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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Structuralist Reading of the River People and the Institution of Marriage

“…Aoi was only nine years old, I thought there would be a long period of betrothal but everyone assured me she had reached puberty and offered me visual proof if I did not believe them. So I abandoned the last vestiges of my shore-folk squeamishness and Nao-Kurai fixed the date of my wedding for a few weeks ahead.” (81)

This excerpt from Angela Carters “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman” explores the institution of marriage and its adoption in two opposing cultures. Here, the river people offer Desiderio a wife named Aoi, who is merely nine years old. Ignoring her young age and intellectual maturity, the river people regard Aoi’s physical stature as the necessary means for marriage. With this, readers sense the oppression that is felt by women throughout the novel, as men here are responsible for organizing all marriage proceedings. Somewhat doubtful and shocked by the idea, Desiderio states that, “she was only nine years old” and thought that “there would be a long period of betrothal.” Once again Desiderio acknowledges the immaturity of Aoi, however, he questions this by imaging a long period of engagement. Desiderio recognizes her young age, and naturally believed in a “long period” of development. Still, these doubts are laid to rest as Desiderio is reassured of Aoi’s physical maturity with the threat of “visual proof.” Ultimately, Desiderio “abandoned” what little doubt was left to accept and set the date of his wedding. Finally signifying the tension between two combining cultures and the institution of marriage.


  1. I never acknowledged that binary before where there is the youth of Aoi and the age of Desiderio. I should clarify that I was aware of the extreme awkwardness of that relationship because the image of a 9 year old servicing an adult male is quite disturbing to say the least. But juxtaposing that against the idea of development through marriage, age and experience hints at a lot of themes through the novels. One element that this analysis seems to contradict is the loss of time. Clearly time still exists to a degree since Desiderio is aware that there will be a long betrothal or that he is aware of time at all. He notes that clocks are not functional because they choose their own time. The fact that he has any sense of time is fairly surprising because it is thought that when time no longer exists nothing seems fast or slow. However, as we see, time does exist. Therefore, it may be concluded, through these binaries, that Doctor Hoffman's illusions, while nice for the freedoms they may present, are by no means realistic or enough to satisfy. They are simply illusions as Desiderio labels them.

  2. Immediately following this same passage another curious binary presents itself which is very much related to the aspect of maturity. This is the binary of Aoi's demeanor around Desidirio. The "great deal of familiarity" Aoi shows towards Desidirio takes on two drastically different forms (82). The first being the childish playfulness exhibited with her sitting on his knee and planting "wet, childish kisses on [Desidirio's] cheeks and mouth", as well as the scene in which Aoi leaps into his arms by the force of her own giggling(82). Something could be said specifically about the language Carter uses and how it corresponds with maturity, but that is another can of worms. The second form of her demeanor is the more erotic interactions between her and Desidirio. Her "servicing" him every night, her questioning him about the size of her breasts, as well as the seemingly sporadic fondling between the two are certainly aspects most couples would reserve for private encounters. Between the age difference and the range of Aoi's demeanor, her and Desidiro's relationship is obscure to say the least.

  3. In reading this post, I, like Eric, did not acknowledge the binary. However, the presence of Aoi, being the sign of women's oppression, is a direct contrast of "Mama" who in essence forced Desiderio to have sex with her. The presence of "Mama" in the story showed me that as a woman grew up within the tribe the stature and significance of their presence grew as well. I still believe the interaction between a grown man and a nine year old is extremely creepy, but I feel the presence of this interaction was grounds to show how the social hierarchy of the village worked.

  4. The notion of time in this passage is especially interesting. While the clocks may be broken, I think Desiderio would be more able to accurately gauge time with his interactions with the Minister. That being said, I still question Desiderio's labeling of Aoi's age. How could he specifically figure out her age? Was he told her age by the River People? If so, did the River People operate on the same calendar as a society supposedly without a calendar? If there is one thing you can answer definitely from the notions of time in this novel, it is that the human body, through study, can reflect certain developments over a certain period, regardless of the standards of time used by a society.