep the ship of foolish chauvinism and ignorant thinking holding steady as it navigates through a channel growing every more narrow as the world outside that ship progresses through time. Ultimately, Miss Dent’s revenge does not require mythological dimensions because the object of her ire is to puny to deserve it. Nevertheless, at the time and in those circumstances the institution was still strong enough to lend it great authority over secretaries like Miss Dent.
The Corrosion of Suburban Conformity
Blake conforms to the stereotype of the commuter who has his business life in New York and his family life far away from the island. That life outside of the assured expectation of respect and submission to his authority is a bit less successful at conditioning him to conform. No real clue is given to whether he is like much or not at work; it doesn’t matter as long as he gets the job done. On the other hand of the rail line, however, lies confirmation that Miss Dent is not merely a stalker off her rocker when it comes to her view of the man. The truth is that he isn’t much liked by family or friends and his inability to conform to standard expectations imposed by suburbia may provide a clue to what appears to a problematical ending for some. Dazed and confused after nearly meeting his doom, Blake’s rise from his knees to the train platform appears to some critics to indicate a lack of adhesive in the glue that the experience was designed to make stick for good. Blake’s lack of an immediately manifested understanding of the full implication of what he did to Miss Dent may have more to do with his natural sense of disorientation as he tries to adjust himself from the comfort of his city persona to the discomfort of his suburban one, however.
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