The Dollmaker is a bestselling novel by Harriette Simpson sharing the experience of a family that migrated from Kentucky to Detroit. The novel has gained critical attention of several scholars of feminism, Marxist, humanist and regionalist. The novel shares the experience of Nevel family that has now migrated to Detroit during World War II.
However, the plot of the story revolves around Gertie struggles to attain a better position in society in the harsh reality of the world. The character of Gertie is a prominent character of the story. The hardships and struggle of life make an individual to transform his beliefs and attitudes towards the reality of life. Gertie struggles hard in the painful journey of life with courage, hardships, and love to overcome the obstacles of life. The character of Gertie represents a heroic woman who fights with the hardships of the world to be an architect.
The character of Gertie has been narrowly stereotyped to be strong women in the whole story. The author portrays Gertie’s character as a person who is helpless of herself and is sympathetic about the self-doubt. Gertie seems to be distracted by the alien culture in Detroit that she was living. Gertie was married to Clovis and had three children, Clytie, Enoch, and Amos; she struggled with her children to adjust with the urban setting that was associated with the experience of ‘the city of Hell (Arnow 5)’.
Gertie was a devoted woman who had deep love with her land when she migrated to Detroit that was an urban city she was depressed of the entire beloved thing that she was deprived in Detroit. Arnow highlights ‘Gertie had unflattering demands for the new evaluation. The author describes Gertie as poor and ragged women who has mountain accent representing the poor farms of America and cultural shock she experienced when her family moved to the city.
As Arnow describes Gertie’s physical appearance in the text of the novel as ‘the homely women with a big body that displays awesome physical and mental stamina in her valiant effort to get her drying soon (Arnow 23) ‘The appearance of the character Gertie is similar to the old American farmers, who were poor and lived their lived at farms and home, crafting artwork. When she moved to the city, she saw well-developed homes that eventually lost her sight of the flowery field of Kentucky due to which she found herself in an alienation culture.
Her husband started to suppress her artwork and crafting and asked her to work somewhere else for the living; these all thing make Gertie become upset and dishearten about her skills and career. Till the time she met an artist who appreciated her work and persuaded her to work with her. The brought up of Gertie was also an important factor which demonstrated her acts and perceptions later in the novel. Gertie’s mother was a lady with a typical orthodox approach. She led Gertie to live a life according to her will and wish.
She used to prove her orders and insights to Gertie in the light of the Bible by manipulating the teachings according to her desire. The dictating nature of Gertie’s mother made her submissive and docile. She forcefully made her believe that she must be guilty in not following her mother’s precepts. Therefore, Gertie, despite being extremely talented and innovative, always remained recessive. She felt the blame and considered herself guilty for not agreeing to her mother’s point of view. It made her not to explore her talents and capabilities and trust in herself.
However, the character of Gertie appears to be a ‘difficult’ or ‘inarticulated’ character, which often prefers to keep quiet. She is mostly busy with her work while the people around her give her a tough time, and she still prefers to be quiet. The story illustrates Gertie’s in articulation and impacts her daily life. It can observe that the author aims to explain the significance of verbal communication of a woman that can assess her to overcome several difficulties.
Gertie was reluctant to the change she experienced in her life, as she was used to of her life at Kentucky. However, she is skillful, and her capabilities are one of the resourceful elements of Gertie’s personality that makes her as self-reliant women. Arnow describes ‘she runs a military car off the road, car from the bluff edge, daring of all, she performs a tracheotomy (Arnow 23)’.
It reflects the character of Gertie with an image of strength, skills, and potential who has herculean stamina to drive into the military cars to get her son safe. However, she undermines her potential in several circumstances due to which he appears to be a weaker personality for the reader. It can also be said that the author makes use of paradox situation to gain the sympathy of the readers towards the character.
Gertie always desired to buy her farm in the Tipton place he believed that it was a piece of heaven on earth. She has enough money, like her brother who passed away in the war, left sufficient money for her that she was able to afford to buy a farm in Tipton place. The dream of buying the farm was because she could see in the wood the laughing Christ, a Christ for his bother Henley. Gertie believed that the death of her brother was a sacrifice he made for her children and family, and thus, she shall not hold herself with any man, either that be Colvis.
When Gertie made this decision, the whole community was against her, accusing that she had made children against her husband (Arnow 103). It eventually turned out to be against her biblical teaching, as the community and her neighbor that prevented her from buying the land. It shows that Gertie was high focuses and concerned about the religious concerns and did not accept any allegation that leads other’s think her against religious. The community accused Gertie saying, “Oh Lord, Oh Lord, she’s turned her children against their father… leave all else and cleave to thy husband” (Arnow 61).
Even though it was her dream to buy the farm, she still let it down because of the narrow mental approach of the community, it proved Gertie to be a ‘wise’ as well as ‘religious’ woman who took appropriate steps to ensure that she was not immoral. Gertie is the heroic character of the novel; she does not portray an ordinary woman in contemporary times. Gertie is not a limited character. Her strengths make her be one of the strongest women who manage to fight back things in her life.
Her virtues and moral are high due to which is a devoted woman who sees everything around her with the religious views. Her dreams were shattered when she migrated, and she becomes weaker. The character of Gertie portrays an ordinary and extraordinary human being. When her husband was jobless because of the scars and wounds, her family undergo severe financial crisis where it was difficult to feed her children. However, she was a determined woman who loved her husband and children more than anything.
Therefore she bears major financial burdens of her life through babysitting, carving, and washing. It reflects that for Gertie, her priority was her family and children. In such circumstance, Gertie believed that the real-life was different from what she has dreamt, but she kept herself focused on her moral and virtues. Therefore, she asked her daughter to stop playing with the doll as it shall develop a different image of the actual life in Detroit. If her daughter kept on playing with the doll, she should have been in the same dilemma and mental disturbance Gertie felt when she migrated from her land.
Gertie smashed cherry wood that she had crafted as she believed that the art that she has been making throughout her life was a betrayal to her and the proof of her defeat as she is determined to be Judas. She perceived the Christly crafts as her self when she did not have enough time for the crafts it made her believed that she was among the all other people out there who lived for themselves or others — Gertie herself who considered Christ a model recognized the duality of existence.
Therefore, the face of Christ must be filled with happiness and suffering to reflect the reality of life. Gertie endured in her life showed her that life is not just the joy and the happy face of Christ in the field. However, it is filled with all the right and wrong, happiness and suffers from portraying real life.
From the above information, it can be concluded that the character Gertie is a heroic woman. Even though Gertie was completely disheartened, her morale was high, and her devotion towards her family made her more determined to fight the hardships of life. With the passage of life, Gertie started to visualize that the Christ she saw in the woods was not the real (Arnow 42).
Happiness and Sorrow both are part of life, and Christ is within a person who helps others. Sorrows prevail more to a man than the happiness in life and its spoils the hopes. Man and woman do not have very distinct roles in society; they both equally contribute to make the society upright. The well developed urban society is a combination of war and technology that has destroyed the entire system of life due to which it was impossible for Gertie to do what she always thought she can attain in her imagination, as the reality were cruel and severe than the life she has always imagined.
Arnow, Harriette. The Dollmaker. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.