‘The Middle-Class Housewife’ by Patricia Highsmith

The Middle-Class Housewife by Patricia Highsmith, 1975

The magic trick:

Writing a suitably ridiculous plot to match the editorial judgment of the story’s subject matter

Little Tales Of Misogyny takes on all sorts of stereotypes. The great surprise – and occasional delight – is that Highsmith does not explode these types but instead confirms them. In “The Middle-Class Housewife,” that look at individual types intersects with politics. We go to a women’s lib rally here, and, if you’ve read any of the other Little Tales, then you probably have a decent guess where this is headed. Highsmith just seems baffled that anyone on either side of this situation could possibly take this seriously. She certainly doesn’t claim a specific political stance. She thinks the whole thing is stupid. Or at least that’s the narrative point of view here. The plot develops along the same lines. It’s ridiculous. It’s almost as if she, as a writer, was like, OK, this whole situation is so absurd, I’m going to make this plot as absurd as possible just to show you how utterly silly this entire concept is. It’s tonal perfection. And that’s quite a trick on Highsmith’s part.

The selection:

Pamela Thorpe considered Women’s Lib one of those silly protest movements that journalists liked to write about to fill their pages. Women’s Lib claimed to want “independence” for women, whereas Pamela believed that women had the upper hand over men anyway. So what was all the fuss about?

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