Whether Patriarchy be old or mere…(Augmenter’s Post by Mingu Cho)

             In the most recent convener’s post, Mrs. Alving is described as a character that embodies a “progressive, feminist way of approaching marriage and motherhood.” However, the latter part of the play shows how her approach does lack progressiveness at some points, particularly in regards to motherhood. When Oswald says, in Act III, that he has nothing to thank his father, Mrs. Alving admonishes her son by saying, “surely a child ought to love its father in spite of all.” In contrary to how in Act I Mrs. Alving contends with Pastor Manders, who claims that a child’s proper place is the “home of his fathers,” the mother of Oswald in Act III treats familial or filial love as an indisputable obligation.

             Note the following exchange of words between Mrs. Alving and Oswald on page 158:

Oswald: What if a child has nothing to thank its father for? Never knew him? You don’t really believe in this old superstition still, do you? And you so enlightened in other ways?

Mrs. Alving: You call that mere superstition..!

             While Oswald considers unconditional love towards his father as “old superstition,” Mrs. Alving responds to her son’s claim by replying to how such belief could be a “mere superstition.” Here the ‘old’ and ‘mere’ do not correspond to each other, suggesting that Mrs. Alving could have added a different layer of connotation to the word used by her son. Considering how she has arduously attempted to guarantee how Oswald inherits nothing from his father, Mrs. Alving might have liked to mask the eventuality of how the sins of the father are destined to haunt the son. Hence, a distortion of how the mythical unconditional love is characterized, from being ‘old’ to ‘mere,’ could be an unconscious slip of language that reveals Mrs. Alving’s desire to not accept a faith that she understands is bound to occur, and also a momentary but interiorized capitulation to patriarchy.

Mona Hatoum, Performance Still (1985–95) © Mona Hatoum​

             Patriarchy, however, whether you put ‘old’ or ‘mere’ in front of it, can neither be ignored because it is a centuries-old practice, as a system that ‘has always been there,’ nor because of its detrimental effects on the progress of society can be trivialized. Perhaps, Mrs. Alving’s respond to Oswald shows how easier it is to ‘react’ to a possible allusion to patriarchy than to break away from its chains or internalizations that may unconsciously be registered to an individual, as demonstrated by Mrs. Alving’s subordination of her son’s brutal honesty as a “terrible thought.”

             No different from Mrs. Alving and Oswald, our generation is inherited the undesirable heritage of patriarchy. Whether our thoughts, actions, decisions, and language knowingly or unknowingly take patriarchy with us or vice versa, the ultimate solution to patriarchy would be to petrify it and purge it, so that its ghosts stop from hunting us and preventing our progress. However cliché it may sound, it is 2020, and we all must wake up from patriarchy.

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