Conference Presentation Outline
Rose and Eliza Sommers prove that feminism has existed for thousands of years; they are strong, independent and passionate women who are able to achieve great things without marrying.
Miss Rose Sommers is an “eccentric Englishwoman” (Martinez) who made the choice to never marry; she chose independence instead. She lives alone with her brother, Jeremy, in a large house in Chile; “with her brother Jeremy she enjoyed the independence she would never have with a husband” (Allende 7). She embraces the spinster title knowing it means that she doesn’t have to be married to a man and lose herself. Rose is “gladly unmarried, and understands that she is lot freer as a single woman” (Hart). Miss Rose was never looking for marriage and this is evident when she denies Jacob Todd’s various attempts stating, “Mr. Todd is a bird of ill omen; he has bizarre ideas, teeth like a horse and his hands perspire. I would never marry him, even if he were the last bachelor in the universe” (Allende 46). Miss Rose also denies Michael Steward who is led astray by her actions; she ensures that he is aware she will never marry him (78).
Rose “spouts feminist attitudes and enjoys her semi-independent role, but is thrown into confusion when she takes on the role of motherhood” (Hart). She “has no prospects or interest in marriage…but is thrilled at the chance to be a mother to this needy infant” (Mayhew), so she takes on the role with little hesitation, and “cling[s] to the babe as if its mother” (Allende 7). Rose, even though taking on the mother role, “could just as easily spend days at a time writing in her mysterious notebooks, or reading a novel without a thought for her protégé” (11). Her favorite times with her daughter-figure were the baths they had together, when they would splash around in the water (379).
Throughout the story the reader comes to learn that Miss Rose enjoys writing, but initially what she writes is unknown. Once Karl Bretzner is introduced we finally learn that he is her topic of choice (97), and that she likes to write “bedroom novels with the hottest scenes in France (284). Rose writes adult fiction that John Sommers, her brother, gets published in England and then sells on his travels around the world (288-9). When Eliza is reading some of these stories to Joe Bonecrusher, “some of the sentences even reminded her of the impeccable style of Miss Rose (298).
Eliza “is clearly a determined and adventuresome person with an obvious free spirit that would be difficult to completely suppress in any circumstance” (Toronto). Eliza is a significant character because she shows great determination, independence, courage and passion along with great maturity progressing through the novel. Eliza begins as a quiet child who can be hidden or appear as hidden as much she wants or needs (Allende 108). She always does as her family requests and because of this she is constantly learning and developing a great knowledge base, such as playing piano, reading, writing and cooking. When Eliza falls in love with Joaquin Andieta she begins to change. She becomes obsessed with him (84) and begins to “rebel against the patriarchy that dominates her life only to turn to a man in order to define herself” (Hart). When she finds out she is pregnant, she decides she must find him in California so they can live a happy life together. In order to achieve this goal of hers, she becomes deceitful to her family and eventually threatens Mama Fresia that she will kill herself if Mama Fresia tells anyone in her family (Allende 142-3).
Eliza’s determination gets her on the ship to California and her strong will keeps her alive. Once in California, Tao Chi’en dresses her as a male in order to get her off the boat. This is when Eliza gets a real taste of freedom. She no longer feels physically restrained by her corset, or emotionally restrained by her family. She continues to dress as a male, and acts as Tao Chi’en’s deaf-mute, stupid brother in order to keep the freedom that she has recently come into (244). She continues to act as a male so that she doesn’t have to make money by selling her body and being dominated by older men (Igler 49). Eliza finally gains enough strength to venture out on her own to find Joaquin Andieta. While on her search she finds herself needing to dig into her passions, and use her knowledge to make an income; proving that “Eliza’s real quest is not based on finding Joaquin but in finding herself, which she does obliquely through her supposed need of him” (Hart). Eliza uses the tools and education she learned back home to make money to purchase any necessities, such as food or shelter: she cooked with the knowledge from Mama Fresia, she played piano from the lessons Miss Rose had her take, she scribes letters and teaches others to read with the education Miss Rose ensured she had.
As Eliza’s character develops further, and grows more in maturity it is easy to see that “Eliza fell in love with freedom” (Toronto), which gives her the courage and strength to be more open about her own wants and needs. When Tao Chi’en comes to find Eliza and bring her back to San Francisco, she is hesitant to agree because for her “it’s very boring to be [his] stupid little brother” (Allende 336). Tao agrees with Eliza, allowing her the freedom that she has grown to appreciate. It is at this point “she enters into a relationship as an equal partner” (Hart) now that she has developed her own “self-confidence and independence” (Hart).
Finally, Eliza feels safe in her independence, personal strength, and freedom that she begins to dress in feminine clothing again. However, she leaves the corset inside the clothing bag (Allende 393) knowing that she never wants to be restrained physically or emotionally again. The corset is symbolic of her freedom, independence, strength and passion.
Miss Rose and Eliza Sommers are significant characters in this novel because they represent freedom and independence. They prove that women are capable of achieving great things without the need for a husband. Both women are successful in achieving their own income to give them the ability to provide necessities for themselves. They are able to achieve great things because they work for what they believe in, and never forget their strengths.
Do you believe that Miss Rose Sommers and Eliza Sommers would have achieved the independence and success they did had they been married? What do you believe their lives would have come to? Would they still be strong, independent, passionate women?