domesticity, maternity, and morality


Marge Piercy, He, She and It (1991)
Available in the General Collection, Georgia Tech Library

Marge Piercy's He, She and It juxtaposes the small, near-utopian community of Tikva, which is dedicated to the celebration of family, education and freedom, with a larger dystopia of a near-future United States that is organized around consumerism, unchecked technological development, and corporate greed and corruption. Piercy's heroine Shira returns to her childhood home, Tikva, after divorcing her husband and leaving a job that threatens to swallow her, only to find that corporate villains have kidnapped her child so she will return to both her former husband and her former job. Amidst many subplots, Shira develops a relationship with an android named Yod. Yod is a superintelligent cyborg that has the capacity for emotion, empathy and compassion. On the one hand, Yod's development is viewed somewhat skeptically by his male creator Avram, who designs Yod to be a defense weapon for the Tikva community. On the other hand, the cyborg is embraced by Shira's grandmother, Malkah, who gives him his emotional education and a sense of his history (for example, Malkah helps Yod understand his purpose in Tikva by telling him the Jewish tale of the Golem, whose story parallels Yod's in many ways. Although Yod has the capability to become violent, he also has a more "domestic" education and is able to relate to his human peers. Indeed, it is precisely his struggle to decide whether he will follow his destiny as weapon or resist his purpose in life to stay with Shira and the son he helps her rescue that drives Piercy's novel.

Piercy's cyborg fares much more happily as a part of his community than does his literary predecessor. Specifically, Yod is able to experience the domestic education that Shelley's creature is mostly denied, and he is deeply loved by his community. Piercy engages Shelley's legacy through Yod - the product of nonsexual creation - and shows how a comprehensive education can benefit what could be a monster under the wrong circumstances. Piercy engages both reproduction as well as domesticity as part of her thematic structure. Through Yod, Piercy shows that a community can raise a nonhuman product of nonsexual reproduction to good ends, in contrast to Victor Frankenstein, who fails miserable because he fears and abandons his creation.


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